I booked a trip for our family in the first week of 2022. It turned out to be the worst possible time to go on vacation. The COVID-19 surge reached an all-time high, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are required again to go to Boracay, and my husband tested positive for COVID.
I couldn’t cancel our two-week hotel room reservation and it was the biggest expense of the trip. I already paid for our nonrefundable room in full via the online travel agency Agoda.
I read the terms and conditions of my booking again. It was noted under Important Information that my booking cannot be refunded nor amended or modified. It seems we were stuck with our reservation.
I tried amending it through the chatbot Joy. However, the only change it would allow me to do was to change the name of the guests. This was one way out. But where could I find other people to take over our booking at such short notice?
I am not going to lie, I considered leaving without my husband. His isolation would end on the day of our flight, but I doubted that he’d test negative right away. He could always follow. My 5-year-old daughter plotted with me as we planned our days without him.
This idea lasted for half a day before guilt settled in. We’re no Disney family, but it’s hard to enjoy a family vacation without one of its members. We also had the option of booking another earlier flight to avoid the RT-PCR test requirement, but we didn’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus, even when nobody else would know or find out.
It was a matter of adjusting the dates of our stay.
Send emails, make calls
I read up on the experiences of past travelers and one detail stood out. Agoda coordinates with the hotel to make changes. I thought it best to ask our hotel first.
I sent an email to Hue Hotel Boracay. I explained our situation and asked if I could move our stay. They replied that they sympathized with my situation, but that I should coordinate with my agency. I pleaded my case again and asked for help from them.
Hue’s response exceeded my expectations. They emailed Agoda on my behalf to let them know they were agreeable to my requests. But they also advised me to write Agoda just the same. And so I did.
I called Agoda right away (tel. 85400981) to talk to a real person. The agent said that sickness in the family is a valid reason to make changes. They found Hue’s email and immediately worked on amending my booking.
The entire call lasted 19 minutes. We were not charged extra because the rates of the hotel didn’t change from the time of our booking. They also responded to the email I sent on the same day. Ours was a painless process, but I know that this is not always the case.
Another popular Boracay hotel, for example, didn’t allow changes when travelers said that their reason for rebooking and cancellation is fear of the current surge. They rejected requests—even those booked with them directly, according to posts in a travel forum. They later changed their stance and allowed rebookings for travel dates until Jan. 15.
But the same hotel permitted changes for guests who were able to present a positive RT-PCR test. The hotel will also charge the price difference if the rebooking is made beyond 30 days from the original date. A lot of this hotel’s guests ended up offering their bookings in online travel groups at a loss.
This is why it pays to research the hotel that you intend to stay in. Beyond the amenities and location, try to read up on reviews on how flexible and service-oriented they are.
“Generally, it’s up to each hotel how they deal with nonrefundable booking cancellations and how forthcoming they are,” Crimson Boracay general manager Patrick Manthe said. “We allow people to postpone their bookings within the next six months or cancel the bookings even the nonrefundable ones. No RT-PCR test required.”
But as flexible as they are, they have limitations, too. They usually don’t allow changes in bookings made during peak season, such as Christmas and New Year, especially if you requested it last minute. This is a business loss on their end.
Manthe also cited other reasons wherein cancellations could be granted. Serious illness is always one of them. So is death in the family and natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. Travel bans such as lockdowns would also be valid.
If cancellations are not allowed, the hotel might offer to rebook it for a later date. Travel agencies usually follow the hotel policies. If your hotel agrees to make amendments, ask to put it in writing so you can forward it to your agency.
Even when they don’t answer immediately send an email anyway, if only as proof later on that you did make the request within the prescribed period.
We were also able to make changes with our low-fare airline tickets. I deliberately did not check in early online. Once you check in, it’s impossible to make any changes, unless the entire flight is canceled.
All changes can be done online; however, I had to go to the airport. We purchased add-ons such as extra baggage and premium seats from AirAsia that didn’t allow online changes. The quickest way to take care of it is to do it over the counter.
I went there 48 hours before our flight, well within the airline’s policy. I expected to be charged the fare difference and change fee. However, our flight was affected by the surge. We didn’t have to pay anything for our rebooking. Our add-ons were also carried over. This does not happen on regular rebookings. Another option offered to me was to convert it to travel credit.
Other travelers will tell you to avoid nonrefundable bookings. The small price difference is not worth it. But if you already booked one and you have to get out of it, it never hurts to ask.