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Avoid Travel Cancellation Fees with This Simple, Legal Trick | Frommer's pichit / Shutterstock

Avoid Travel Cancellation Fees with This Simple, Legal Trick

If it's too late to get out of that hotel booking, that Disney dining reservation, or other advance plan, there's often a simple last-ditch thing you can do to wriggle out of it.

This travel tip is so simple you may smack your forehead once you learn you could have been using it all along. 

There's an easy method for avoiding some cancellation fees and getting a refund on supposedly nonrefundable reservations.

To illustrated the hack, we'll take an example from the Disney parks.

Sit-down restaurants inside Disney theme parks are usually fully booked every day, so they require advance reservations with advance credit card details. People make those dining reservations weeks and even months ahead of time. 

There are lots of reasons, including sickness or bad weather, that you might not be able to honor an advance restaurant reservation when the day rolls around. But if Disney guests don't cancel restaurant reservations in time, the corporation whacks them with a $10 feeper person

Disney doesn't always make it easy to cancel, either—calling the customer service number can result in two-hour waits.

Eventually, fans figured out a work-around.

And take heart, because this trick can apply to many reservations you make.

Some noticed that you can still get rid of a last-minute restaurant reservation by simply modifying your appointment to be at a much later date. In Disney's case, one doesn't even have to call, because reservations can be modified online.

Once the meal has been moved into the future, outside the period that would incur a penalty, the reservation can then be canceled without charge.

The postponement hack also works for some "nonrefundable" hotel rooms that permit date changes. Many hotels that offer discounts for prepayment will still allow changes to a reservation up to a certain point. 

Let's say that you scored one of those deals, but now it's almost time to check in, and you've tested positive for Covid.

Depending on the original cancellation rules of your reservation, you could potentially move your imminent booking to a future date (use the hotel's website to do this part, if you can). Then, once that new booking has been established outside the penalty time window, go back and cancel.

Some nonrefundable hotel rooms emphatically don't allow modifications of any kind, so if you want to reserve the right to use this loophole if you need it, make sure you only pay for hotel rooms or restaurants that allow reservation changes in the hours before check-in time. 

An increasing number of restaurants also charge harsh cancellation fees no matter how you beg.

The postponement hack can often work to keep you from losing your money completely if you can no longer travel when you had originally planned.

There are always ethics to consider, however. 

The kindest way to use this hack is to postpone your appointment and then honor the fresh reservation when the new date comes around. But we know that's not always possible. 

We also wouldn't use this trick on mom-and-pop businesses that are unlikely to be able to fill that now-empty room or vacant restaurant table at the last minute.

Then again, at most mom-and-pop businesses, you're more likely to escape penalties by talking to a human being and explaining why you need to change your plans. With corporate travel reservations, you won't be treated with such sympathy.

The next time you're staring down a reservation you can't use, check if it's possible to modify your plans to a later date. The postponement hack works.