Most airline tickets are non-refundable. However, unless it’s a basic economy ticket, if you cancel prior to flight departure you’ll have a credit to use for future travel.
Hotels sell prepaid, non-cancellable reservations. They also sell reservations that can be cancelled without penalty, though how many days in advance you have to cancel will vary – most are one to three days in advance, but some hotels in remote locations and during peak season might be seven or even 28 days prior to check-in.
- I will almost never book prepaid, non-cancellable hotels. The savings is rarely worthwhile, and I can often get similar rates like AAA rates that are still cancellable (though not all AAA rates are).
- My plans do change and I don’t want to be completely out the money, so I will choose hotels that give me some flexibility over ones that don’t. It’s also a competitive advantage they offer over many Airbnb’s, although many short-term home rentals have been moving towards allowable cancels.
Rental cars are a whole different beast. While there are prepaid rentals (the savings is almost never worth it, except perhaps through opaque booking sites liquidating excess inventory) most rental car bookings have carried no penalty for not going through with the rental.
Car rentals are among the scammiest parts of travel, and there’s a self-reinforcing problem that’s been memorialized in popular culture over car rental agencies not actually having cars to provide to customers who make reservations.
Rental car companies don’t reliably deliver their reservations. I’ve shown up with dozens of customers waiting on cars several times in the past few years. They overbook because they’re scammy, but also because they don’t know what their no show rates will be. Years ago Hertz told me they do not guarantee to honor any reservation.
It makes sense to make more than one rental car booking, hoping that one will be honored when you get there! But rental car companies may be starting to put a stop to this. Bookings made directly with Hertz will now charge a no show fee equal to the base rate for a day’s rental.
For now this hasn’t been made to apply through third parties, because getting those terms changed and getting card information from the third parties to charge is a cumbersome endeavor. So you’re better off booking Hertz rentals through third parties rather than on their own website.
I suppose I might be more sympathetic to Hertz here if they didn’t just shorten points expiration not just without advance notice, but without even telling customers they’d done so (expiring points instantly in accounts without activity within 12 months, even though they had a published 18 month expiration policy). And if Hertz hadn’t been… sending customers to jail because their fleet tracking is so poor they were reporting cars stolen that they continued to rent out.