COVID-19 cancellations (Part 4)

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The closing of borders worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans. In the interest of comparing how various tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., handled the disruptions and travelers’ bookings, ITN asked subscribers to write in about their experiences. Many had stories to tell, the first printed in our September 2020 issue, and we are continuing to share their accounts.

As can be seen, not only do companies have contrasting policies, but travelers have different strategies in planning and booking trips as well as different outlooks.


My wife, Debbie, and I had fully paid for a “Pearls of Dalmatia” tour (mostly Croatia) with Odysseys Unlimited (Newton, MA; 888/370-6765, odysseys-unlimited.com). The tour was to be April 16-May 3, 2020, and cost just over $9,000 for the two of us, including extensions but not airfare.

On March 16, Odysseys called to say they were canceling the tour and offered either a credit for a future booking or a full refund. We chose the full refund, and the money was returned to our credit card while we were still on the phone.

We have traveled several times with Odysseys Unlimited and always had excellent service.

• I had booked our flights on United Airlines’ website. The April 14 and 15 legs, each a code-shared nonstop flight by Lufthansa, went from San Diego to Frankfurt to Zagreb, Croatia. On May 3, we would go from Dubrovnik to Frankfurt on a flight operated by Croatia Airlines, then on United-operated flights to Newark and San Diego.

Sometime after March 8, I noticed online that the connection from Frankfurt to Zagreb had disappeared, with no alternate shown or offered. I had received no notification from United that this had even happened!

On March 21, United sent an email saying there had been a “schedule change.” It did not say that the Frankfurt-Zagreb leg had been dropped; the flights shown in the email just didn’t show that leg at all. The email said that if I didn’t want to make additional changes, I didn’t need to do anything. 

On March 25, United emailed, “As a result of recent travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, we have made changes to our flight schedule which have impacted your travel plans.” There was no flight schedule as part of that email, but in checking our booking online, I saw that our flight from San Diego would now be on United, with a stop in Newark before reaching Frankfurt (where we would still be stranded). They offered us the option to cancel and receive credit for future use.

I canceled the entire reservation the next day online in return for a flight credit. On April 11, United emailed, “We noticed you made changes to your flight” and explained how credits could be used, etc. 

After I noticed that United had added an option on their website to request a refund, I did so on April 13, pointing out that since they had canceled a flight without offering an alternative, under DOT and EU regulations they were required to give us a refund. They refunded the entire booking to our credit card on May 2.

• For our original first two flight legs, operated by Lufthansa, we had paid an additional $120 to reserve seats.

I called Lufthansa, and they said they would issue a refund but were very backlogged and couldn’t say when that would happen. During that call, the representative said I should receive a confirming email in 5 to 10 minutes. That did not happen, and when I called a week later to ask about it, they told me that the email center was shut down due to the coronavirus.

I next heard from Lufthansa on July 2. They sent an email saying they had started processing our refund (79 days after my requesting it) and it should be completed in six to eight weeks.

We finally received our $120 refund on Sept. 17.

Jim Wenck
Carlsbad, CA

 

 

Sometime in early 2020, before I became aware of any pandemic threat, I used TripAdvisor’s travel agency, Viator (www.viator.com), to book a private, 7-day, 6-night safari/tour for three adults in Namibia. The tour, scheduled for June 20-26, 2020, was called “Wildlife Namibia” and would be operated by African Sunsets Travel, a South African company. For three people, I paid $7,950, using my credit card.

I chose to book it through Viator rather than directly through African Sunsets because Viator guaranteed free cancellation “up until 24 hours before the start time of the Booking.”*

Then came COVID-19.

After getting thoroughly spooked by the idea of taking long flights with multiple connections during the height of a pandemic, on March 13 we decided to cancel the trip. I went to Viator’s website expecting an avalanche of complications for canceling for what might not be considered an acceptable reason (my anxiety).

Instead, I just found a button that said “Cancel.” I pressed the button and was immediately informed that the full amount of the tour would be refunded. That was it. No questions regarding why I was canceling, no promised vouchers for use on future trips while they held my money, no problems, no hassle! A few days later, the full refund appeared on my credit card account.

Once I begin traveling again, I will remember my experience with Viator and will certainly look to use them again to book tours. As an added incentive to use Viator again, I realized that if their policy is to allow people to cancel up to 24 hours before the scheduled tour, why bother with the extra expense of trip-cancellation insurance?**

Edward Pinsky
Montrose, NY

*Viator’s standard cancellation policy allows travelers to cancel bookings within 24 hours of the scheduled start time (calculated by the time zone of the booked tour/experience) or, for an experience that does not have a scheduled start time, within two days of the scheduled start date. However, operators listing tours/experiences on Viator can set their own cancellation terms, which may differ from Viator’s, including making trips 100% non-refundable, so users should always check cancellation conditions before booking. If no such conditions are listed, then Viator’s standard policy will be upheld.

**As for Mr. Pinsky’s parting question, many travelers purchase a standard travel insurance packaged plan because, in addition to trip-cancellation coverage (right up to the time of departure), it also includes coverage for trip interruption, emergency medical, emergency medical evacuation, travel delay and baggage protection. Alternatively, some travelers prefer a “zero-trip-cost policy,” which eliminates the expensive trip-cancellation/interruption coverage but provides all of the other benefits of a full-feature policy, including overseas medical and emergency-medical-evacuation coverage as well as coverage for baggage loss, trip delay, etc. See the article “Betty James Travel Insurance Strategy Update” in ITN (Feb. ’20, pg. 46). — Editor

 

 

Due to COVID-19, two of my scheduled cruises for 2020 were canceled, and I canceled a third. All three were with Silversea Cruises (Miami, FL; 877/382-6908, www.silversea.com) and booked through Apex Expeditions (Seattle, WA; 800/861-6425, www.apex-expeditions.com).

The first was from Chile to Tahiti, March 17-April 10, visiting islands along the way. The second was round trip from Sapporo, Japan, June 16-July 6, visiting Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. On the third cruise, Aug. 4-22, I would have seen Hudson Bay, Canada’s Baffin Island and Greenland.

Silversea revised the Canada cruise when Canada declared “no entry.” The new itinerary would have taken us along the west coast of Greenland, but I had already done that trip a few times, so I decided to cancel this cruise myself. I was offered a full-fare refund or a 125% credit toward another trip.

In all three cases, I chose a full refund. Apex provides some pre- and post-services, so while most of the refunds came from Silversea, the rest came from Apex. I dealt only with Apex, who made the offer on Silversea’s behalf.

My refund for the first cruise came almost immediately. My refund for the second cruise came on June 9 from Apex Expeditions, and the third refund came on July 2 from Silversea.

I am extremely happy with the options I was offered and with the professionalism these companies showed during trying times.

• Regarding canceled flights, as of Nov. 1, American Airlines had refunded me for the canceled Chile-Tahiti round trip, and Japan Airlines had also provided a refund. Air Canada and Icelandair are playing dumb; I have not heard from them.

• I had purchased travel insurance through Travelex. For all three canceled cruises, they returned all the cost of the insurance to me. Honorable!

To purchase the insurance, I used travel insurance broker Dan Drennen (Omaha, NE; 402/343-3621, dan@travelinsurancecenter.com).

Marilyn Armel
New York, NY

 

 

My husband and I were scheduled to fly from Dallas to Moscow via London on American Airlines on May 27, 2020. We would board the Moonlight Sonata on May 31 for an 11-day cruise to St. Petersburg with Value World Cruises (Fountain Valley, CA; 714/795-1633, value worldcruises.com).

For both of us, the total cost of the cruise, including an upgrade to a junior suite, was $5,780. We had sent a deposit in the fall and paid the balance in January.

Traveling on our own after the cruise, we expected to spend an extra three or four days in St. Petersburg and another 10 days in Helsinki and the Baltic States, returning from Helsinki on June 23.

When we hadn’t heard anything from Value World Cruises about COVID-19 plans or cancellation, I phoned the company on March 25. A representative told me that all the information was on the website.

I think it would have made for better customer care if the company had sent a message to all its travelers explaining that COVID-19 was upending the travel business and advising us to check the website often for updates regarding our trips.

After checking the site weekly, in late April I saw that our cruise had been canceled.

Value World Cruises did not offer us a refund but encouraged us to rebook any Russia cruise in 2021. We are now scheduled on the June 4-14, 2021, trip at no extra charge.

Both before and after the COVID crisis, each time I made contact with Value World Cruises, their representatives were most responsive and prompt with their replies. I am not unhappy with the company. But I think it would have been much better if the company had been more proactive in contacting its travelers.

• Our airfare with American Airlines was just under $5,000 for the two of us, a combination of premium economy (Dallas to London), economy (London to Moscow), business (Helsinki to Chicago) and first class (Chicago to Dallas).

I called American Airlines around July 8, expecting them to balk at a refund or at least to try to talk me into applying the money to another trip, but no. The agent simply checked to make sure our flights had been canceled by the airline and put through the refund. She advised me it could take up to two weeks.

The refund showed up in my credit card account on July 23, every penny of it.

Dorothy Botnick
Dallas, TX

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Value World Cruises and received the following reply:

Thank you for sharing the letter from Ms. Botnick and a chance to respond. To Ms. Botnick, I first want to extend my apology for not directly contacting her and, even more so, my staff’s and my deep appreciation and thanks for agreeing to rebook her Russian cruise for 2021. You have no idea how much that means to us.

The simple answer to Ms. Botnick’s comment that we should have reached out directly to our customers is that, like most travel organizations, we were simply overwhelmed with the COVID-19 situation, with rules starting March 13 changing on a daily basis both within the USA and across many countries where our cruises operated.

While the USA banned flights to Europe, and the European Union responded accordingly, some countries, like Russia, did not even recognize a problem (officially) until early May. To say the situation was chaotic would be an understatement.

Finally, as a cruise wholesaler, we handle close to 3,000 passengers annually in various worldwide destinations. Our business comes from travel agents, travel clubs, direct clients, special-interest groups and other wholesalers.

As a small, family-operated business, in light of the above circumstances, it was impossible to reach out to each and every one of our customers directly. As an example, not only did we have to reorganize from an office environment to all of us working from home (new phone system, computers, etc.) in the shortest possible time, we had close to 300 passengers in April alone already ticketed and booked on our Tulip cruises that we had to give priority to in handling and rebooking.

And with consistent daily changes in travel rules and restrictions, the only way we could communicate with our customers, partners and travelers was through updated postings on our website.

Again, we truly appreciate Ms. Botnick’s understanding, and as a small sign of our appreciation in her rebooking the Russian cruise for 2021, and as a nod to 2020, we will give her and her husband $220 onboard credit, which they may use for any optional excursions or onboard expenses in order to further enhance their Russian experience with our company.

Samo Toplak & Staff
Value World Tours, Inc.

 

 

I had two international cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

• The first was a trip to see the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria, June 1-5, 2020. I was concerned about my health in that tight Oberammergau theater space, with people from all over the world. As I started to see cancellations for European events taking place, I was becoming reluctant to book my flight and have large amounts of money tied up in the trip.

Then I read an article that said the Oberammergau play might be delayed until July 2020 or later. With the possible uncertainty of the event, on Feb. 7 I decided to cancel my Oberammergau trip. By doing so, I lost my deposit. Several weeks later, it was announced that the Oberammergau Passion Play was rescheduled to 2022.

• In January 2020, after seeing a promotion necessitating only a $100 deposit, I booked a 10-day “Classic Canada & New England” cruise from Québec City to New York City with Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, www.princess.com).

On May 7, Princess canceled the cruise “due to the COVID-19 virus situation.” In their message, Princess Cruises provided a choice: a “Double your Deposit Future Cruise Credit (FCC) Offer” or I could “forfeit the bonus” and get a refund. I chose the refund.

It was about four months later that I received my $100 deposit back from Princess.

James F. Olander
Arlington, VA

 

 

My husband and I had booked the “28 Night Around Australia” sailing from Sydney to Sydney, March 10-April 7, 2020, with Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, www.princess.com). We left Los Angeles on March 3 in order to spend a few days in Sydney before our cruise’s departure.

When we boarded the Sea Princess, we endured medical questionnaires, temperature checks and lots of hand washing, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At 5 a.m. on March 13, the captain came on the PA and announced that our cruise would cease operation on March 15. We had made one port of call at Melbourne the previous day and were on our way to Tasmania. We did make stops at Burnie and Hobart in Tasmania, where all excursions were operating, and then we cruised slowly back to Sydney, arriving March 18.

From March 13 through 18, Princess made all flight changes for those of us who had booked our flights through Princess.

We were given the following options for refund/credit: [A] receive a refund equivalent to 80% of the original base cruise fare (broadly equivalent to the proportion of days lost) plus a Future Cruise Credit of the same amount (80%) or [B] defer our refund and receive a Future Cruise Credit of 300%, equivalent to 250% of the prorated refund amount.

We chose Option A and received refunds of $9,434.15 each on our credit card on June 24. In addition, before disembarking from the ship, all prepaid shore excursions were refunded. There also are Future Cruise Credits of $9,434.15 in both of our Princess accounts.

We also received a refund on June 16 of $1,653.29, which I believe is related to our shipboard credit of $1,496.96 that we had remaining.

We are pleased with Princess’ response and feel it was fair.

Sharon Barnett
Oceanside, CA

 

 

I would like to say something positive about the concierges who worked aboard the MS Nautica of Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL; 855/327-8241, oceaniacruises.com) during a cruise from Cape Town, South Africa, to Singapore, Feb. 3-March 4, 2020.

It was late February when passengers were told that the ship would be making a U-turn at Sri Lanka due to the COVID-19 virus. Singapore would not allow us to dock, so we would have five sea days and disembark in Dubai, UAE.

Two concierges worked around the clock rebooking flights for most of the ship’s 700 passengers.

Even though, instead of going through Oceania, I had my own travel agent take care of my flights, the concierges let me use their phone to arrange my pickup time for a ride to the airport.

Oceania even reimbursed each of us for half the price of our cabins, which allowed me to splurge and fly first class on Emirates from Dubai to Seattle.

I can’t say enough about how hard the entire crew worked on changing programs, setting up new excursions and handling temperature checks at ports.

Wanda Walker
Kihei, HI

 

 

We have been fortunate in that all four of our 2020 trips have been postponed with no additional costs to us, but, in light of reports of travel headaches caused by the virus, we found two incidents pleasantly surprising.

• We were on the “Indian Ocean Odyssey” cruise, on board the Oceania Nautica of Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL, 855/623-2642; www.oceaniacruises.com) Feb. 3-March 4, 2020.

On Feb. 20, due to the spread of COVID-19, it was announced that our itinerary would change. Instead of going to Southeast Asia, we would go to the Middle East. The cruise length remained the same; only the ports changed.

It was also announced that we would receive a 50% refund of our cruise fare along with future cruise credits equal to 25% of the fare plus, for those who had booked their air independently, reimbursement of up to $300 per person toward flight-change fees. (We had booked our air through Oceania.)

To our surprise, the refund was posted to our credit card account before we arrived home.

This was our first experience with Oceania, and we were impressed with their handling of our cruise. We have used our credits toward another Oceania cruise in 2022.

• For a July 2020 trip to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, we had independently booked one night at the Lindner Parkhotel & Spa (Argenstraße 1, Oberstaufen; phone +49 8386 703 0; www.lindner.de/en/oberstaufen-parkhotel-spa/welcome.html) for 169 (near $198).

When we booked the hotel, we were aware that there was a 90% service charge for cancellations, but we were willing to accept those terms if we changed our plans for personal reasons.

After the play was canceled and tourists were not allowed to enter the country due to COVID-19, we tried to cancel our reservation online on May 12, requesting to be charged no cancellation fee, as was offered on the website under the virus policy. We were informed by email that we still had to pay the fee; the new policy only covered later bookings.

Thinking we should not have to pay, we wrote a letter on May 28 to Mr. Otto Lindner, on the hotel’s board of directors. (We found his name on the hotel’s parent company’s website, that of Lindner Hotels AG.) We stated our reasoning, that the cancellation was not our personal choice but was necessitated by the virus and the ban on travel into the country. We suggested these should justify a waiver to the normal refund policy.

We sent our letter by “snail mail,” thinking we might never get a response. On June 3, less than a week from our mailing date, we were pleasantly surprised to receive a very nice email stating that a full refund, with no fees charged, had been posted to our credit card.

Nick & Michaele (Mike) Stooke
O’Fallon, IL

 

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

The closing of borders worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans. In the interest of comparing how various tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., handled the disruptions and travelers’ bookings, ITN asked subscribers to write in about their experiences. Many had stories to tell, the first printed in our September 2020 issue, and we are continuing to share their accounts.

As can be seen, not only do companies have contrasting policies, but travelers have different strategies in planning and booking trips as well as different outlooks.


My wife, Debbie, and I had fully paid for a “Pearls of Dalmatia” tour (mostly Croatia) with Odysseys Unlimited (Newton, MA; 888/370-6765, odysseys-unlimited.com). The tour was to be April 16-May 3, 2020, and cost just over $9,000 for the two of us, including extensions but not airfare.

On March 16, Odysseys called to say they were canceling the tour and offered either a credit for a future booking or a full refund. We chose the full refund, and the money was returned to our credit card while we were still on the phone.

We have traveled several times with Odysseys Unlimited and always had excellent service.

• I had booked our flights on United Airlines’ website. The April 14 and 15 legs, each a code-shared nonstop flight by Lufthansa, went from San Diego to Frankfurt to Zagreb, Croatia. On May 3, we would go from Dubrovnik to Frankfurt on a flight operated by Croatia Airlines, then on United-operated flights to Newark and San Diego.

Sometime after March 8, I noticed online that the connection from Frankfurt to Zagreb had disappeared, with no alternate shown or offered. I had received no notification from United that this had even happened!

On March 21, United sent an email saying there had been a “schedule change.” It did not say that the Frankfurt-Zagreb leg had been dropped; the flights shown in the email just didn’t show that leg at all. The email said that if I didn’t want to make additional changes, I didn’t need to do anything. 

On March 25, United emailed, “As a result of recent travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, we have made changes to our flight schedule which have impacted your travel plans.” There was no flight schedule as part of that email, but in checking our booking online, I saw that our flight from San Diego would now be on United, with a stop in Newark before reaching Frankfurt (where we would still be stranded). They offered us the option to cancel and receive credit for future use.

I canceled the entire reservation the next day online in return for a flight credit. On April 11, United emailed, “We noticed you made changes to your flight” and explained how credits could be used, etc. 

After I noticed that United had added an option on their website to request a refund, I did so on April 13, pointing out that since they had canceled a flight without offering an alternative, under DOT and EU regulations they were required to give us a refund. They refunded the entire booking to our credit card on May 2.

• For our original first two flight legs, operated by Lufthansa, we had paid an additional $120 to reserve seats.

I called Lufthansa, and they said they would issue a refund but were very backlogged and couldn’t say when that would happen. During that call, the representative said I should receive a confirming email in 5 to 10 minutes. That did not happen, and when I called a week later to ask about it, they told me that the email center was shut down due to the coronavirus.

I next heard from Lufthansa on July 2. They sent an email saying they had started processing our refund (79 days after my requesting it) and it should be completed in six to eight weeks.

We finally received our $120 refund on Sept. 17.

Jim Wenck
Carlsbad, CA

 

 

Sometime in early 2020, before I became aware of any pandemic threat, I used TripAdvisor’s travel agency, Viator (www.viator.com), to book a private, 7-day, 6-night safari/tour for three adults in Namibia. The tour, scheduled for June 20-26, 2020, was called “Wildlife Namibia” and would be operated by African Sunsets Travel, a South African company. For three people, I paid $7,950, using my credit card.

I chose to book it through Viator rather than directly through African Sunsets because Viator guaranteed free cancellation “up until 24 hours before the start time of the Booking.”*

Then came COVID-19.

After getting thoroughly spooked by the idea of taking long flights with multiple connections during the height of a pandemic, on March 13 we decided to cancel the trip. I went to Viator’s website expecting an avalanche of complications for canceling for what might not be considered an acceptable reason (my anxiety).

Instead, I just found a button that said “Cancel.” I pressed the button and was immediately informed that the full amount of the tour would be refunded. That was it. No questions regarding why I was canceling, no promised vouchers for use on future trips while they held my money, no problems, no hassle! A few days later, the full refund appeared on my credit card account.

Once I begin traveling again, I will remember my experience with Viator and will certainly look to use them again to book tours. As an added incentive to use Viator again, I realized that if their policy is to allow people to cancel up to 24 hours before the scheduled tour, why bother with the extra expense of trip-cancellation insurance?**

Edward Pinsky
Montrose, NY

*Viator’s standard cancellation policy allows travelers to cancel bookings within 24 hours of the scheduled start time (calculated by the time zone of the booked tour/experience) or, for an experience that does not have a scheduled start time, within two days of the scheduled start date. However, operators listing tours/experiences on Viator can set their own cancellation terms, which may differ from Viator’s, including making trips 100% non-refundable, so users should always check cancellation conditions before booking. If no such conditions are listed, then Viator’s standard policy will be upheld.

**As for Mr. Pinsky’s parting question, many travelers purchase a standard travel insurance packaged plan because, in addition to trip-cancellation coverage (right up to the time of departure), it also includes coverage for trip interruption, emergency medical, emergency medical evacuation, travel delay and baggage protection. Alternatively, some travelers prefer a “zero-trip-cost policy,” which eliminates the expensive trip-cancellation/interruption coverage but provides all of the other benefits of a full-feature policy, including overseas medical and emergency-medical-evacuation coverage as well as coverage for baggage loss, trip delay, etc. See the article “Betty James Travel Insurance Strategy Update” in ITN (Feb. ’20, pg. 46). — Editor

 

 

Due to COVID-19, two of my scheduled cruises for 2020 were canceled, and I canceled a third. All three were with Silversea Cruises (Miami, FL; 877/382-6908, www.silversea.com) and booked through Apex Expeditions (Seattle, WA; 800/861-6425, www.apex-expeditions.com).

The first was from Chile to Tahiti, March 17-April 10, visiting islands along the way. The second was round trip from Sapporo, Japan, June 16-July 6, visiting Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. On the third cruise, Aug. 4-22, I would have seen Hudson Bay, Canada’s Baffin Island and Greenland.

Silversea revised the Canada cruise when Canada declared “no entry.” The new itinerary would have taken us along the west coast of Greenland, but I had already done that trip a few times, so I decided to cancel this cruise myself. I was offered a full-fare refund or a 125% credit toward another trip.

In all three cases, I chose a full refund. Apex provides some pre- and post-services, so while most of the refunds came from Silversea, the rest came from Apex. I dealt only with Apex, who made the offer on Silversea’s behalf.

My refund for the first cruise came almost immediately. My refund for the second cruise came on June 9 from Apex Expeditions, and the third refund came on July 2 from Silversea.

I am extremely happy with the options I was offered and with the professionalism these companies showed during trying times.

• Regarding canceled flights, as of Nov. 1, American Airlines had refunded me for the canceled Chile-Tahiti round trip, and Japan Airlines had also provided a refund. Air Canada and Icelandair are playing dumb; I have not heard from them.

• I had purchased travel insurance through Travelex. For all three canceled cruises, they returned all the cost of the insurance to me. Honorable!

To purchase the insurance, I used travel insurance broker Dan Drennen (Omaha, NE; 402/343-3621, dan@travelinsurancecenter.com).

Marilyn Armel
New York, NY

 

 

My husband and I were scheduled to fly from Dallas to Moscow via London on American Airlines on May 27, 2020. We would board the Moonlight Sonata on May 31 for an 11-day cruise to St. Petersburg with Value World Cruises (Fountain Valley, CA; 714/795-1633, value worldcruises.com).

For both of us, the total cost of the cruise, including an upgrade to a junior suite, was $5,780. We had sent a deposit in the fall and paid the balance in January.

Traveling on our own after the cruise, we expected to spend an extra three or four days in St. Petersburg and another 10 days in Helsinki and the Baltic States, returning from Helsinki on June 23.

When we hadn’t heard anything from Value World Cruises about COVID-19 plans or cancellation, I phoned the company on March 25. A representative told me that all the information was on the website.

I think it would have made for better customer care if the company had sent a message to all its travelers explaining that COVID-19 was upending the travel business and advising us to check the website often for updates regarding our trips.

After checking the site weekly, in late April I saw that our cruise had been canceled.

Value World Cruises did not offer us a refund but encouraged us to rebook any Russia cruise in 2021. We are now scheduled on the June 4-14, 2021, trip at no extra charge.

Both before and after the COVID crisis, each time I made contact with Value World Cruises, their representatives were most responsive and prompt with their replies. I am not unhappy with the company. But I think it would have been much better if the company had been more proactive in contacting its travelers.

• Our airfare with American Airlines was just under $5,000 for the two of us, a combination of premium economy (Dallas to London), economy (London to Moscow), business (Helsinki to Chicago) and first class (Chicago to Dallas).

I called American Airlines around July 8, expecting them to balk at a refund or at least to try to talk me into applying the money to another trip, but no. The agent simply checked to make sure our flights had been canceled by the airline and put through the refund. She advised me it could take up to two weeks.

The refund showed up in my credit card account on July 23, every penny of it.

Dorothy Botnick
Dallas, TX

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Value World Cruises and received the following reply:

Thank you for sharing the letter from Ms. Botnick and a chance to respond. To Ms. Botnick, I first want to extend my apology for not directly contacting her and, even more so, my staff’s and my deep appreciation and thanks for agreeing to rebook her Russian cruise for 2021. You have no idea how much that means to us.

The simple answer to Ms. Botnick’s comment that we should have reached out directly to our customers is that, like most travel organizations, we were simply overwhelmed with the COVID-19 situation, with rules starting March 13 changing on a daily basis both within the USA and across many countries where our cruises operated.

While the USA banned flights to Europe, and the European Union responded accordingly, some countries, like Russia, did not even recognize a problem (officially) until early May. To say the situation was chaotic would be an understatement.

Finally, as a cruise wholesaler, we handle close to 3,000 passengers annually in various worldwide destinations. Our business comes from travel agents, travel clubs, direct clients, special-interest groups and other wholesalers.

As a small, family-operated business, in light of the above circumstances, it was impossible to reach out to each and every one of our customers directly. As an example, not only did we have to reorganize from an office environment to all of us working from home (new phone system, computers, etc.) in the shortest possible time, we had close to 300 passengers in April alone already ticketed and booked on our Tulip cruises that we had to give priority to in handling and rebooking.

And with consistent daily changes in travel rules and restrictions, the only way we could communicate with our customers, partners and travelers was through updated postings on our website.

Again, we truly appreciate Ms. Botnick’s understanding, and as a small sign of our appreciation in her rebooking the Russian cruise for 2021, and as a nod to 2020, we will give her and her husband $220 onboard credit, which they may use for any optional excursions or onboard expenses in order to further enhance their Russian experience with our company.

Samo Toplak & Staff
Value World Tours, Inc.

 

 

I had two international cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

• The first was a trip to see the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria, June 1-5, 2020. I was concerned about my health in that tight Oberammergau theater space, with people from all over the world. As I started to see cancellations for European events taking place, I was becoming reluctant to book my flight and have large amounts of money tied up in the trip.

Then I read an article that said the Oberammergau play might be delayed until July 2020 or later. With the possible uncertainty of the event, on Feb. 7 I decided to cancel my Oberammergau trip. By doing so, I lost my deposit. Several weeks later, it was announced that the Oberammergau Passion Play was rescheduled to 2022.

• In January 2020, after seeing a promotion necessitating only a $100 deposit, I booked a 10-day “Classic Canada & New England” cruise from Québec City to New York City with Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, www.princess.com).

On May 7, Princess canceled the cruise “due to the COVID-19 virus situation.” In their message, Princess Cruises provided a choice: a “Double your Deposit Future Cruise Credit (FCC) Offer” or I could “forfeit the bonus” and get a refund. I chose the refund.

It was about four months later that I received my $100 deposit back from Princess.

James F. Olander
Arlington, VA

 

 

My husband and I had booked the “28 Night Around Australia” sailing from Sydney to Sydney, March 10-April 7, 2020, with Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, www.princess.com). We left Los Angeles on March 3 in order to spend a few days in Sydney before our cruise’s departure.

When we boarded the Sea Princess, we endured medical questionnaires, temperature checks and lots of hand washing, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At 5 a.m. on March 13, the captain came on the PA and announced that our cruise would cease operation on March 15. We had made one port of call at Melbourne the previous day and were on our way to Tasmania. We did make stops at Burnie and Hobart in Tasmania, where all excursions were operating, and then we cruised slowly back to Sydney, arriving March 18.

From March 13 through 18, Princess made all flight changes for those of us who had booked our flights through Princess.

We were given the following options for refund/credit: [A] receive a refund equivalent to 80% of the original base cruise fare (broadly equivalent to the proportion of days lost) plus a Future Cruise Credit of the same amount (80%) or [B] defer our refund and receive a Future Cruise Credit of 300%, equivalent to 250% of the prorated refund amount.

We chose Option A and received refunds of $9,434.15 each on our credit card on June 24. In addition, before disembarking from the ship, all prepaid shore excursions were refunded. There also are Future Cruise Credits of $9,434.15 in both of our Princess accounts.

We also received a refund on June 16 of $1,653.29, which I believe is related to our shipboard credit of $1,496.96 that we had remaining.

We are pleased with Princess’ response and feel it was fair.

Sharon Barnett
Oceanside, CA

 

 

I would like to say something positive about the concierges who worked aboard the MS Nautica of Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL; 855/327-8241, oceaniacruises.com) during a cruise from Cape Town, South Africa, to Singapore, Feb. 3-March 4, 2020.

It was late February when passengers were told that the ship would be making a U-turn at Sri Lanka due to the COVID-19 virus. Singapore would not allow us to dock, so we would have five sea days and disembark in Dubai, UAE.

Two concierges worked around the clock rebooking flights for most of the ship’s 700 passengers.

Even though, instead of going through Oceania, I had my own travel agent take care of my flights, the concierges let me use their phone to arrange my pickup time for a ride to the airport.

Oceania even reimbursed each of us for half the price of our cabins, which allowed me to splurge and fly first class on Emirates from Dubai to Seattle.

I can’t say enough about how hard the entire crew worked on changing programs, setting up new excursions and handling temperature checks at ports.

Wanda Walker
Kihei, HI

 

 

We have been fortunate in that all four of our 2020 trips have been postponed with no additional costs to us, but, in light of reports of travel headaches caused by the virus, we found two incidents pleasantly surprising.

• We were on the “Indian Ocean Odyssey” cruise, on board the Oceania Nautica of Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL, 855/623-2642; www.oceaniacruises.com) Feb. 3-March 4, 2020.

On Feb. 20, due to the spread of COVID-19, it was announced that our itinerary would change. Instead of going to Southeast Asia, we would go to the Middle East. The cruise length remained the same; only the ports changed.

It was also announced that we would receive a 50% refund of our cruise fare along with future cruise credits equal to 25% of the fare plus, for those who had booked their air independently, reimbursement of up to $300 per person toward flight-change fees. (We had booked our air through Oceania.)

To our surprise, the refund was posted to our credit card account before we arrived home.

This was our first experience with Oceania, and we were impressed with their handling of our cruise. We have used our credits toward another Oceania cruise in 2022.

• For a July 2020 trip to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, we had independently booked one night at the Lindner Parkhotel & Spa (Argenstraße 1, Oberstaufen; phone +49 8386 703 0; www.lindner.de/en/oberstaufen-parkhotel-spa/welcome.html) for 169 (near $198).

When we booked the hotel, we were aware that there was a 90% service charge for cancellations, but we were willing to accept those terms if we changed our plans for personal reasons.

After the play was canceled and tourists were not allowed to enter the country due to COVID-19, we tried to cancel our reservation online on May 12, requesting to be charged no cancellation fee, as was offered on the website under the virus policy. We were informed by email that we still had to pay the fee; the new policy only covered later bookings.

Thinking we should not have to pay, we wrote a letter on May 28 to Mr. Otto Lindner, on the hotel’s board of directors. (We found his name on the hotel’s parent company’s website, that of Lindner Hotels AG.) We stated our reasoning, that the cancellation was not our personal choice but was necessitated by the virus and the ban on travel into the country. We suggested these should justify a waiver to the normal refund policy.

We sent our letter by “snail mail,” thinking we might never get a response. On June 3, less than a week from our mailing date, we were pleasantly surprised to receive a very nice email stating that a full refund, with no fees charged, had been posted to our credit card.

Nick & Michaele (Mike) Stooke
O’Fallon, IL