I was bummed. There’s honestly no way to describe it. You can see in the picture above (and on the original Instagram post @livehealthrun) the very night I canceled my trip to Phoenix, AZ for that upcoming weekend – the trip I had been looking forward to for months – where I was planning to run the Arizona Spartan Sprint three times.
I had planned every detail of the trip, looking forward to getting out of the freezing cold to go run in much warmer weather, planning to eat at True Food kitchen (a restaurant I fell in love with down at Temecula, CA, just a few weeks before – you can see the picture above of my tofu green curry (and my original Instagram post on @livehealthrun), and was looking forward to the whole experience.
It was only the next day that I was officially diagnosed with Influenza A; it was also the next day that I saw a 105 degree fever register on my thermometer (something I hope to never see or experience again). I was sick, miserable and hit harder than I had been for years.
I to this day am so ever grateful that I could think clearly enough to cancel my trip. Trying to race in that condition – even one lap – would have probably put me in the hospital and spread my flu like wildfire.
But I was also just as thankful that canceling my trip only resulted in me spending $14 out of pocket, which brings me to what I want to share in this post.
What happened to me isn’t an isolated case. Just searching online for something like “should I run when I’m sick” will make that point evident. You can’t help it. There’s just no way to control every moment in your life (no matter how much I try) and have full confidence that you’re going to be well and able to race.
Thankfully there are a few things you can control – and that’s what I want to focus on today – those things you can control when you plan your trip to make it easier to do the unthinkable, the undesirable – cancel it due to sickness (or some other calamity). Here’s just a few tips that I followed (some of them intentional and others not) when I prepared for that trip and a few tips to follow if you have to cancel it. And I can guarantee you that the ones that I lucked out on have become an intentional part of my planning for all my future trips.
Don’t pre-pay for your hotel
There’s a lot of sites out there promising to save you money (like Expedia, Hotels.com, and more). The good news is they will save you money. The bad news is they save you money because you’re pre-paying for the hotel before you go on your trip. And, by design, you forfeit a refund if you decide later you want to cancel.
I almost found this out the hard way (in a BIG way) about eight months ago when I was flying to San Francisco for training. To save my company money, I went through one of the big sites and pre-paid – something in the realm of $1,500 – all to save my company money. The training location was changed to Los Angeles and I had to beg and plead over a number of phone calls and requests to get them to cancel my reservation (with a full refund), partly because it was weeks away from the trip but mainly because I finally found a very friendly representative that responded well to my kind, gentle requests. I was lucky because they had no obligation to cancel my trip. But it was a learning experience I’ll never forget.
Know and trust the company you are renting your car from
I always rent from the same company – Alamo. They have no idea I’m writing this and definitely aren’t paying me to say that. But I’ve never had a problem in all my years (err, decades) in renting from them. They have never questioned the state of the car when it was returned, have never charged me more than I expected to be charged and they have canceled my reservations (without any fees or charge) every time I have rented from them. Even this last time I canceled, it was less than 24 hours of picking up my car. No charge. Nada.
I’m not saying that other companies will charge you, but rather just to encourage you to know who you are renting from and check out their policies. And I would at least encourage you to work with the big companies as their policies will be more defined and hopefully more flexible.
“Modify” your flight (at least with Delta) without any fees if you have a doctor’s note
I didn’t know this until I was in the middle of my sickness and talking with the Delta representative. If your doctor tells you that you’re too sick to fly, you can call the airline, share the doctor’s name, phone number and name of the medical facility and then apply the money or sky miles to a future flight. No, you don’t have to book that flight at the time of cancellation, but you’ll just have to remember the ticket number when you call back another day to book it. And no, you’re not able to cancel your flight and get a refund, but apply the cost of that flight to a future flight without the normal transfer fees – saving you a ton of money.
I can’t vouch for any other airline, but I was extremely grateful for finding that out with Delta. And I can ensure you I’ll be flying with them again soon.
Make sure to contact the airline and cancel prior to the flight
This probably seems obvious, but if you wait until after the flight you suddenly lose your bartering power. They lose their ability to easily rebook the flight (ok, I’m making that up). But just do it before the time of your flight; you’ll be glad you did.
Getting a doctor’s note will get you further with hotels, flights, rental cars and more
As mentioned above, I didn’t pre-pay for my hotel. However, I did cancel my reservation within the 24-hour window in which the hotel I booked could have charged my card due to their cancellation policy. But because I had that doctor’s note and could tell the person I was talking to that I was just diagnosed with Influenza A that morning, they were gracious and didn’t even question it.
Sure, its possible (not to mention probable) they would have just canceled the reservation without fee or question, but being able to reference my actual diagnosis and the doctor’s note removed all doubt and question.
Keep your cool and be gracious with the representative
I’ve found this out in the past. Most of the representatives you talk to deal with angry, frustrated customers all day. And just by being personal, kind and gracious – even when you’re not getting your way – will get you far. I’ve heard that my company’s policy for their support reps is to “talk with a smile” to communicate a friendly tone and demeanor. And time and time again, I’ve found that just this one tip will get you further than you could imagine.
So you might be asking about the race and why I still paid $14 out of pocket. I obviously can’t speak for every race organizer and even for the Spartan organization. But thankfully because of my Spartan annual pass I wasn’t out of any money except for the $14 service fee used to book the race. I contacted Spartan (awesome customer service) to let them know they could free up a spot in my scheduled heat. I didn’t push to be refunded the $14 and think it was a small price to pay for missing the race – definitely much less than I was thinking I would pay for a canceled trip.
If you have any other tips you’d like to share I encourage you to share them in the comments below. I’m racing in the Vegas Spartan Super in just a week from today, so I’m hopeful I won’t miss that one. But if I do, believe me I’ll be remembering these tips to cancel that trip.
Running for Life…