How to Cancel a Trip to the Olympics (or to anywhere for that matter)

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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, 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.


I’m ready to watch the Olympics…in costume on my couch. Maybe.

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  1. quick question – I’m booking an award this morning and thinking of using Singapore as you suggest – but why on the UA site am I am being charged 80,000 points each
    instead of the listed 62,500 for this one way itinerary. CLE-EWR-BRU-LJU – EWR BRU is in global first. Thanks for you insight

  2. Oh, should say 62,500 clearly listed as miles needed for ewr/bru segment. If I book just that segment it charges me 62,500 – if I add the other flights, price goes to 80K.

  3. Wise choice!!!! It won’t be the safest place in the world and at this stage of our lives we have other priorities (aka: our little ones) so you will be better off watching the games from your couch like I will do. 🙂

  4. Hi MP! I am sad you are sitting this one out, but totally understand. I am still planning on going to Sochi, but have decided to somewhat minimize my risk by booking a Hotel / Guest house within walking distance to the Olympic Park in Adler. Who knows if there will be terrorist strike, but that isn’t going to stop me. Normally, I don’t sign up for internet service on my cell phone while I am traveling overseas, but this time I will so that in the event something happens, I can post to my Facebook and let everyone know I am OK. The real story for me will be my experience at the guest house / hotel in Adler as it sorta looks like a room that hasn’t been updated since Mikhail Gorbachev was in power, but it is a typical property / room for this area. Now… I must get back to practicing my Russian high kicks…

  5. and oh! if you can’t sell your Olympic tickets, feel free to fed ex them to me and I will see if there is an option to sell them over there for you. Rather than them go in your trash can, I can see if there is a mother / daughter team around that can use them instead. Think of it as your good deed for the day. 🙂

  6. Kim, it is pricing at 62.5 for the random date I tried in first. You can’t have a free stopover on a one-way, so maybe you are having that problem?
    Santastico, agree that every decision is a bit more complex with a family at home. 😉
    Deborah, I think you are in good company with that decision!
    K, my friend listed them on ebay and I know she couldn’t use the word Olympics, but assume she listed them in a ticket section. Had luck there until eBay dumped them.
    Whiskarina, so sad to not be there with you! Let me know what day you fly out so I can send the tickets to you before then. Would much rather have at least someone use them than no one.

  7. Wise choice! It’s quite jarring just reading about the terrorist threats and contingency plans. I love the Olympics but I will be watching from home (I still have yet gone to one but I will!). Just not the Sochi one.

    • BOShappyflyer, I hope to go to one in the future as well…but who knows when that will be.
      Nick, eek! Agree that the city selection really matters!

  8. I had a similar intention of going to the soccer World Cup this year. But hotel rates are astronomical I guess I will just have to wait until it’s in my backyard again.

  9. I wouldn’t really be worried about any terrorist threats. Putin can and will put all the necessary resources of the Russian state into protecting those Olympic sites. The reason I wouldn’t want to go is then the flip side of that – the security apparatus will be so intense it will be stifling for an enjoyable experience overall. Better to go to Russia another time and to the Olympics another time. Unfortunately, I’m feeling the same way about Brazil and the World Cup. I would not be in serious danger there, but the conditions just won’t be right for an enjoyable visit to Brazil in my opinion.

  10. I’m sorry you had to cancel your trip. Russia is not the easiest country to travel in to begin with (it certainly would not be as smooth as London). I was in Moscow when they were having near daily terrorist attacks on jetliners/metros and schools. The Russian method of security is layer upon layer upon layer. I had to go through like four full manual screenings before I could board my plane to leave. The prices on everything would be through the roof. While I think the Olympic venues will be kept safe overall it would probably be a fairly stressful trip.

  11. DaveS, I agree. Hopefully the area will be safe, but I’m sure security will be a challenge to navigate. I remember very long lines at the Atlanta Olympics after the bombing there for sure.
    Chris, totally agree.

  12. I hate to say it but good choice. Everytime the news comes on with the terrorist threats I worried about you. I know it sounds dumb but I don’t know anyone else going so you popped into my head first. You may regret not going at some level but I think it was a wise choice.

    • Dan, aw thanks. ;). I agree I will likely regret it a little but overall think it was the right call given all the variables in play.

  13. While I think the Sochi Olympics were a good idea to pass on — I did — once you had your VERY expensive tickets, you should have just gone. I guarantee that no Western tourist who winds up in Sochi who is in the slightest bit resourceful will wind up on the street. There is ALWAYS a place to stay at the end.

    As far as terrorism goes, it’s a risk — but a TINY risk. Heck, I remember flying to the Atlanta Olympics a few hours after the bombing. The Games were in lock down mode that day, and the police were idiots — leaving the spectators to wait hours unprotected outside the stadiums. But everyone that day lived. I think the odds are excellent that everyone who attends Sochi will live. Mind you, I don’t want to sign up for that mission, but if I had tickets, I wouldn’t let fear get the best of me. The security risk is really fear. You’re not in materially more danger in Sochi than you would be in a big USA city.

    • iahphx,I can only speak for myself, but it isn’t necessarily fear of a terrorist attack injuring us, so much as everything else that is going on, no hotel, likely transportation and security hassles, etc. Risk of attack is just the cherry on top. It wasn’t an easy call bailing after the event tickets were purchased though…and really got worse on that front after Ebay dumped our listings that hadn’t yet sold.

  14. Always go with your instincts, never second guess you gut feelings.

    I am a massive World Cup soccer fan. I have attended a number of WC matches, but reluctantly withdrew my ticket application for Brazil 2014 due to uprisings there last year. I may have thought a bit different if I was single and traveling solo, but traveling with my family was a tough thought… I am sad over it, but my intuition told me to stay home and try to enjoy in on TV.

    I truly pray both events go off without any problems !!

  15. I find myself relieved that you’re not going. Not that we actually know each other, but the odd email exchange and your blog has turned you into a person. Watching the potential disaster that is Sochi unfold I was ever so slightly nervous on your behalf.

    Sorry about the event tickets, but that’s just life.

  16. I think you’re being awfully kind to refer to the Club Carlson reneging as a ‘glitch’.

    I was set to go to Brazil for the WC but just before availability opened up for the return segment is when Delta instituted their devaluation. Was keen to fly LAX-GRU in KE J using Skymiles but refused to pay 125k. Now I’m glad it didn’t work out.

  17. I’m sorry that your special trip did not work out, but CONGRATULATIONS for bailing out as soon an you realized it. The other trip will be just fine…
    I’ve been to Russia several times and, for the most part enjoyed the experience. That said, I would never go there for a major world event. That country simply does not have the infrastructure to support the thousands who will invade for the Olympics. Once the ‘officials’ and ‘government representatives’ are accommodates, let alone the Olympics participants, there is no room for mere tourist visitors. If you had secured a ‘hotel’ it would likely have been a basement room in someone’ home and sleeping on a straw tick. Meals? I sure hope you like potatoes. With sincere apologies to my several Russian friends, their country is still not visitor-friendly and they do not have the facilities to accommodate large numbers. Truth-be-told, they are still, just barely caring for their own citizens. How the managed to snag another Olympics is beyond my understanding. They may manage to pull it off and achieve some great press reports, but the Russian people will suffer. Strike me down if I’m wrong, but the senior management of that large country still does not get it. If they ever do, it will take a least another generation or two for them to sort out their growing problems. Your alternate trip will be a good one, I’m sure.

  18. Well, call me a contrarian but I am going and bring my new husband along. A friend told my mother-in-law that she should worry if we were going to Syria. Short of this, I am not in the camp of fearmongers and I am looking forward to my first Olympic games. I also think that tighter security, including spectator passes, is going to become an alienable part of future major events, unfortunately, not just Sochi Olympics.

    At this point, I only have an airfare (on Turkish but not an award) and no hotels or event tickets (we are planning on being in Sochi on Feb 14-18).

    MP – not judging – but you could have forgone the chain hotel and book a comfortable room on one of the cruise ships. Of course, by now all cruise ships are solidly sold out (~4,000 capacity each in Adler port and Sochi port).

    Also, I checked viagogo – I am not sure how people are hoping to sell their tickets. With viagogo’s additional booking and shipping fees, the all-in price ends up being AT BEST a breakeven vs. fan2fan prices (official ticket resale) which already includes a 30% markup – and this is for the least popular/cheap events, like skeleton. So, if I am in the US, why would I buy overpriced tickets from an unauthorized reseller when I might as well buy them from fan2fan site and pick them up while there? Also, a good portion of tickets is being reserved to be sold on site – so depending on how it goes with a jetlag, we might wait to buy some tix until in Adler (which is by the way the actual place where the Olympic events are taking place, Sochi is ~20 miles away).
    All-in, we are excited to go, especially since my friend promised today to give me an official Olympic gear (a hat and a scarf) to wear it in style and celebrate the Olympic spirit.

  19. Yana — Enjoy your adventure, and let us know how it goes!

    From previous experience, I would urge you to wait until you get to Sochi to get your accommodations. Do you know if there’s an “official” office handling visitor lodging? That’s how I found a fantastic homestay for the Albertville games for almost nothing. My bet would be that lots of people don’t show up, and rooms will be readily available.

    Tickets should be easy and cheap. I really don’t like how the IOC allows Cosport to mark up the already high ticket prices. It really doesn’t pay to get your tickets in advance. Try to hang out where the athletes’ families are staying. In Atlanta, I bought tickets from the Russian wrestling federation (all sports available) at face value. In Beijing, a USA swimmers’ family member just gave me two free tickets to a hard-to-get swimming event in a hotel elevator. Tickets are always available, but you sort of have to stumble into them. In Sochi, though, I suspect they’re be way more tickets than Western spectators.

  20. @iahphx – Thanks for advice!
    The official contractor who won the bid to handle cruise ship accomodations is and guess what – today rooms became available on ships in both Adler and Sochi for 4,000-6,000 rubles per night ($150-$200) for any number of days. From various forum discussions, sounds like many of those must be cancellations due to people not pre-registering and getting a “boarding pass” in advance as was required by 1/31/14. So, their bookings got cancelled, money refunded and rooms became available. Sounds a bit like MP’s story, doesn’t it?
    Another avenue is airbnb site that is listing homes and apartments for rent from private hosts. I actually had two reservations made using a one night free code posted by another boarding area blogger but both didn’t get accepted by the host who failed identify one month minimum rental requirement in her initial listing. Oh, well…
    And of course I’ve been checking Marriott, hyatt and clubcarlson sites at least twice a day. Overall, accommodations are available and I am not worried at all about being a hobo for the Olympics. 🙂

    I think you are right about the availability of tickets. I read an interview on sochi-express online newspaper with one of the top Olympic officials who said that about 75% of the tickets have been sold and the rest are still available including a portion held back for those wishing to buy onsite.

    I think that the dust is starting to settle down, prices are coming down and I will make sure to hang around other athlete’s entourage in hopes of scoring a ticket. 🙂

  21. I have 2 tickets for each Russia-Usa and Russia-Slovakia hockey games If anyone wants it I will sell it at face value. Let me know ASAP because Fedex just returned them to me after I sent it to Fan2Fan.

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