For anyone who has booked a business trip through a travel site, the standard avalanche of add-ons served up shortly before checkout will be familiar. One of those purchase options is labeled travel protection or a travel waiver.

This leaves a common question for professionals with a hectic schedule and a track record of last minute changes as well as those who advise them: is a travel waiver worth the money for business travelers? That's a question that we get quite often at our travel insurance comparison site, and one that hospitality professionals can answer easily for their clients.

What a Travel Waiver Is (And Isn't)

Popular online travel 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 travel waiver is sold as a way to add flexibility to a vacation or business trip without forfeiting the standard costs associated with last minute changes. In most cases, it will cover change fees and cancellation charges, as well as some form of reimbursement for the cost of the flight.

This is where the reading the fine print becomes especially important.

Take a typical waiver offered by a household name travel 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. As always, the devil is in the details.

Firstly, 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.

Secondly, many 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 travel waiver.

Is a Travel Waiver Worth the Cost for Business Travelers?

There is no doubt that business travel can be expensive. Travel waiver fees vary depending on the scope and cost of the business trip, so whether or not a waiver is worth the cost depends heavily on the level of travel and how flexible the traveler can be with adjustments.

Two important 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 the professional (or her team) 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 the reservation begins. Most car rentals can be cancelled at similarly short notice, so there may not be any additional charges beyond airline change fees.

If a business is able to cancel those parts of the trip without a fee, a travel waiver only covers the cost of changing the airfare and secures the plane ticket price, in the form of airline credits. However, those credits are subject to the individual policies of each airline, so a business travel policy must cover these variations to determine whether credits can be recovered, especially the policies of preferred flight partners.

The bottom line is that every professional travel scenario is different and travel waivers are often only valuable in a specific set of circumstances. Travel planners are advised to always read the specific waiver conditions carefully and be sure to factor employee 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 the trip is purchased. However, travel insurance obtained through is available right up until the day before departure. This offers more time to research travel options and find the right policy to cover all forms of a business trip.

As all forms of travel insurance become more popular with travelers of all types, hospitality professionals can help clients and guests to familiarize themselves with the options that are available to them. Providing information about company cancellation policies and travel insurance prominently on websites links to a travel comparison site can be a valuable consumer service. It's also likely to address any number of consumer issues before they become complaints.

Gordon Platt
President Gotham media strategies