What To Do When You Are Sick Right Before a Trip

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I try to be thankful every time a trip goes off without a hitch, because when dealing with family travel there are just so many things that can go wrong.  That said, things still usually go right…usually.  School ends for us this week and that means it is time for our first family trip of the summer.  With the kid totally unscheduled during the day, we might as well pack up and head out of here a few times over the next few months as opposed to bouncing off the walls at home.  As luck would have it this time, we all got sick starting about a week ago.  At the time I didn’t think much of it as our trip was still more than a week off, and this cold/flu/respiratory crud usually is much better within 3-5 days.  Well, a week later we aren’t better, and I’m convinced this crud came straight from some bio-weapons lab.  To put it another way, our trip is in real jeopardy.

So, since my mind is on what to do when you are sick right before a trip, here are my thoughts and advice on the subject.

  • Go to a doctor.  I’m not at all someone who runs themselves or their kid to the doctor at the first sign of every sniffle, or mild fever, or even moderate illness.  However, the scales tip to heading to the doctor when a trip is involved, as there can sometimes be things that can be done to lessen the severity and/or reduce the duration of some mild to moderate illnesses.  While I might not normally head to the doctor for a mild to moderate respiratory/head cold mess, I absolutely will if getting better quickly matters.  There may be nothing they can do outside of what you could do for yourself, but it’s worth finding out.  It’s also worth documenting you were sick and potentially advised not to travel if it comes to that.  That may help you later.
  • Check cancellation policies.  Even if you haven’t given up hope on your journey, check the cancellation policies of your hotels, car rentals, airfare, and activities.  Most often your airfare will be the least inflexible, but that all depends on what type of fare you bought, whether you are on miles, have elite status, etc.  In my case 2/4 hotel nights are refundable until the day of check-in.  The other two are at a small non-chain property are already well passed their official cancellation date (though always call and see if you can negotiate something).  Our airfare is on dollars, so no easy mileage redeposit, but it is with an airline we have elite status with and can do a free “same day change” to delay the trip a day or so if that might make a difference in going.  Be aware of all your options and what penalties or lost points/dollars will be involved in not going so you can make an informed decision.
  • Look at your trip insurance coverage, if any (and don’t forget credit cards!).  I don’t buy extra trip insurance for the majority of my trips, but if you have some then it pays to look at it and see if your issue may be a covered loss if you can’t travel.  Don’t forget to look at the coverage provided by the credit card you might have used to book the trip as there can be some coverage found there as well.  For example, if you paid with a Chase card that is issued as a Visa Signature then the online benefits guide discusses Trip Cancellation Insurance and reimburses you or your immediate family up to $5,000 for each covered trip if a covered loss prevents you or your immediate family from traveling on or before the departure date and results in cancellation of the travel arrangements if you paid using that card.  It goes on to say that a covered loss includes “Accidental bodily injury, Loss of Life, or Sickness experienced by you, a traveling companion, or an immediate family member of you or a travel companion.”  I’m sure there will be hoops to jump through and some things may not be covered, but if a doctor is saying you shouldn’t travel, I would imagine you have a good shot at it being covered.   Rapid Travel Chai has a good listing of some different benefits guides from ChaseOf course, I stupidly used an Amex card for 3x on airfare which doesn’t come with any coverage for trip cancellation.  Lesson learned, no more being points greedy – 2x on the Chase Sapphire Preferred will do just fine until Amex can come up with some better trip coverage benefits.  Some of my other portions of the trip are on a Chase card, so I’ll be testing out that coverage if it comes to it.
  • Think about what it would be like to go vs. not go.  In my case this sinus issue is so bad that not going would be a very easy call if the flight were today.  Not only is it miserable, so having fun would be very, very hard, but flying with bad sinus issues is just a very bad idea.  I’ve done it before with a more moderate issue and had ear problems for quite a while as a souvenir.  There is no way I would voluntarily do that again.  A mild runny nose would be fine for me with some OTCs and ear pressure techniques, but full blown problems like we have now would not be fine.  If going will make your condition worse and/or make enjoying the trip impossible then it is important to factor that highly into the equation.  Of course whether or not you are contagious should factor very, very highly as well…as in, don’t go.
  • Try to get (some) of your money back.  Even non-refundable airfare can sometimes be salvaged via a credit to use on a future flight with a small penalty if you have a documented and covered illness.  Heck, I’ve even heard of airfare getting refunded completely due to unforeseen medical issues when it was technically a non-refundable ticket.  So, it is always worth a shot, but don’t get your blood pressure boiling if the rules won’t be bent for you as much as you would like.  Just consider it a victory when it does work out in your favor.
  • Don’t sweat it.  Being sick is hard enough.  Stressing over whether to go somewhat sick on a trip because of the money or points you may lose will just make it worse.  We are all in this hobby to make travel more affordable and attainable, not to make it more stressful and cumbersome.  If you just can’t go, you just can’t go.  There will be another trip and hopefully your losses will be minimal thanks to credit cards, redeposits, change fees, etc.  You may get hit with some penalties for not going, but health has to come first.

We’ll see if these shots and meds can fix us in time.  If not, there will be another time for this trip.  We’ve made the wrong decision before when it came time to decide if we were all healthy enough for a trip, so we’ll try real hard to make the right call this time.  We’ll get as much in expenses back as we can, and do our best not to obsess over the rest.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what to do if you are sick when it comes time to travel!

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  1. Our big vacation each year is a cruise, and getting sick before the trip really stresses me out because they won’t let you on the ship if you’re sick! I try to quarantine my kids as much as possible in the 2 weeks prior to our trip (I skip the gym daycare and play dates where I’m concerned about excess germs).

  2. Somewhat less serious, I needed to fly home 6 hours with a head cold. My ears (even with Earplanes) became painfully stuffed up-for 9 weeks!
    Better idea: get powerful decongestants, antihistamines, or whatever it tales to clear your head before you take off. My usual OTC medicine was not nearly up to it, I should have asked for the stronger stuff behind the counter.

  3. RH Picard, no stress! If buying trip insurance gives you peace of mind, do it. Otherwise, pay with a credit card that will protect you from many events and relax. 😉
    Nancy, eek – that would be tough! Don’t let your kids come to our house, for sure!
    Pludester, it is just so painful. Many swear by afrin, “earplanes” and/or Sudafed. My ears stayed messed up for around that same period of time last time. Yuck!

  4. Sorry to hear about your sinus problem. I’ve facing the same issue for couple months now and it kind goes and comes back so I went to my ENT last week and told him we are heading to Hawaii next week and I did not want to feel miserable there. He got me into some serious antibiotics and steroids and I am feeling way better. I am not really into heavy drugs treatment but in this case I thought it was a good decision. Not a 100% yet but way better and hope allergy season did not reach Hawaii yet 🙂

  5. Get well soon and go by your own words: don’t stress!! 🙂 You’ll find that even big, evil (!) airlines and hotel chains usually understand such circumstances and try to help in some way (refund, credit for another time, etc.). And in the end everything happens for a reason.

  6. I actually had a situation a few weeks ago where I got *really* sick pretty much after I’d checked in to my flight. After about 6 hours I called up the United Premier line and explained that I know I have a nonrefundable ticket but that I’ve checked in already and would like them to go ahead and free up those seats for other customers, since I was pretty sure nobody involved wanted me vomiting on the flight.

    She canceled the reservation and I went back to feeling sorry for myself. A few days later I noticed a new tab up at the top of my reservations, beside “canceled” and “past”. I’ve forgotten what it said, but it was something like “pending” or the like. I found my reservation there and submitted the info to Chase for trip insurance to reimburse me. Then, a couple of days later I thought about it and went to look at it again. Turns out that the nice CSR had canceled the reservation but credited me back the price of the ticket, so I didn’t have to go through the process of getting the trip insurance.

    BTW, visiting a doctor seems key to trip insurance. I didn’t have to follow through and argue about it, but it’s one of the standard questions.

  7. Hope everyone feels better soon, esp Little C.

    Question to all. If booking fights on miles but using a Chase Signature Visa (like our newly converted Ink Plus) to pay for taxes/fees, if cancellimg the trip due to illness, would the cost associated with re-depositing the miles into my FF acct be covered by Chase’ travel insurance?

  8. I usually go anyway. If it’s a sinus thing, I take Afrin for the flight. For me it’s more about migraines so I go prepared and accept there may be down time during the trip. Sometimes you just have to surrender. Thank goodness I haven’t had to deal with sickness on the part of my 9yo. That would be a tougher call that might involve canceling. It’s not worth it if anyone is too sick, especially if travel could make it worse, or if anyone is contagious. Going to the doctor is a great idea for peace of mind and meds.

    Hope you feel better! It’s frustrating to cancel especially if you’ve put a lot of effort into the planning, but you’ll know what to do. Health is the most important thing.

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