Learning how to make flexible travel plans for your flights, lodging, and transportation can save you hundreds (or thousands!) when you have to make unexpected changes to your trip. In this article, you’ll discover how to make your own flexible travel plans. We’ll cover what you need to consider before booking and what to look for before you hand over your credit card!
Once we’ve decided to take a trip, we’re going to make it happen, right? Unfortunately, life may have other ideas. Creating flexible travel plans for your next adventure can keep you from losing the money you’ve already spent on your trip, if your plans need to change!
During the fall of 2022, I found insanely cheap flights to Peru and booked them immediately, knowing I had major life events coming up that could impact my plans. Spoiler -- they did. I canceled my trip to Peru and decided to spend five weeks in Toronto, Canada instead. Because I made flexible travel plans, I didn’t lose a single cent in the process of rearranging my travels.
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Choosing Flights for Flexible Travel Plans
Making your flights flexible without spending extra can be tricky. Many airlines offer fully refundable tickets, but you’ll usually pay at least double the price of a standard fare. One way to make flexible travel plans without paying more is to choose flights that will give you a credit to use later, should you decide to cancel. This worked well for me when booking my cheap flights to Peru.
Choose an airline you use often when booking tickets that offer a credit. Book directly with the airline instead of using a third party. This makes it much easier to change or cancel your plans. Be sure to read the fine print before you purchase and keep all the emails and receipts you receive, in case you need to reference them when making changes.
Miles and rewards points can also be helpful for making flexible travel plans. When I canceled my trip to Peru, Delta refunded all the SkyMiles I’d used without any penalty! Again, be sure to check with the specific airline to see what options their rewards plan offers.
How to Make Flexible Travel Plans for Lodging
Thankfully, making flexible travel plans for your accommodations is fairly simple. Many hotels and traditional lodging options allow you to cancel for free until a few days before your arrival. There are plenty of places that don’t even collect payment until you get there.
My two favorite booking sites -- Booking.com and Hostelworld -- make it easy to see the cancellation options when you book. Hostelworld only collects a deposit at the time of booking and gives you the choice to make it fully refundable before you pay. Booking.com will show you the payment options available for each room and you can even filter your search results to only see properties that offer free cancellation!When reserving my rooms for Peru, I used Booking and chose the free cancellation option for my room. If I’d traveled as planned, the room would have only cost an additional $5 per night ($25 total), which was worth it to me for the flexibility. Also, canceling my stay was super easy! It only took a few clicks and my card was never charged because I was within the time frame for free cancellation.
Making Flexible Travel Plans for Your Transportation
If your trip is going to include a rental car or train tickets, there are multiple ways to make flexible travel plans. For bus and train tickets, you don’t need to book very far ahead! In many places, train tickets aren’t even available for purchase more than twelve weeks in advance.
It’s a good idea to pre-book a rental car, if that’s how you’ll be getting around. Traditional rental agencies usually offer a fully refundable option that’s not much more than the standard rate. Local agencies and services like Turo, typically offer generous cancellation policies as well. Just be sure to read the fine print before you book.
If you’re planning to travel by bus or train, you may not need to book until a few days before you travel. Depending on your destination, you may even be able to purchase your ticket at the station, which means you don’t have to solidify your plans until the last minute.*
Most bus and train companies are run by the local country or individual businesses so their policies will vary. There are usually refundable fares available if you’re purchasing in advance. Simply look for those options when booking and, as always, read the fine print.*Note: If you’re traveling during the busy tourist season, I do recommend purchasing bus or train tickets in advance to be sure you get a spot. Here are different ways to travel that you may want to consider when planning how you’ll get from place to place.
How Travel Insurance Can Help With Flexible Travel Plans
Travel insurance is another option that can help you create flexible travel plans. Most policies only cover you in case of a medical emergency or basic mishaps like lost luggage. However, there are plans that offer coverage if you cancel for any reason.
The “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) options tend to be more expensive than the general coverage. However, if your trip requires the majority of your bookings to be made far in advance or if your pre-booked elements come with a hefty price tag, this may be a good way to ensure you don’t lose your money if you need to change or cancel.
A simple internet search will give you a long list of insurance companies offering this type of coverage. Every policy is different so be sure to read the details. Though I’ve purchased travel insurance on many trips, I prefer to make flexible travel plans using these other methods so I’ve never chosen a “cancel for any reason” policy. I do know there’s more paperwork involved to get payment from insurance companies so I take the simpler route whenever possible.
What to Do If Your Travel Plans Change
It can be disappointing and frustrating when you have to change or cancel your trip. The good news is that if you make flexible travel plans using the information in this article, making adjustments is simple! You take care of everything with just a few clicks and not worry about losing your money.
When canceling my trip to Peru, the Delta app allowed me to cancel all three reservations from my phone. The SkyMiles were immediately put back into my account and the taxes refunded to my credit card. For flights I’d paid for using my credit card, they simply issued a credit to use on future bookings and I received an email with the information for how to redeem them. If you choose this option and aren’t going to use the credit right away, be sure to note the expiration date and save any emails you receive for future reference.
My accommodations were easy to cancel through the Booking.com app. I simply selected the reservation I wanted to cancel and followed the steps. Because I planned to visit during the shoulder season when there aren’t as many tourists, I was waiting to make transportation arrangements so there was nothing to cancel there.The whole process of canceling my trip to Peru took about five minutes. I did it all from my phone while having my morning coffee. It was fast and simple because I’d purposely planned for this possibility. Now you can too!
Wrapping Up Flexible Travel Plans
One of the things I love most about indie travel is the ability to make flexible travel plans any time! It means I can start creating my trip without feeling anxious about losing a pile of money if my situation changes. The peace of mind is worth the few extra dollars it may cost to keep things flexible.
Here are a handful other articles that you may find helpful for saving money and planning your own epic international adventures:
- 7 Tips for Finding Cheap Flights to Anywhere
- 5 Types of Accommodations and How to Use Them to Save Money
- Types of Transportation To Consider for Your Trip
- How to Plan Your Own Trip to Europe
If you want to learn all the ins and outs of planning your own international trips, have a look at the How to Plan Your Own Unique and Affordable International Trips course. It covers everything from creating an itinerary you’ll love through booking every element you’ll need!
If you don’t have the time or energy to plan every single bit of your trip or would like to get a bit of personalized help with your plans, check out these consulting services created specifically for indie travelers like you.
If you found this article useful, I’d love to stay connected! You can subscribe to the Indie Travel Dispatch, a weekly email with travel stories, inspiration, news, planning tips, and more. It’s one of my favorite ways to stay in touch with my fellow travel lovers! You can read past ones here.
You can also find me over on Instagram! That’s where I share my travel adventures and vlog about travel planning, food, and more. Come over and say hi!
Now get out there. The world is waiting for you!
Have you ever decided to change or cancel your travel plans? How did that process go for you?
Share your experiences in the comments!
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It is a very useful article..Thanks Annie…!
Thank you, Joseph! I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂
Bummer that you didn’t make it to Peru but amazing that you didn’t lose money! Thanks for sharing your smart money-saving and anxiety-reducing tips!
Yes, I’ll definitely get to Peru! I’m super grateful that it all worked out easily.
Hah, I love your About Me “Fun Lover. Food Eater!” Don’t we all love good food around the world? Great tips on how to be flexible while traveling. We’ve had plans change with canceled flights, a cruise canceled because of Covid…flexibility is the key.
Ha! Yes, I’m the Chief Eating Officer around here! It’s rough when plans change, but I hope it was simple and easy for you too.
It’s great that we seem to have more flexability these days with travel plans!
Yes it is! I’m very happy about it!
Great post! I try to steer clear of making travel plants that *aren’t* flexible because it’s so nice to have the opportunity to change them! I love using Southwest, Booking.com, and National Car Rental because they are all super flexible and don’t charge change fees!
Yes! It makes everything so much easier, and it doesn’t usually cost much more. Happy to hear you do it too!
It's great to know that there are accommodations that will allow your to cancel for free when things happen. We hope to find a place like that in Bathurst 1000 home hire this year, since we just want to be prepared for certain situations. But, hopefully, we won't have to cancel because we definitely want to go on a vacationthis summer.
Yes! There are plenty that will let you cancel for free. Most are very up-front about it, so you can even filter for it. I hope you don’t have to cancel!