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If you’ve ever booked a trip on a travel site, you will be familiar with the avalanche of add-ons served up shortly before checkout. One of those purchase options is labeled travel protection or waiver and it leaves many travelers with the same question: is a vacation waiver worth the money?

What a Vacation Waiver Is (And Isn’t)

Popular online travel booking sites may offer a vacation waiver, which should not be confused with travel insurance. Insurance covers a wide range of potential travel problems, from health issues to travel bans and natural disasters. Waivers are much more narrowly focused.

A vacation waiver is sold as a way to add flexibility to your plans without forfeiting everything you spent on the trip. In most cases, it will cover change fees and cancellation charges, as well as some form of reimbursement for the cost of your flight. This is where the reading the fine print becomes especially important.

Take a typical vacation waiver offered by a online travel booking site, for example. While sold as a simple way to add flexibility into your travel plans without paying a premium for those changes, there are some crucial nuances to understand.

First, the reimbursement for airfare comes in the form of airline credits. That locks the named traveler into a future flight with the same airline. Furthermore, waivers often don’t apply to recover the cost of “non-changeable” airline tickets. Securing a credit is very much down to the policy of individual airlines, which means the traveler has a whole new reading assignment to avoid purchasing a waiver that might not work.

Second, many vacation waivers mention nothing about fluctuating prices. An airline credit during off-peak travel periods is unlikely to cover the cost of a flight rescheduled for peak season. That disparity could end up being quite large and needs to be factored into the final decision of the value of a vacation waiver.

Is a Vacation Waiver Worth the Cost?

The vacation waiver fee varies depending on the scope and cost of your trip. In our research, we found prices ranging from $50 to $128, so whether or not a vacation waiver is worth the cost depends very much on your individual plans. Two key questions to ask are:

Will the waiver fee end up being significantly less than an airline change fee and any potential reservation cancellation charges?

What is the value of the time it will take to gather proof of cancellation from the various parties and arrange refunds from the travel site?

Timing is also a factor, because hotels will often allow cancellations up to 24 hours before you visit. Most car rentals can be cancelled at similarly short notice, so there may not be any additional charges beyond airline change fees.

If this is the case, a vacation waiver only covers the cost of changing your air fare and secures the money you spent on the flight, in the form of airline credits. However, those credits are subject to the individual policies of each airline, so it’s important to always check that you can recover them.

The bottom line is that every travel scenario is different and vacation waivers are only worth the cost in a certain set of circumstances. Always read the specific waiver conditions carefully and make sure you factor the value your time into any cost calculations.

It’s also important to note that any form of travel insurance from most online booking sites is available only at the time you purchase your trip. But travel insurance through is available right up until the day before your departure date, giving you more time to research your trip and find the right policy for your unique vacation plans.

The Basics of Travel Insurance

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