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At some point late in 2013 my much anticipated trip to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi started to sound like more of a chore/bad idea/hot mess than an exciting trip. I went to the Olympics in London in 2012 and had an amazing time, so at one point thought that Olympics in Russia would be a great adventure. I knew it would be a bit more complicated than an Olympics in a city like London, but it sounded like a trip that would be really memorable…in a good way.
A long-time friend of mine agreed and so we planned a really exciting trip flying in business class using United miles that included some time in Istanbul on the way. We had rooms reserved in Sochi on Club Carlson points and bought event tickets the day they went on sale. Then my hotel reservations were canned due to IOC having a hold on the rooms (our rooms being available on points in the first place was a glitch), rooms were really never released for sale to normal folks despite being on several waiting lists, the chatter about terrorist type events picked up, the length of the trip got intimidating, and it was sounding like a heap of stress. It just wasn’t sounding like the trip we thought it would be a year ago.
So, after going back and forth about it for a while, my friend and I had a talk and both decided to change our plans and not go. We never secured a hotel reservation, but we had everything else to undo. That included award flights, purchased flights, an expensive load of event tickets, etc. I know I’m not the only one that backed out of the Olympics, and I know that sometimes other big trips have to be canned for a long list of reasons, so I thought I’d share the process we went through.
- Once you make a decision, stick with it and move quickly. We took a while making the decision to cancel the trip, but once we made that decision, there was no more back and forth debating. That trip wasn’t going to happen, and we didn’t waste any more time thinking about or working on that trip.
- Start with the time sensitive changes/cancellations first. In our case, we needed to move quickly with trying to re-sell our event tickets if we wanted to have any shot of getting a little bit of money back out of them. In other cases, you may need to start with cancelling a hotel reservation that must be cancelled by a certain date. We listed our tickets on eBay and had a bit of luck there until eBay got rid of all Olympic ticket resells. We now have them listed on viagogo.com, though that hasn’t produced any success. There is an official ticket reseller, but you had to ship your tickets to Russia, they take a large cut, and I’d rather ultimately give them away then ship them there only to have them not used. Forgive me for not trusting Russia or the Olympics for that matter at this point. Bottom line, getting rid of these Olympic tickets to popular events, even at a huge loss, is really, really hard.
- Work your way through the less time sensitive cancellations. Once I got a few spare minutes, I cancelled the parts of the trip that weren’t as time sensitive such as my tickets on Turkish Airlines to/from Istanbul to Sochi. To my surprise, both tickets were refundable, even though the fare rules seemed to indicate only one of them was. That one ended up just having a small processing fee to cancel. The money has not appeared back on my credit cards yet (just cancelled yesterday), but hopefully it will soon. I also changed my United award ticket to a totally different destination. This was free to me due to elite status, but with United changes to award tickets are cheaper than a redeposit even if you don’t have status, which brings me to my next point…
- Consider changing a trip instead of cancelling. One of the reasons it took my friend and I so long to make the difficult decision to cancel our trip to the Olympics is that we really wanted a trip together. We both had already budgeted the time, money, and help back home for the trip to be possible. When you are married with a young kid at home, it isn’t every day that you get to go half-way around the world with a friend. We didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity. Once we decided on dramatically changing our trip instead of cancelling it, the decision was much easier. In fact, it was kind of awesome having miles and dates set aside without a destination. We literally had (almost) the whole world to pick from, and I am very excited about where we decided to go. Especially now that part of the journey will be in Lufthansa First!
- Don’t stress over losing some money (or miles/points). In my case, I had virtually no loss of money or miles by cancelling flights and hotels (well, I guess I never had a hotel….), but I am going to take a relatively big hit on the money spent on event tickets. This really stinks, but ultimately it isn’t something to stress over because if we had invested more money into the trip and went forward when we had big reservations about it, we might have really regretted it in the end. We would have been “throwing more good money after bad” just to not lose the money we had spent on the event tickets. Instead, we have now booked what will likely be a much cheaper trip overall, so the money we lost on the event tickets is just an expensive lesson learned.
- See if trip insurance will cover any of your lost expenses. I rarely get trip insurance, but if you do have it then it is possible some of your expenses from cancelling will be covered by your policy. What is covered will vary based on your situation and policy selected, but it might include cancellation reasons such as loss of employment, weather, illness, pregnancy, terrorist attacks, or even jury duty. In fact, if you are ever planning a trip where you think there is a real risk of one of those types of things impacting your trip it can pay to consider travel insurance for that particular trip. Though with the Sochi Olympics you probably would not be able to use terrorist events as a reason to cancel even if that is part of the reason you aren’t going since there (thankfully) hasn’t actually been a terrorist event in Sochi that would qualify. Fear of terrorist events is probably not a covered reason.
Cancelling a big trip is an emotional process sometimes as much as a practical step by step process, but going through the practical steps is obviously important to minimize your financial loss. I hope that everyone that goes to the Olympics has the best time ever, but I intend to just play dress-up and wear my Olympics Spectator Pass and warm jacket while laying on my couch, clutching my event tickets, and watching the games on TV. Okay, maybe I’ll really be dressed in yoga pants and a sweatshirt laying on the couch, but you never know around here.