How I Canceled My Trips Due to the Coronavirus and Got My Miles and Points Back

Mar 30, 2020

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Note: As you plan travel during the coronavirus pandemic, please check the CDC and State Department websites for current guidance and travel restrictions.

The COVID-19 virus and the associated isolations have really put a dent in my travel plans (and yours too I’m sure). I had two trips that were immediately impacted, including a family spring break trip to Hawaii in mid-March, and one to Utah in early April to watch our church’s General Conference in person and to do some college tours with my older boys.

A fluid February and March

Through February and early March, I was keeping tabs on the coronavirus situations but still had no real plans to stop any of my travels. It was Thursday, March 12, when it all got real for us. My mom texted that morning since she was supposed to come down and stay with us to watch one of my kids who would not be going with us to Hawaii. She expressed some concerns and after talking it over, we decided that canceling both trips was the right thing to do.

It’s interesting how fast you get used to the “new normal.” It’s only been a couple of weeks since we made the call to cancel those trips, but it is quite obvious that was the right decision. With flights barely happening and events on Oahu getting canceled, we would have had a pretty miserable trip, not to mention the likely isolation that would have been imposed on us. It’s easy to forget that at the time we canceled the trips, a lot more was up in the air.

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The trips I canceled

Here were the miles and points I used for our trip to Hawaii:

  • Flights to Hawaii: 105,000 Turkish Miles&Smiles miles for seven round-trip tickets from Cincinnati to Honolulu. I transferred these 1:1 from Citi ThankYou points.

  • Airbnb: $1,430 for eight nights in Hawaii.

  • Turo: $347 for a minivan rental.

And for our Utah trip:

  • Flights: We used 80,000 Delta SkyMiles for this trip (20,000 per person, round trip).

  • Hotels: We had one night at a Holiday Inn Express on our way from the airport up to Rexburg, Idaho, for a college visit (20,000 IHG points) and five nights at the Residence Inn Salt Lake City / Sandy. That Residence Inn is a Category 2; with the fifth night free and off-peak nights we got it for 67,500 Marriott Bonvoy points (quite the good deal).

  • Rental Car: We actually had two reservations, one with Avis and one with Hertz.

Nerdy tip: I will sometimes book a backup (refundable) car reservation just in case there are complications with my primary reservation when I arrive to rent my car.

Getting my miles and points back: The easy parts

When we made the decision to cancel our trips, we were still within our cancellation window for many portions of our trip:

  • Airbnb: We were able to cancel online and get all but our service fees refunded. A few days later, Airbnb updated their policy and after being on hold for 30 minutes, I was refunded those as well. They even reinstated my $70 travel credit.

  • Avis and Hertz: Both car rental reservations were refundable (pay later), so they were both easily canceled.

  • Marriott and IHG: Also within the cancellation window, although missing out on that slick Bonvoy redemption irked me.

  • Turo reservation: Refundable up to within 24 hours of travel, no charge.

  • Delta flights: 80,000 SkyMiles refunded easily via their Twitter team with no problem and no additional charges.

Getting my miles and points back: The hard part

Getting my Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles points back was by far the most complicated. Originally, we were ticketed to fly on March 16 from Cincinnati to Honolulu (returning March 24). I used Turkish miles to book the flights on United Airlines because they are one of the cheapest ways to get to Hawaii: 7,500 miles per person each way, compared to using 22,500 miles or more if you use United MileagePlus.

My adventure in getting through to the U.S. Turkish Airline call center was daunting:

  • The call center phone line (1-800-874-8875) kept going automatically to “busy.”

  • The @TK_HelpDesk Twitter team was zero help.

  • My emails to the reservation desks were going unanswered.

With the dates of my trip coming up, I was getting a little nervous that I was going to have to eat 105,000 Turkish miles. Finally on Monday, March 15, I put some money into my Google Voice account and used that to call the Turkish Airlines call center in Turkey. The representative I spoke to there could not refund my miles due to some sort of system error, but she was able to cancel the tickets so we would not be marked as “no-shows.” According to her, we would have up to one year to call back and get the miles refunded.

A few days later, with the U.S. number still not working, I called the Turkey-based number again and spoke to an agent. There was still something wrong with her system, and she suggested I email the reservation desk that I booked the ticket through. Of course, those reservation emails were no help. Then on March 25, I tried the U.S.-based number again and got right through to someone.

While the refund process was straightforward, it was quite time-consuming. There was a $25 per ticket redeposit fee (this is Turkish Airlines' standard policy). For each ticket, you have to be transferred to an automated payment line where you put in your Turkish Miles&Smiles account PIN, your credit card number (for the $25 fee), and your credit card expiration date and CVV code.

Further complicating things in my case was that the seven of us were split up onto two different passenger name records. It took a 62-minute phone call, but I got my 105,000 Turkish miles and $78.40 in taxes and fees refunded (at a cost of $175). Most of the call was the agent repeating “one moment it’s still loading” over and over and over.

All in all, $100 out of pocket isn’t too terrible considering all the madness that has been going on. We are glad that we are safe and are looking forward to more travel when things finally settle down.

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