COVID-19 cancellations (Part 5)

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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.

Update — Regarding a refund on an Aug. 22 flight from Reykjavik, Iceland, to New York City that I had to cancel due to COVID-19 (Dec.’20, pg. 19), on Nov. 13 my travel agent was notified by Icelandair that I would receive a refund of $1,139.45 to my credit card account. The full amount was paid.

Marilyn Armel
New York, NY

 

 

My wife, Sandra, and I started an adventurous trip sailing on the Seabourn Sojourn from Miami on Jan. 4, 2020, planning to arrive in Singapore on March 22 for our long flight home. We certainly didn’t expect to have an even longer flight home from Perth, Australia, at the end of our cruise.

We really enjoyed our classy trip and interesting itinerary, visiting countries in Northwest Africa that were new to us and going to ports in Namibia and South Africa.

Our first hiccup was the cancellation of the port call in Mombasa, Kenya, due to security concerns over an extremists’ attack on a coastal city in that country. We each received a $150 credit to our shipboard account, and the ship would stay longer in Zanzibar and in Victoria on the island of Mahé, Seychelles.

Little did we realize that Seychelles was the last land we would set foot on for 15 days. We soon received word that we would not dock in the Maldives nor at the remaining eight ports, including Singapore.

After six sea days, the ship was allowed to dock in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but only for food and fuel. No one was allowed off the ship save for one Sojourn officer, who supervised loading. We knew by now the problems of the COVID-19 virus in Singapore and that our cruise would terminate elsewhere.

Fortunately, there was no incidence of the virus on the ship, so our daily lives were not impacted. Everything continued in the fine fashion that guests of Seabourn (Seattle, WA; 800/442-4448, seabourn.com) were accustomed to, including good meals, entertainment and speakers.

We spent nine days heading to our new final destination, Australia, with stops programmed in the cities of Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton and, finally, Perth. An additional $500 per person was credited to our shipboard account.

Unfortunately, the Australian authorities changed their minds, and we went straight to Perth. We had booked our air through Seabourn, so Seabourn made our new arrangements home to Orlando, our closest major airport. The cruise line covered any additional expenses.

Passengers disembarked in Perth on March 18, which, for Sandra and myself, was four days short of our scheduled exit. Half of the ship’s passengers had signed up for the entire world cruise (which was to have ended in San Francisco on May 28), so their loss of cruising was much greater than ours.

Seabourn provided all passengers with private car transfers to the Pan Pacific Perth hotel (207 Adelaide Terrace, Perth; panpacific.com), where Sandra and I were in quarantine for three days and two nights until the time of our flight home. All meals were delivered to our room, and we were told of the fines and possible incarceration if we violated the quarantine.

The room was lovely, but we were sorry we couldn’t visit Perth, as, from our hotel room windows, it appeared to be a nice place.

On March 21, we headed to the airport via taxi (again, paid for by Seabourn) to start our 12,000-mile trip home. We left Perth about 11 p.m. on Virgin Australia and arrived in Melbourne at 5 a.m. their time (2 a.m. body time). There, we discovered that our connecting flight to Los Angeles on Delta Air Lines/Virgin Australia didn’t exist, but a Virgin Australia counter agent put us on a flight to Brisbane to connect to a flight to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, our connecting Delta flight from Los Angeles to Orlando was canceled, as were all Delta flights for the next 24 hours. Delta finally put us on an American Airlines flight the next morning, and we arrived home that evening.

Seabourn did a very good job of handling the changes in our itinerary. After the ship’s abridged port of call in Colombo, Sri Lanka, we also missed ports in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and, of course, Singapore.

We wound up using our shipboard credit to pay to have our bags shipped home, since trying to maneuver with four large bags, two carry-ons and two personal items could have caused myriad difficulties. It took over a month to get our luggage, which arrived damaged and plundered, but that’s another story.

Monetarily, we lost the price of our Indian visas and had to buy an Australian ETA, but we were compensated by Seabourn for the missing part of our cruise by being given a choice of two options: [1] 125% Future Cruise Credit for four days missed ($1,972.35 per person) or [2] 100% refund of four days missed ($1,577.88 per person) plus a Future Cruise Credit of $1,775.11 per person (25% of 18 days from earlier itinerary changes). The credit must be used to book a cruise within 12 months of issue and on any cruise scheduled to sail by Dec. 31, 2022.

We chose option 2 and will book as soon as a vaccine is available and administered.

Paul C. Gianini, Jr.
Port Orange, FL

 

 

I was on the “Adventure Down Under” tour of Australia and New Zealand with Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (Boston, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com), Feb. 19-March 25, 2020, when it was cut short on March 21 because of COVID-19.

The ONLY correspondence I have received from OAT is one letter giving me future credit for my next trip, a credit valued at $850 for three nights. March 21-25 is four nights (I should have had two more in Rotorua and two in Auckland), not three!

I was sent home from Auckland on Air New Zealand and United Airlines. In my original reservation, I had booked and paid for air with American Airlines and Qantas through OAT at a base price of $2,050, paying an additional $5,257 to upgrade to business class. After the trip was cut short, OAT booked me in coach for the flight home. To remain in business class, I was required to pay Air New Zealand an additional $2,316.

There has never been any offer of a refund for the business-class return flight that I didn’t take (on Qantas and American Airlines), despite my having made numerous calls to OAT and sending them proof of the additional money spent.

I am 82 years old, and I do not want credit for the days missed. I want a cash refund for all of the lost days and for the double payment of the return air. I do not know if I will ever travel out of the country again, so a credit means nothing to me.

Carol Graler Law
Cincinnati, OH

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Overseas Adventure Travel, who subsequently wrote to Ms. Law, “We thank you for your extraordinary patience and understanding as we worked to bring you and many other travelers home earlier than originally scheduled due to the pandemic.

“We agree that you are due the refund for your unused business-class return flight. We have processed this and also have honored your request for a cash refund in place of a travel voucher for your shortened trip. We certainly hope that you are able to travel again when the world is safe. — The Overseas Adventure Travel team”

On Aug. 27, Ms. Law wrote to ITN, “OAT has refunded the business-class air and given me $210 per day for the four days missed. Thank you for your help.”

 

 

At a village market in Eritrea in October 2015, these women were negotiating for cooking oil. Photo by Jeffery L. Carrier

I booked the 24-day “South Pacific Tour” with Adventures Abroad (Richmond, BC, Canada; 800/665-3998, adventures-abroad.com). The tour, June 12-July 5, 2020, was to start in Guam and travel to Palau, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa. The total cost, including a single supplement, would have been $13,215.

A shy village girl in Eritrea. Photo by Jeffery L. Carrier

I had paid the initial deposit of $1,000, with the balance due around mid-April. However, on March 24 I received an email from Adventures Abroad stating, “…we will be unable to operate your tour as scheduled… . we will be in touch again with respect to your options… .”

I received a follow-up email on March 30 explaining that, normally, a refund of the deposit would not happen. Instead, they were really trying to get me to commit to a 2021 tour and offered a $300 incentive to do it. At the end of the email, it stated that if the postponed arrangement was not feasible, the company would provide a full refund.

I opted for the refund of the deposit, as it is hard to commit to something that far in advance. I received my refund about two weeks after I submitted the request.

• As to the air arrangements, I was doing those on my own, with about three-fourths of the travel booked on Delta Air Lines with miles, which I received back immediately on the day of cancellation, with the associated fees credited back to my credit card.

• The only thing remaining was a business-class ticket from Samoa to Los Angeles on Fiji Airways that cost $2,000, which I was told was fully refundable. On July 3, finally, I received a refund for about $1,940. I was shorted about $60 for some reason, but I will take it.

With that, I have gotten out of this adventure whole. I do intend on taking this or a similar trip in the future when this COVID thing goes away.

Jeffery L. Carrier
Naples, FL

A gorilla in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, observing Jeffery Carrier.
On a gorilla trek in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park in 2013, our group was in a line walking through the dense brush, and out of nowhere this gorilla cut in line ... but behind me. I didn't know the gorilla was there until someone yelled, "Jeff, stop!"

That's when I saw the gorilla for the first time. I thought it was going to pass by. Instead, it spun around and sat down.

I didn't move. The guides on both ends of our line came closer, making a bunch of grunting noises to get the gorilla to move, but to no avail. I didn't think it would be prudent to make eye contact, so I just stayed frozen. At one point, the gorilla's big, gnarly hand reached out and gently touched the fabric of my pants, then gently released.

After what seemed like an eternity, the gorilla — seemingly bored with me — got up and sauntered off on the path the group before me had cleared.

A travel companion shot this picture with his cell phone. A blown-up copy of it in my office reminds me of the encounter. — Jeffery L. Carrier, Naples, FL

 

 

We were prepared to travel independently to Sicily on March 14, 2020, and spend nearly three weeks exploring that island. To follow that, we had booked a tour of Malta, April 17-22, with Adventures Abroad. The 6-day “ML1” tour cost $1,740 per person, or $3,480 for two, but with discounts we paid $1,575 each, or $3,150 for two.

Then Italy’s COVID-19 travel ban came down. No one was flying anywhere, and all things were canceled.

Adventures Abroad (and Malta) canceled the tour about a week later, but the options were walk away from the tour and lose your money (as usual, we did not have trip insurance because we are active and healthy, though we did have an emergency-medical-evacuation policy through another organization), as stated in the company’s terms and conditions, or rebook — at an extra cost of $420 more per person — for an Oct. 5, 2020, tour. We indicated we would rebook.

When we asked the Adventures Abroad representative why it would cost more, the answer was that the hotels in Malta added that cost as a penalty for rescheduling. The representative said they were working on having the penalty dropped, but if it was not, we would have to pay that extra $840 by Aug. 6, 60 days before the start of the tour. (It seems very unfair in a worldwide crisis that hotels in Malta would add extra cost when the whole world was canceled!)

On Aug. 5, Adventures Abroad sent out an email saying, “…due to safety concerns, ongoing numerous uncertainties related to flights, and other logistical considerations, we regret to advise that we will be unable to operate this tour as planned.”

We were given the options of taking the same tour at a later date, reassigning to a different tour or converting any payment to a general “travel voucher” to use at a later time. For anyone who had booked insurance through them, it could be adjusted to the new tour dates or applied to an open credit voucher.

We are planning on rebooking the tour for 2022. We really want to go to Malta! But now, because of the $420 per person that Adventures Abroad was not able to get back for us from the Malta hotels, the trip will cost us $1,995 per person, or 21% more than our original price.

I guess we should just be glad we did not get stuck overseas as so many people did who were in the middle of their foreign travels.

Lynn & Tom Meadows
Truckee, CA

ITN sent a copy of the Meadows’ letter to Adventures Abroad and received the following in response:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Meadows’ letter regarding their reservation for Malta.

The circumstance to which they refer was a unique situation stemming from the lateness of the tour’s curtailment and the Maltese hotel suppliers’ insistence on adhering to existing contractual terms. We, too, were disappointed that they chose to apply penalties, given the extraordinary nature of the overall situation and our longstanding relationship, but, ultimately, it is their prerogative to do so.

Though we were unable to absorb these penalties, we did our best to relax our usual terms in order to provide affected customers with greater flexibility and more options for future travel with us. We were gratified that most travellers were understanding in this respect and relieved that this ended up being an isolated situation limited to only a few tours back in the spring.

We look forward to making this tour happen for the Meadows and all other affected customers once it becomes safe and possible to do so. In the meantime, we thank all of our travellers for their patience and understanding through these challenging times.

Rick Unrau
Adventures Abroad,
Product Department

 

 

Pointing to a rock that marks the dividing line between the Southern and Indian oceans at the top of the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Photo by Pat Hines

I was one of 24 travelers from the US and Canada who met Randy Keck of ASI Tours (Jamestown, RI; 401/560-0350, www.asitours.com) on March 9, 2020, to begin our “Around Australia Tour,” scheduled to conclude on April 2. The first two weeks went as planned, but by the time we reached Perth, news of COVID-19 began to concern all of us.

Our next stop was Uluru (Ayers Rock). Randy knew we could get there but was uncertain about leaving because in-country flights were beginning to be canceled.

The day after we reached Perth, we learned of an advisory from the Australian government that all foreign nationals had to return home as soon as flights could be scheduled. ASI Tours arranged to take the group immediately to Sydney for flights home. It was a regrettable end to an exceptionally planned, comprehensive tour of Australia.

Some participants made their own flight arrangements, while my travel companion and I allowed ASI, working with Qantas, to make our new reservations back to the US. We were grateful for this assistance, as our international flights were not the responsibility of ASI.

On ASI Tours' “Around Australia Tour” in March 2020, we visited Salamanca market in Hobart, Tasmania. Photo by Pat Hines

The tour ended prematurely on March 22, and ASI calculated that we had completed 52% of it. At the total tour price of $8,995 per person, double occupancy, ASI calculated that the unused portion of our tour amounted to $4,317.60 per person, providing this figure to assist us in filing travel insurance claims.

ASI said they would disburse to tour members any refunds they received from hotels and other Australian operators. On June 10, my travel companion and I each received a refund of $1,218. In July we each received the next and final refund from ASI, for $385, representing a refund for two unused Jetstar flights. (We also did not use two internal Qantas flights, but these were exchanged for our unexpected flight from Perth to Sydney.)

My original April 2 flight from Sydney to the US was canceled by Delta Air Lines. I was refunded $698.88 from Delta, which represented approximately half of my original international airfare.

I had to pay Qantas $1,142.58 for my unscheduled flight back to the US.

Between the additional $443.70 I paid for international airfare and the $2,714.60 in unrefunded tour costs, my total loss for this trip was $3,158.30. However, I greatly appreciate the substantial administrative work that the interrupted trip caused ASI.

I filed a claim with my travel insurance provider, iTravelInsured (www.itravelinsured.com), but it was declined. In the company’s email, the representative included the “list of circumstances that may support a benefit for a COVID-19 interruption,” then wrote, “Unfortunately, there is no benefit available for the reason you have provided for your claim.

Jim, our driver/guide in Tasmania, chatted with Fred, a 105-year-old cockatoo at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart. Photo by Pat Hines

“Further, please be aware that the insurance carrier has confirmed that COVID-19 is not a Natural Disaster as defined by the Policy of Insurance. Your claim didn’t meet the requirement(s) of this insurance, so we’re unable to offer reimbursement on this occasion.”

My travel insurance premium was $791.94.

• My travel partner and I had arranged several post-tour day trips in Sydney through Viator (www.viator.com). We were refunded in full for these tours.

Pat Hines
Enterprise, OR

 

 

In July 2019, I began planning a private trip to Namibia for two with the help of Roe Gruber of Escapes Unlimited (Santa Ana, CA; 800/243-7227, www.escapesltd.com). I have used Roe and her agency for many wonderful trips.

We used the 11-day Namibia itinerary on the company’s website, adding a few things. Including an extra day at the beginning and another at the end, our trip was to take place May 10-25, 2020.

Our Namibia adventure would begin with a visit to Windhoek, then the Katutura township, a cheetah feeding and game drive at the Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch, with a visit to a Bushmen village nearby, and Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert.

Also included were Kuiseb Canyon, Walvis Bay, a dunes experience and the Welwitschia Trail (near Swakopmund), the Twyfelfontein petroglyphs in Damaraland, Etosha National Park for two days of game drives, leopard viewing in the Okonjima Nature Reserve, with a visit to the AfriCat Foundation and the Okahandja craft market, then a final day back in Windhoek.

We made our initial deposit of $750 per person on Oct. 11. Final payment ($3,820 each) was due by Feb. 18, 2020.

Escapes Unlimited issued our air — Los Angeles-Qatar-Johannesburg and Joburg-Qatar-Los Angeles on Qatar Airways ($954 each) and Joburg-Windhoek-Joburg on Air Namibia ($259 each) — on Oct. 27.

On Insuremytrip.com on Oct. 31, we purchased insurance with Travel Guard ($586 for me and $457 for my travel companion).

As our final payment date was approaching and COVID-19 restrictions began to emerge, Roe suggested that we wait until just before the due date to mail our final payment. We mailed that on Feb. 18, the due date. However, in March, the ground operator (1 2 Go Tours) canceled all travel for the foreseeable future.

Escapes Unlimited refunded our deposits on March 20; Qatar Airways refunded our airfare on March 21; Travel Guard issued a voucher for future travel (to be used by May 18, 2021) for the remaining cost of the tour on May 18, and Air Namibia refunded all but $50 of our airfare each on July 10.

Because of the knowledge and experience of Roe Gruber and her staff at Escapes Unlimited, we sustained a loss of only $50 per person. We hope to book this same trip for May 2021.

Linda Crain
Signal Hill, CA

 

 

I want to send kudos to InsureMyTrip (800/487-4722, insuremytrip.com), an online travel insurance marketplace.

My husband, Bill, and I booked a trip to Tahiti with Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768, www.roadscholar.org) that was scheduled to start on Sept. 15, 2020. Then, through InsureMyTrip, we purchased trip insurance with IM Global.

Months later, because of COVID-19, we called Road Scholar in June to cancel before we had to pay the total amount on the tour. They offered to make our deposit a credit, since it was almost assured that the tour was not going to happen.

I thought the trip insurance we had purchased was a loss for sure. However, after reading several letters from subscribers in ITN, I contacted InsureMyTrip in August to see if the insurance could be banked to use for a future trip.

They contacted IM Global and submitted paperwork for us. Thanks to their efforts, we were given credit toward insurance to use on another trip, and it’s good until September of 2022!

The paperwork was simple and straightforward — something to show the trip was canceled, the costs we had encountered so far (our deposit, which is now a credit) and a statement that there were no claims on the trip.

I’ve used InsureMyTrip many times and will continue to do so. They did all the work to contact the insurance company on our behalf, which surely saved me hours of being “on hold.”

We use Road Scholar and Overseas Adventure Travel for most of our trips now that we are 78 and 80. They offer such good value and good educational components. Stay safe!

Ann White
Concord, CA

 

 

I had a happy experience with the travel insurance company Generali Global Assistance (San Diego, CA, 800/874-2442; www.generalitravelinsurance.com), from whom I had purchased insurance for a March 30-April 22 tour of Algeria, Tunisia and Malta that was subsequently canceled due to COVID-19.

Some time after the cancellation, I read that some travel insurance companies were making adjustments, so I emailed Generali and within 24 hours received a voucher for the full amount of the cost of the insurance. The voucher had to be used by the end of 2020, but the new covered trip could be scheduled for later than that.

The voucher was very generous because I had been insured for trip cancellation in case of illness, death, etc., from the time of my payment, and had any of those covered causes prevented me from taking the tour before the tour company canceled it, Generali would have had to pay under the policy. In offering reimbursement for the insurance for my canceled trip, Generali could fairly have deducted some of that coverage in the voucher, but they generously chose not to.

To make matters even better, Generali followed up many weeks later by extending the time in which the voucher could be used to May 31, 2021, on any trip departing before Dec. 31, 2022.

I really appreciated their professionalism and will definitely do business with them again.

Linda J. Vogel
Pomona, CA

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.

Update — Regarding a refund on an Aug. 22 flight from Reykjavik, Iceland, to New York City that I had to cancel due to COVID-19 (Dec.’20, pg. 19), on Nov. 13 my travel agent was notified by Icelandair that I would receive a refund of $1,139.45 to my credit card account. The full amount was paid.

Marilyn Armel
New York, NY

 

 

My wife, Sandra, and I started an adventurous trip sailing on the Seabourn Sojourn from Miami on Jan. 4, 2020, planning to arrive in Singapore on March 22 for our long flight home. We certainly didn’t expect to have an even longer flight home from Perth, Australia, at the end of our cruise.

We really enjoyed our classy trip and interesting itinerary, visiting countries in Northwest Africa that were new to us and going to ports in Namibia and South Africa.

Our first hiccup was the cancellation of the port call in Mombasa, Kenya, due to security concerns over an extremists’ attack on a coastal city in that country. We each received a $150 credit to our shipboard account, and the ship would stay longer in Zanzibar and in Victoria on the island of Mahé, Seychelles.

Little did we realize that Seychelles was the last land we would set foot on for 15 days. We soon received word that we would not dock in the Maldives nor at the remaining eight ports, including Singapore.

After six sea days, the ship was allowed to dock in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but only for food and fuel. No one was allowed off the ship save for one Sojourn officer, who supervised loading. We knew by now the problems of the COVID-19 virus in Singapore and that our cruise would terminate elsewhere.

Fortunately, there was no incidence of the virus on the ship, so our daily lives were not impacted. Everything continued in the fine fashion that guests of Seabourn (Seattle, WA; 800/442-4448, seabourn.com) were accustomed to, including good meals, entertainment and speakers.

We spent nine days heading to our new final destination, Australia, with stops programmed in the cities of Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton and, finally, Perth. An additional $500 per person was credited to our shipboard account.

Unfortunately, the Australian authorities changed their minds, and we went straight to Perth. We had booked our air through Seabourn, so Seabourn made our new arrangements home to Orlando, our closest major airport. The cruise line covered any additional expenses.

Passengers disembarked in Perth on March 18, which, for Sandra and myself, was four days short of our scheduled exit. Half of the ship’s passengers had signed up for the entire world cruise (which was to have ended in San Francisco on May 28), so their loss of cruising was much greater than ours.

Seabourn provided all passengers with private car transfers to the Pan Pacific Perth hotel (207 Adelaide Terrace, Perth; panpacific.com), where Sandra and I were in quarantine for three days and two nights until the time of our flight home. All meals were delivered to our room, and we were told of the fines and possible incarceration if we violated the quarantine.

The room was lovely, but we were sorry we couldn’t visit Perth, as, from our hotel room windows, it appeared to be a nice place.

On March 21, we headed to the airport via taxi (again, paid for by Seabourn) to start our 12,000-mile trip home. We left Perth about 11 p.m. on Virgin Australia and arrived in Melbourne at 5 a.m. their time (2 a.m. body time). There, we discovered that our connecting flight to Los Angeles on Delta Air Lines/Virgin Australia didn’t exist, but a Virgin Australia counter agent put us on a flight to Brisbane to connect to a flight to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, our connecting Delta flight from Los Angeles to Orlando was canceled, as were all Delta flights for the next 24 hours. Delta finally put us on an American Airlines flight the next morning, and we arrived home that evening.

Seabourn did a very good job of handling the changes in our itinerary. After the ship’s abridged port of call in Colombo, Sri Lanka, we also missed ports in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and, of course, Singapore.

We wound up using our shipboard credit to pay to have our bags shipped home, since trying to maneuver with four large bags, two carry-ons and two personal items could have caused myriad difficulties. It took over a month to get our luggage, which arrived damaged and plundered, but that’s another story.

Monetarily, we lost the price of our Indian visas and had to buy an Australian ETA, but we were compensated by Seabourn for the missing part of our cruise by being given a choice of two options: [1] 125% Future Cruise Credit for four days missed ($1,972.35 per person) or [2] 100% refund of four days missed ($1,577.88 per person) plus a Future Cruise Credit of $1,775.11 per person (25% of 18 days from earlier itinerary changes). The credit must be used to book a cruise within 12 months of issue and on any cruise scheduled to sail by Dec. 31, 2022.

We chose option 2 and will book as soon as a vaccine is available and administered.

Paul C. Gianini, Jr.
Port Orange, FL

 

 

I was on the “Adventure Down Under” tour of Australia and New Zealand with Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (Boston, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com), Feb. 19-March 25, 2020, when it was cut short on March 21 because of COVID-19.

The ONLY correspondence I have received from OAT is one letter giving me future credit for my next trip, a credit valued at $850 for three nights. March 21-25 is four nights (I should have had two more in Rotorua and two in Auckland), not three!

I was sent home from Auckland on Air New Zealand and United Airlines. In my original reservation, I had booked and paid for air with American Airlines and Qantas through OAT at a base price of $2,050, paying an additional $5,257 to upgrade to business class. After the trip was cut short, OAT booked me in coach for the flight home. To remain in business class, I was required to pay Air New Zealand an additional $2,316.

There has never been any offer of a refund for the business-class return flight that I didn’t take (on Qantas and American Airlines), despite my having made numerous calls to OAT and sending them proof of the additional money spent.

I am 82 years old, and I do not want credit for the days missed. I want a cash refund for all of the lost days and for the double payment of the return air. I do not know if I will ever travel out of the country again, so a credit means nothing to me.

Carol Graler Law
Cincinnati, OH

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Overseas Adventure Travel, who subsequently wrote to Ms. Law, “We thank you for your extraordinary patience and understanding as we worked to bring you and many other travelers home earlier than originally scheduled due to the pandemic.

“We agree that you are due the refund for your unused business-class return flight. We have processed this and also have honored your request for a cash refund in place of a travel voucher for your shortened trip. We certainly hope that you are able to travel again when the world is safe. — The Overseas Adventure Travel team”

On Aug. 27, Ms. Law wrote to ITN, “OAT has refunded the business-class air and given me $210 per day for the four days missed. Thank you for your help.”

 

 

At a village market in Eritrea in October 2015, these women were negotiating for cooking oil. Photo by Jeffery L. Carrier

I booked the 24-day “South Pacific Tour” with Adventures Abroad (Richmond, BC, Canada; 800/665-3998, adventures-abroad.com). The tour, June 12-July 5, 2020, was to start in Guam and travel to Palau, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa. The total cost, including a single supplement, would have been $13,215.

A shy village girl in Eritrea. Photo by Jeffery L. Carrier

I had paid the initial deposit of $1,000, with the balance due around mid-April. However, on March 24 I received an email from Adventures Abroad stating, “…we will be unable to operate your tour as scheduled… . we will be in touch again with respect to your options… .”

I received a follow-up email on March 30 explaining that, normally, a refund of the deposit would not happen. Instead, they were really trying to get me to commit to a 2021 tour and offered a $300 incentive to do it. At the end of the email, it stated that if the postponed arrangement was not feasible, the company would provide a full refund.

I opted for the refund of the deposit, as it is hard to commit to something that far in advance. I received my refund about two weeks after I submitted the request.

• As to the air arrangements, I was doing those on my own, with about three-fourths of the travel booked on Delta Air Lines with miles, which I received back immediately on the day of cancellation, with the associated fees credited back to my credit card.

• The only thing remaining was a business-class ticket from Samoa to Los Angeles on Fiji Airways that cost $2,000, which I was told was fully refundable. On July 3, finally, I received a refund for about $1,940. I was shorted about $60 for some reason, but I will take it.

With that, I have gotten out of this adventure whole. I do intend on taking this or a similar trip in the future when this COVID thing goes away.

Jeffery L. Carrier
Naples, FL

A gorilla in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, observing Jeffery Carrier.
On a gorilla trek in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park in 2013, our group was in a line walking through the dense brush, and out of nowhere this gorilla cut in line ... but behind me. I didn't know the gorilla was there until someone yelled, "Jeff, stop!"

That's when I saw the gorilla for the first time. I thought it was going to pass by. Instead, it spun around and sat down.

I didn't move. The guides on both ends of our line came closer, making a bunch of grunting noises to get the gorilla to move, but to no avail. I didn't think it would be prudent to make eye contact, so I just stayed frozen. At one point, the gorilla's big, gnarly hand reached out and gently touched the fabric of my pants, then gently released.

After what seemed like an eternity, the gorilla — seemingly bored with me — got up and sauntered off on the path the group before me had cleared.

A travel companion shot this picture with his cell phone. A blown-up copy of it in my office reminds me of the encounter. — Jeffery L. Carrier, Naples, FL

 

 

We were prepared to travel independently to Sicily on March 14, 2020, and spend nearly three weeks exploring that island. To follow that, we had booked a tour of Malta, April 17-22, with Adventures Abroad. The 6-day “ML1” tour cost $1,740 per person, or $3,480 for two, but with discounts we paid $1,575 each, or $3,150 for two.

Then Italy’s COVID-19 travel ban came down. No one was flying anywhere, and all things were canceled.

Adventures Abroad (and Malta) canceled the tour about a week later, but the options were walk away from the tour and lose your money (as usual, we did not have trip insurance because we are active and healthy, though we did have an emergency-medical-evacuation policy through another organization), as stated in the company’s terms and conditions, or rebook — at an extra cost of $420 more per person — for an Oct. 5, 2020, tour. We indicated we would rebook.

When we asked the Adventures Abroad representative why it would cost more, the answer was that the hotels in Malta added that cost as a penalty for rescheduling. The representative said they were working on having the penalty dropped, but if it was not, we would have to pay that extra $840 by Aug. 6, 60 days before the start of the tour. (It seems very unfair in a worldwide crisis that hotels in Malta would add extra cost when the whole world was canceled!)

On Aug. 5, Adventures Abroad sent out an email saying, “…due to safety concerns, ongoing numerous uncertainties related to flights, and other logistical considerations, we regret to advise that we will be unable to operate this tour as planned.”

We were given the options of taking the same tour at a later date, reassigning to a different tour or converting any payment to a general “travel voucher” to use at a later time. For anyone who had booked insurance through them, it could be adjusted to the new tour dates or applied to an open credit voucher.

We are planning on rebooking the tour for 2022. We really want to go to Malta! But now, because of the $420 per person that Adventures Abroad was not able to get back for us from the Malta hotels, the trip will cost us $1,995 per person, or 21% more than our original price.

I guess we should just be glad we did not get stuck overseas as so many people did who were in the middle of their foreign travels.

Lynn & Tom Meadows
Truckee, CA

ITN sent a copy of the Meadows’ letter to Adventures Abroad and received the following in response:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Meadows’ letter regarding their reservation for Malta.

The circumstance to which they refer was a unique situation stemming from the lateness of the tour’s curtailment and the Maltese hotel suppliers’ insistence on adhering to existing contractual terms. We, too, were disappointed that they chose to apply penalties, given the extraordinary nature of the overall situation and our longstanding relationship, but, ultimately, it is their prerogative to do so.

Though we were unable to absorb these penalties, we did our best to relax our usual terms in order to provide affected customers with greater flexibility and more options for future travel with us. We were gratified that most travellers were understanding in this respect and relieved that this ended up being an isolated situation limited to only a few tours back in the spring.

We look forward to making this tour happen for the Meadows and all other affected customers once it becomes safe and possible to do so. In the meantime, we thank all of our travellers for their patience and understanding through these challenging times.

Rick Unrau
Adventures Abroad,
Product Department

 

 

Pointing to a rock that marks the dividing line between the Southern and Indian oceans at the top of the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Photo by Pat Hines

I was one of 24 travelers from the US and Canada who met Randy Keck of ASI Tours (Jamestown, RI; 401/560-0350, www.asitours.com) on March 9, 2020, to begin our “Around Australia Tour,” scheduled to conclude on April 2. The first two weeks went as planned, but by the time we reached Perth, news of COVID-19 began to concern all of us.

Our next stop was Uluru (Ayers Rock). Randy knew we could get there but was uncertain about leaving because in-country flights were beginning to be canceled.

The day after we reached Perth, we learned of an advisory from the Australian government that all foreign nationals had to return home as soon as flights could be scheduled. ASI Tours arranged to take the group immediately to Sydney for flights home. It was a regrettable end to an exceptionally planned, comprehensive tour of Australia.

Some participants made their own flight arrangements, while my travel companion and I allowed ASI, working with Qantas, to make our new reservations back to the US. We were grateful for this assistance, as our international flights were not the responsibility of ASI.

On ASI Tours' “Around Australia Tour” in March 2020, we visited Salamanca market in Hobart, Tasmania. Photo by Pat Hines

The tour ended prematurely on March 22, and ASI calculated that we had completed 52% of it. At the total tour price of $8,995 per person, double occupancy, ASI calculated that the unused portion of our tour amounted to $4,317.60 per person, providing this figure to assist us in filing travel insurance claims.

ASI said they would disburse to tour members any refunds they received from hotels and other Australian operators. On June 10, my travel companion and I each received a refund of $1,218. In July we each received the next and final refund from ASI, for $385, representing a refund for two unused Jetstar flights. (We also did not use two internal Qantas flights, but these were exchanged for our unexpected flight from Perth to Sydney.)

My original April 2 flight from Sydney to the US was canceled by Delta Air Lines. I was refunded $698.88 from Delta, which represented approximately half of my original international airfare.

I had to pay Qantas $1,142.58 for my unscheduled flight back to the US.

Between the additional $443.70 I paid for international airfare and the $2,714.60 in unrefunded tour costs, my total loss for this trip was $3,158.30. However, I greatly appreciate the substantial administrative work that the interrupted trip caused ASI.

I filed a claim with my travel insurance provider, iTravelInsured (www.itravelinsured.com), but it was declined. In the company’s email, the representative included the “list of circumstances that may support a benefit for a COVID-19 interruption,” then wrote, “Unfortunately, there is no benefit available for the reason you have provided for your claim.

Jim, our driver/guide in Tasmania, chatted with Fred, a 105-year-old cockatoo at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart. Photo by Pat Hines

“Further, please be aware that the insurance carrier has confirmed that COVID-19 is not a Natural Disaster as defined by the Policy of Insurance. Your claim didn’t meet the requirement(s) of this insurance, so we’re unable to offer reimbursement on this occasion.”

My travel insurance premium was $791.94.

• My travel partner and I had arranged several post-tour day trips in Sydney through Viator (www.viator.com). We were refunded in full for these tours.

Pat Hines
Enterprise, OR

 

 

In July 2019, I began planning a private trip to Namibia for two with the help of Roe Gruber of Escapes Unlimited (Santa Ana, CA; 800/243-7227, www.escapesltd.com). I have used Roe and her agency for many wonderful trips.

We used the 11-day Namibia itinerary on the company’s website, adding a few things. Including an extra day at the beginning and another at the end, our trip was to take place May 10-25, 2020.

Our Namibia adventure would begin with a visit to Windhoek, then the Katutura township, a cheetah feeding and game drive at the Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch, with a visit to a Bushmen village nearby, and Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert.

Also included were Kuiseb Canyon, Walvis Bay, a dunes experience and the Welwitschia Trail (near Swakopmund), the Twyfelfontein petroglyphs in Damaraland, Etosha National Park for two days of game drives, leopard viewing in the Okonjima Nature Reserve, with a visit to the AfriCat Foundation and the Okahandja craft market, then a final day back in Windhoek.

We made our initial deposit of $750 per person on Oct. 11. Final payment ($3,820 each) was due by Feb. 18, 2020.

Escapes Unlimited issued our air — Los Angeles-Qatar-Johannesburg and Joburg-Qatar-Los Angeles on Qatar Airways ($954 each) and Joburg-Windhoek-Joburg on Air Namibia ($259 each) — on Oct. 27.

On Insuremytrip.com on Oct. 31, we purchased insurance with Travel Guard ($586 for me and $457 for my travel companion).

As our final payment date was approaching and COVID-19 restrictions began to emerge, Roe suggested that we wait until just before the due date to mail our final payment. We mailed that on Feb. 18, the due date. However, in March, the ground operator (1 2 Go Tours) canceled all travel for the foreseeable future.

Escapes Unlimited refunded our deposits on March 20; Qatar Airways refunded our airfare on March 21; Travel Guard issued a voucher for future travel (to be used by May 18, 2021) for the remaining cost of the tour on May 18, and Air Namibia refunded all but $50 of our airfare each on July 10.

Because of the knowledge and experience of Roe Gruber and her staff at Escapes Unlimited, we sustained a loss of only $50 per person. We hope to book this same trip for May 2021.

Linda Crain
Signal Hill, CA

 

 

I want to send kudos to InsureMyTrip (800/487-4722, insuremytrip.com), an online travel insurance marketplace.

My husband, Bill, and I booked a trip to Tahiti with Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768, www.roadscholar.org) that was scheduled to start on Sept. 15, 2020. Then, through InsureMyTrip, we purchased trip insurance with IM Global.

Months later, because of COVID-19, we called Road Scholar in June to cancel before we had to pay the total amount on the tour. They offered to make our deposit a credit, since it was almost assured that the tour was not going to happen.

I thought the trip insurance we had purchased was a loss for sure. However, after reading several letters from subscribers in ITN, I contacted InsureMyTrip in August to see if the insurance could be banked to use for a future trip.

They contacted IM Global and submitted paperwork for us. Thanks to their efforts, we were given credit toward insurance to use on another trip, and it’s good until September of 2022!

The paperwork was simple and straightforward — something to show the trip was canceled, the costs we had encountered so far (our deposit, which is now a credit) and a statement that there were no claims on the trip.

I’ve used InsureMyTrip many times and will continue to do so. They did all the work to contact the insurance company on our behalf, which surely saved me hours of being “on hold.”

We use Road Scholar and Overseas Adventure Travel for most of our trips now that we are 78 and 80. They offer such good value and good educational components. Stay safe!

Ann White
Concord, CA

 

 

I had a happy experience with the travel insurance company Generali Global Assistance (San Diego, CA, 800/874-2442; www.generalitravelinsurance.com), from whom I had purchased insurance for a March 30-April 22 tour of Algeria, Tunisia and Malta that was subsequently canceled due to COVID-19.

Some time after the cancellation, I read that some travel insurance companies were making adjustments, so I emailed Generali and within 24 hours received a voucher for the full amount of the cost of the insurance. The voucher had to be used by the end of 2020, but the new covered trip could be scheduled for later than that.

The voucher was very generous because I had been insured for trip cancellation in case of illness, death, etc., from the time of my payment, and had any of those covered causes prevented me from taking the tour before the tour company canceled it, Generali would have had to pay under the policy. In offering reimbursement for the insurance for my canceled trip, Generali could fairly have deducted some of that coverage in the voucher, but they generously chose not to.

To make matters even better, Generali followed up many weeks later by extending the time in which the voucher could be used to May 31, 2021, on any trip departing before Dec. 31, 2022.

I really appreciated their professionalism and will definitely do business with them again.

Linda J. Vogel
Pomona, CA