Changing Travel Plans: When You Can't Avoid It

You can painstakingly plot every detail of your trip to Cabo or Cancun but then – as the latest outbreak of swine flu has illustrated all too perfectly – stuff happens.

Whether it’s a hurricane, a health emergency or your own money emergency, chances are you will at some point find yourself having to switch course on your travel plans. And more often than not, it carries a high price tag.

New York Times travel columnist Michelle Higgins reports that the financial blow for canceling a trip has been lessened in the case of swine flu fears, but like in so many cases, the key to making sure you aren’t paying an arm and a leg to change your trip comes down to reading the fine print. Many of today’s low airfares also come with the most restrictions. Familiarize yourself with the restrictions and check all the rates listed. It may be worth it to pay a few more bucks for a ticket with more wiggle room. Fortunately, restrictions are often negotiable. Try asking the carrier if they will honor the rate even if you have to change the ticket. Sometimes they will honor the request, Higgins says.

Airlines and hotel chains are also offering refunds to travelers who have been laid off, in a marketing move reminiscent to the one popularized by car companies during the recession.

>>Read more travel-related OTM blogs

The easiest way to guarantee you have room to change your plans, of course, is travel insurance. This is usually one of the first add-ons to go as travelers tighten their belts, but it’s a crucial piece of your vacation should something unforeseen happen. There’s also the travel protection additions that come with many credit cards, such as light and luggage insurance.