You can cancel anytime – oh, and good luck trying!

Leah Sherman isn’t the first one and she won’t be the last.

She tried to cancel a Gray Line tour – a product that was cancelable, to a point – and nearly lost everything.

Her story isn’t about bad cancellation policies. There are plenty of those in the travel industry, and business in general. And we give those enough virtual ink on this site every day.

No, this is about seemingly good cancellation policies that have a little catch: They’re difficult, or even impossible, to invoke.

In other words, you can cancel for any reason – if you can figure out how to cancel.

“I have been trying to cancel a Panama Canal Partial Transit tour,” says Sherman. “The cancellation policy states that I can cancel up to 48 hours in advance and get a refund.”

Ah, but that assumes she can cancel. And she can’t.

I have tried calling the Panama number on my voucher twice and the phone has not been answered.

I have sent numerous emails to only to be told, “You need to contact directly with the Agency Grayline Worldwide to cancel in their systems.”

When I tried to call Gray Line’s general toll-free number and sent a message through, the response was “If you are writing to . . . cancel a reservation . . . please contact the local expert in your destination.”

I have tried to do that with no success. I don’t know where to go next. Can you help me?

Why, yes. We have some excellent Gray Line contacts, and we stood ready to help. Our advocates asked for a few details on her tickets. But before she could send them, she emailed us with some happy news: She’d gotten through to the right person and canceled her Panama Canal tour.

And all is well. Or is it? Time will tell.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear how often this happens. A customer will try to cancel a cruise while they can still get a partial refund, or an airline ticket before departure, or a hotel room — and for some reason, they can’t get through to the right person, or the electronic request isn’t received in time. If it only happened occasionally, I wouldn’t suspect a more sinister plan to keep your hard-earned money.

But Sherman’s story happens far too frequently. And as a result, too many companies keep deposits or pocket the money for unused hotel rooms or flights.

That’s the lesson learned: A company might have an amazingly generous and reasonable cancellation policy, but it won’t make any difference if you can’t actually cancel the product or service.

Did Gray Line give Sherman the bureaucratic runaround? Without a doubt. Will your company also give you the runaround the next time you have to cancel? Honestly, I hope you never find out.

Do companies make it too dificult to cancel their products?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Peter Varhol

    Funny timing on this. I am in the middle of trying to book a flight and hotel using Concur, required by my company. They insist on booking me on flights that do not meet my business needs, and though I cancelled before confirmation, they refuse to cancel. I had to go to my own account to cancel the hotel, because despite being imminently cancelable, Concur refused to.
    Warning: Concur is pure evil.

  • Steve Rabin

    my company just switched to Concur, and I am not impressed.

  • Steve Rabin

    Good, reputable companies do not make it difficult.

  • James

    We had concur at a previous employer. Awful. Even though I was willing to pay the difference between a coach and “main cabin select” on Virgin America, it would not let me do that.

  • Peter Varhol

    Yeah, I spend my company’s money like my own. I might spend a couple extra dollars so I don’t have to land at midnight (neither the company nor Concur owns my time like that), but I am careful. I want a hotel near my business destination, so I can walk rather than get a cab every day. They want to put me 30 miles away because it’s $10 a night cheaper. That is just stupid.

  • taxed2themax

    I wholly agree. I also think that if a company were to look at it, I suspect the economic analysis would be that it is in their financial best interest to have a reasonably set-up cancellation process over that of having one that is “lacking”, then having to expend the added labour costs to deal with, fight or otherwise handle the complaints, charge-backs, etc..

  • Don Spilky

    We use Concur and while it does take some getting used to, it isn’t pure evil. What might be pure evil is your company’s policy that Concur is enforcing. At my company, we can go outside of flight or hotel costs but when we do so we have to put in a reason why and this is forwarded on to leadership. If Concur doesn’t allow you to do this, then it is because your company has set it up this way and doesn’t want to allow this for you.

  • Peter Varhol

    I agree that I don’t know where Concur ends and my company’s policies start. But after struggling with it for three hours this morning, any system that offers me a flight option of going into JFK on one carrier, and 1.5 hours later flying out from EWR on another is simply wrong. And the hotel thing, when I enter a location for the hotel based on my business need, and it instead offers me a hotel at $10 a night less 30 miles away, that sounds more like Concur than my company policy. No one saved any money on me today, I will guarantee that.

  • Mel65

    My past and present companies use Concur. I actually like it now that I’m used to it; but, we have options in place to choose “other than the cheapest.” In fact, for hotels the company has “preferred” ones that are often NOT the cheapest. But when I am choosing the more expensive fare or hotel or rental car option, a dialogue pops up, I enter the justification “traveling with client/outside reasonable hours” etc.. and good to go! I think it’s more your company policy is ugly than it is Concur itself ;)

  • Peter Varhol

    So why did it not let me cancel the hotel before completing the Concur process? It said that the cancellation was not in concurrence with the hotel’s policy, yet I could and did cancel it on my own Marriott account. And because I could not cancel the hotel, it would not let me cancel the entire reservation, although it was not yet booked. That is a Concur issue, not my company policy. I’m sorry, this is about as user-unfriendly as you can get.

  • Mel65

    No idea… different versions, different levels maybe? I’ve cancelled a hotel, and kept the airfare, cancelled a rental and kept the flight and hotel, or cancelled an entire itinerary before. Perhaps your company purchased a “baseline” version or something. *Shrug* as always YMMV I guess.

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