A Spreadsheet Is Essential To Track Travel Cancellations, Changes, Refunds and Credits
Story and photos by
Brad Hathaway
High on Adventure, May 2020

As the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the United States, we had just returned from an airplane and bus tour in China and Japan, and a cruise around the southern tip of Africa. We were looking forward to a travel-packed year including trips to Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria and Canada, as well as domestic destinations around California and in Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, Maryland and Virginia.

Now all those plans have been either cancelled or postponed and we have “hunkered down,” pursuant to the stay-at-home orders, on our houseboat on San Francisco Bay - not a bad place to “hunker!”

What to do about the funds we’d already put out … the deposits and the full payments for air, tour, hotel, car, conference registration fees, class enrollments and performances?

My wife Teddie set up a spreadsheet covering all the events, registrations and expenditures so she could track our options and the results of our actions.

  Working on a travel spreadsheet  
Teddie works on the spreadsheet at her desk in the lower level of the houseboat “Water Song.”

With a difference (at least legally) between the financial consequences of when you, yourself, cancel a reservation and when the airline or other provider cancels a flight or package, you need to stay on top of dates. Don’t cancel by yourself too early, but monitor the provider to see if and when it cancels, which would trigger your right to a refund. Don’t let the cancelation date slip by you.

Be careful as well about when an airline notifies you that it has changed the details of your reservation – for instance if or when they move you to a different time or even a different flight. They may say you can accept the change, change it to a different alternative without a change fee, or that you can cancel it for a credit toward future travel. Don’t accept their word for your options - they might not tell you that you have the right to a refund. When in doubt about US policies, check with the Department of Transportation’s “Fly Rights” page listing “Aviation Consumer Protection” policies at

  Brad Hathaway working on a travel spreadsheet  

There may be differences as well between the arrangements you made through a packager or travel agent and those you booked directly with the airline, hotel, cruise company, railroad, etc.

Our trip to Australia and New Zealand had been arranged through Qantas Vacations and they offered to let us postpone it into 2021 without penalty. We shifted it to the very same dates that we had in 2020 but now we’ll go in 2021. (We will see what the pandemic situation is by then.)

We had made train reservations for a side trip in Australia and had paid in full. The railroad was prompt in refunding the payment without our even going through a refund request procedure.

We had reservations made directly with United, Alaska and Southwest that we cancelled. Southwest provided a full refund while United and Alaska merely let us keep a credit for future use. Before you take action, make sure you know what your options are with a particular provider.

Brad writing at his desk aboard “Water Song”

There are differences among travel agents as well as among providers. One agent we used took the initiative to track airline policies regarding cancellation of flights and guided us to the best possible outcome. Giving credit where credit is due, I’ll name the agent - Leo Robadey of Exito Travel ( He guided us through the still-unresolved situation with Lufthansa, which is defying regulations in the European Union on refunding for cancelled flights because they fear they will go bankrupt if they follow them.

Another travel agent through whom we had booked a cruise simply forwarded our inquiries to the cruise line - something that we not only could do for ourselves but which we had already done. I’ll not mention that agent, as it might have been an anomaly. But the different experiences emphasize the importance of choosing a good travel agent if you use one.

Dealing directly with hotels, rental car companies and sponsors of classes and conferences can be a very mixed bag. We were able to cancel reservations with no financial loss at hotels like the superb Bard’s Inn in Ashland Oregon, site of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We could also have had a refund of the ticket prices for the canceled shows we had booked. But we chose to take a credit for future use, as we know we’ll be back to “OSF” and their chance of surviving this crisis may be improved if we let them hold on to the money until we can return.

We did the same with the tuition we’d already paid for classes at a glass studio in Maryland.

  Sausalito houseboat   Eating lunch on houseboat deck  
The Hathaway floating home is now a “hunker house.”
A lunch break on the back deck overlooking the bay.

One more thing. This might be a good time to renew your passport even if your current one has some usable time left. The State Department has limited passport operations, but routine renewals by mail continue to be processed. To see if you can renew by mail, check the State Department’s website at

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