Q. I planned a vacation in Europe with a widow friend, who lives in another state. Five days before departure, she was hospitalized for a sudden, serious health problem and had to drop out. I was able to cancel everything but the nonrefundable air fare. The latter can be applied to another flight later on, but involves a sizeable “change fee.” My friend has offered to reimburse me for the fee. What should I do? It doesn’t feel right to accept the money. Yet it also bothers me to pay. (I considered going by myself, but didn’t feel comfortable with the idea—and I couldn’t find anyone else to join me on such short notice.)
Money is always a touchy subject, which is why it’s wise to set boundaries about it in any relationship. But your situation is unusual. It seems to me that these are the issues involved:
- It was nobody’s “fault.” She’s taken responsibility by offering to cover your financial loss. If you value the friendship, isn’t it worth it to pay the fee yourself and chalk it up to “an act of God”? (Remember she’s probably stuck with a change fee, too.) If she protests, say something like, “You can take me out to dinner sometime.” She’ll feel less guilty and you’ll feel better, too.
- How would you feel if the sudden illness happened to you? In addition, if the trip had taken place as planned, wouldn’t you have spent extra money on items like day tours and/or museum entry fees that can really add up? You’ve “saved” on those expenses.
- Is it a financial hardship for you to pay the change fee? If you’re truly in a bind due to unexpected bills or whatever, you have the option of explaining your situation and accepting the offer (or part of it).
- It isn’t only the money involved. It’s also a bummer to see all those wonderful plans evaporate. On your calendar you’ve crossed out a block of time from your everyday life. Suddenly you’re in limbo and wondering, “What will I do with myself now?” One way to look at it is: “If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I’ll be a lucky person.”
And next time, you might want to consider travel insurance. It’s expensive, depending on your age and other factors. But it may be worth it to you.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist,author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill,What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
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