COVID-19 cancellations (Part 7)

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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 husband, Sam, and I were on the “Treasures of Spain, Portugal & Morocco” tour with Insight Vacations (888/680-1241, www.insightvacations.com) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

We had departed Buffalo, New York, on March 6 and arrived in Madrid, Spain, the next day. The 17-day tour began the following morning. When we got to Seville on March 11, we were expecting to spend a couple of days there, then visit Morocco for five days, return to Spain’s Costa del Sol area and head back to Madrid for the flight home.

Upon our arriving in Seville, we heard of President Trump’s announcement that flights from Europe to the US would cease in a matter of days. While there was an underlying concern regarding COVID-19 that could not be totally ignored, the tour itinerary was keeping us moving along, and our tour director was reassuring that the tour was continuing.

At breakfast on March 12, a couple abruptly announced that, considering the news reports, they were leaving the tour and flying back to the States. We, along with the rest of the group, made an excursion to Córdoba, concluding our stay in Seville that evening with dinner and a flamenco show, expecting to go to Morocco in the morning.

Unfortunately, on the bus returning to the hotel after the show, the tour director said that Morocco had closed its borders and Spain was shutting down around us. Our tour was over, and the director refunded all of us for the optional tours in Morocco we had paid for.

By this time, we heard that the travel ban on arrivals in the US from Europe did not apply to US citizens, so that was a relief, but suddenly we all faced the reality that we needed flights home. The tour director announced that if Insight had arranged for our airline tickets, Insight would schedule our return flights.

We anxiously double-checked our paperwork, making sure it was Insight and not our AAA agent who had arranged our air. One couple had used Expedia.com, so they were on their own and ended up departing one day later than we did, but Insight had arranged ours.

In the morning, instead of issuing flight schedule information right after breakfast, our tour director indicated that Insight wanted to know how many of us wanted to continue the tour. He explained that, as our director, he would stay with us, but he didn’t think much was open for touring, as places were closing down.

Thinking travel arrangements were already in the works, we were stunned. We informed him that we wanted to go home. All of us did. He seemed relieved and said he would let the tour company know.

At this point, Sam went up to our room to send an email to our AAA agent to see if she could find out if, in fact, Insight was making our flight arrangements. Two major problems interfered with completing these tasks: the time zone in the US was five hours earlier than Spain’s, and the Wi-Fi connection was intermittent, necessitating his starting over, repeatedly, in the writing of messages.

I stayed in the lobby with our tour director. He was our “lifeline,” and I wanted to be there in case word about our return flights came through. Time moved slowly as I watched other travelers, suitcases in hand, leaving for the train station nearby.

As to whether Insight was making the travel arrangements, our agent said she couldn’t see that that was happening.

Finally, our tour director got a phone message saying we all had confirmed reservations. We would travel back to Madrid the next day on our tour bus, stay overnight and go to the airport early Sunday morning. Things were looking up. We let our AAA agent know that we appreciated her assistance and communication with us but we were all set with Insight after all.

The hotel in Seville let us stay Friday night but was closing down on Monday. They provided breakfast on Saturday, and we left on our bus at 8:30 for an all-day drive to Madrid. By this time, there were only a dozen tour members left from the 18 who began this tour.

We arrived at the same hotel in Madrid that we had stayed at on our first night. Some restaurants were closed, and the hotel didn’t serve food, so our tour director bought our dinners and we ate in our rooms. The hotel provided a packed meal when we left at 5:30 a.m. for the airport.

At the airport, the long check-in line moved reasonably well. The airport personnel were calm and helpful and wore masks, as did we.

When the Delta Air Lines travel agent saw our flight information, she suggested Sam and I change flights and board one going to New York instead of Atlanta. The flight from New York to Buffalo left later, so we would have more time between flights as well. We readily agreed — a win/win for us and the airline.

The flight went smoothly. Upon our landing at JFK Airport, we were met with multiple checkpoints. We were given paperwork on our 14-day self-quarantine requirement and stood for a forehead-temperature check. After passing that, we proceeded to passport control and baggage pickup, then made our way to the gate for our flight for Buffalo. It was a relief to let our family know we were back in the US.

The flight to Buffalo was nearly empty, and we arrived on time. We picked up our luggage and went to find our car — our last hurdle.

Seeing that we were under quarantine, we had to change the arrangements we had made for someone to pick us up at the Buffalo airport. Instead, we had friends drop off our car in an airport parking lot and leave it unlocked with the keys hidden inside it, as we hadn’t carried any with us overseas. After a bit of a search, we found the car and headed home, an hour and 15 minutes away. We arrived around 9:30 p.m., tired but relieved.

We had had a very gratifying trip until it was over prematurely. The happy ending to this story is that we survived being in Spain in March without picking up COVID-19.

Insight refused our two requests for a cash refund for the unused portion of our tour. They offered us a travel credit voucher valid until April 2022.

Beverly Hazen
Mayville, NY

 

 

My wife, Vicky, and I were scheduled to depart Sept. 14, 2020, on the “11-Day Classic Scandinavia” with Gate 1 Travel (Fort Washington, PA; 800/682-3333, www.gate1travel.com), a company we’ve used several times.

We booked the tour in October 2019 with a deposit of $200 each plus payment of $169 each for travel insurance. On May 1, due to COVID-19, we received an email from Gate 1 advising us not to send any additional funds, as they were evaluating whether the trip would take place.

On June 18, we received an email stating that the tour had been suspended. The message said we could either get a refund of the deposit on the tour or take a credit, but there would be no refund of the cost of the insurance.

On July 9, we emailed the company to let them know we wanted a refund on the tour deposit. To confirm that Gate 1 had received our email, we called them on July 20. The representative said they had our claim and were processing a credit to our credit card in the amount of $738.

Since this amount included the insurance payment, I was surprised but didn’t question the rep, who was very cooperative and friendly.

• For our flight, Los Angeles-Oslo-Copenhagen, we had made our reservations on Feb. 23 with Norwegian (in the US, 800/357-4159, www.norwegian.com). Departure was scheduled for Sept. 13. The total price for the two of us was $1,983.30.

Shortly after Gate 1 canceled, Norwegian sent us an email saying our flight had been canceled due to COVID-19. They said we could either get a cash refund or take CashPoints with a 20% bonus, redeemable through Dec. 31, 2021, for travel through Oct. 31, 2022.

The bonus seemed nice, however we don’t normally fly Norwegian, and who knows what is going to happen with the pandemic? While we do plan on rebooking the trip if it’s available, we filled out the form on their website to obtain a refund to our credit card.

On July 27, I called Norwegian to see if they had our refund request, which they did not. The representative was very understanding, helped me fill out the form and ensured me that their system now had us requesting a cash refund. Within a month, the full refund had been credited to our credit card account.

• We were in limbo with our SAS (800/221-2350, www.flysas.com) flight from Bergen, Norway, to Stuttgart, Germany, booked at a cost of $161.38 on March 11 for a departure date of Sept. 24.

SAS had not canceled and was unlikely to do so, since it was an internal flight within Europe. We hope to take the same Gate 1 tour to Scandinavia in September 2021, but if we canceled our flight, we would be issued a credit good for only one year, and that timing might not work for us.

We did cancel a few days before our flight, since SAS had not canceled it. SAS said they would give us a full refund, not just a credit. The rep said it would take about four months to receive it. We received a full refund to our credit card account on Oct. 29.

(As for the last leg of our trip, from Stuttgart to Los Angeles, we had not yet booked it. We had planned to visit our son in Germany.)

• We had also booked a hotel in Copenhagen, for an early arrival for the tour, which we were able to cancel without penalty.

• So that’s our story for the trip to Norway and Germany. Cancellations were successful, unlike what happened after having to cancel our family trip to Greece scheduled for March 12-22, 2020.

At the time we canceled our Greece trip, March 11, we weren’t sure if we’d even be able to get back into the US if we took that trip.

Because we canceled, we ended up forfeiting about $2,000, mostly in Airbnb monies but some in fees for canceling six Olympic Air tickets, Athens-Crete round trip.

Airbnb claimed that they had funds to help those who canceled. After many calls and much frustration, Airbnb finally stated that the monies they had were only for the owners of the properties and not the renters.

• For our flights, Los Angeles-London-Athens, we also now have a credit of $6,000 for the six of us with American Airlines (AA) that expires at the end of 2021. (Initially, AA said the credit would expire at the end of 2020.) This credit is a bit dicey in that each of the six of us has to individually use our $1,000, and who knows what travel we will be able to take in 2021?

• For the round-trip flights to Athens, we had bought insurance through Allianz Global Assistance. We contacted Allianz but were told that our precautionary COVID-19 cancellations were not covered.

• We had upgraded these flights to Premium Economy. Though we booked through AA, the upgrade had to be paid to British Airways, which was the actual carrier throughout. British Air gave us a full refund for the upgrades even though we had canceled our flights. That was nice of them.

Chuck Trenkle
Rancho Mirage, CA

 

 

I had four trips canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020. One, to Nepal and Bhutan, was with Discovery Tours, a subsidiary of Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com) that operates small-group tours. The other three, to the Erie Canal, Minneapolis and Poland, were with Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768, www.roadscholar.org).

The Discovery tour was of most concern when it was canceled, since it was the most expensive and I had already paid the full price (more than half by check, so I had little credit card protection). Fortunately, after a few phone calls, Discovery agreed to refund the entire cost, including the travel insurance. The portion paid by credit card was refunded quickly; the rest took two to three weeks.

Since Road Scholar had postponed the due date for my final payments on the Erie Canal and Minneapolis tours, I had only paid deposits and insurance on those tours when they were canceled. The insurance payments were automatically refunded, but I rolled over the deposits to other trips.

As with my other Road Scholar trips, the insurance cost for the “Poland in the Heart of Europe” tour was refunded when that tour was canceled, and I left my deposit as a credit. This time, however, Road Scholar added an extra hundred dollars for my trouble.

Harvey Lampert
North Bethesda, MD

 

 

On Oct. 10, 2019, I booked a one-week tour called “Highlights of Sumatra” for March 15-22, 2020, with Explore! (Farnborough, Hampshire, England; phone, in the US, 800/715-1746, www.exploreworldwide.com).

Although the tour was departing as scheduled, on March 13 (the same day I was supposed to depart for Medan, Indonesia) I canceled the trip because I was concerned about the growing rate of COVID-19 in Indonesia.

One month later, Explore! issued a credit voucher to me for the full amount I’d paid for the tour, $1,292. I had to redeem it by March 16, 2021, but didn’t necessarily have to take the trip in 2021. Because “Highlights of Sumatra” was not being offered in 2021, on Aug. 18 I redeemed my voucher for their “Best of Belarus” tour in September 2021. (Belarus and Poland are the only countries in Europe that I haven’t visited.)

• On Vayama.com, I had booked a round-trip flight from New York to Medan on Singapore Airlines for $1,163.91. Both my outbound and return flights, which involved transfers in Frankfurt and Singapore, were canceled (piecemeal, in segments) by the airline in February 2020, so I was fully refunded. The credit from Vayama appeared in my credit card’s April statement.

• On March 5, through Qatar Airways’ website, I booked a new round trip to Medan for $965.07. As I mentioned, on March 13, several hours before I was supposed to take the outbound flight, I canceled it. I was issued a refund in the amount of $702.07. Because I initiated the cancellation, Qatar Airways deducted a $263 fee.

• After my Explore! tour, I was supposed to spend the nights of March 22-23 at the ibis Singapore on Bencoolen Hotel (170 Bencoolen St., Singapore). I had stayed at that hotel in 2018, but this time I booked through Hotels.com. The first night cost $103.54, and I redeemed a Hotels.com reward for the second night.

Upon my canceling, although my room was booked at a non-refundable rate, Hotels.com got the hotel’s permission to give me a refund for the first night, and the value of the second night was deposited back into my Hotels.com Rewards Silver account.

• I was supposed to take a group tour to Cyprus with Spiekermann Travel (Eastpointe, MI; 800/645-3233, mideasttrvl.com), May 12-20, 2020, but the tour was canceled, coincidentally also on March 13, because of the pandemic.

Ten days earlier, I had written a check for the final payment, but Spiekermann had not yet cashed it. At my request, Spiekermann refunded my $750 deposit because it had been a holdover from a May 2019 departure, which had also been canceled (but due to under-enrollment).

Two months after the tour’s cancellation, I decided that I’d like to take their Cyprus tour the following May because, in my opinion, in terms of itinerary, it’s the best group tour of Cyprus that exists. So I sent Spiekermann a deposit check for their May 2021 departure.

Sadly, as of Jan. 21, 2021, the tour was below the minimum number needed to operate. The company is promoting the tour and will make a decision in mid-March (60 days prior to departure) whether or not to cancel it.

• Immediately prior to the 2020 Cyprus tour, I was supposed to spend three nights on my own at Hotel Corfu Palace (Corfu, Greece), two nights at the Makedonia Palace (Thessaloniki, Greece) and two nights at the Lakin Court Hotel (Larnaca, Cyprus). On the last day of the tour, I had planned to spend the night at the Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel.

All four hotels had been booked through Hotels.com, and, except for the Lakin Court Hotel, all were non-refundable, but I had to cancel all four hotels.

The Lakin Court Hotel issued a full refund, and on May 23, Hotels.com sent me credit coupons for the three non-refundable hotels in the full values I had paid for them. The vouchers would expire June 22, 2021.

I subsequently redeemed my three vouchers for stays in May 2021 but opted to pay a higher rate beyond the value of each voucher so that I could extricate myself from the non-refundable liability. (For example, on Oct. 29 I redeemed my $414 voucher for two nights at the Makedonia Palace hotel and paid an additional $52.18 for the fully refundable rate. The additional amount also included taxes and fees not covered in the value of the voucher.)

I have not rebooked the Lakin Court Hotel because if the Spiekermann tour winds up being canceled, there is no sense going to Cyprus at this time.

• For the Cyprus tour, I was supposed to fly Delta Air Lines round trip between New York and Athens, May 4 and May 21. Because my flights were canceled by the airline, I would be issued a full refund.

Delta’s website, however, did not have provisions to apply for the refund online. I had to call Delta’s number for refunds (800/847-0578) and was on hold for over an hour. I knew my speaker phone would come in handy one day, and that was the day!

The customer service representative cheerfully refunded me without any problem. I called Delta on April 15, and one day later, my credit card was credited the $877.45.

• I wasn’t as successful with the three flights I had within Greece on Olympic Air and the flight I had on Sky Express, which I had booked in person through Liberty Travel

(libertytravel.com) in New York City.

Although all four flights were canceled by the airlines, these airlines do not operate within the US, so they aren’t bound by US regulations pertaining to refunds for flights canceled by an airline.

Instead, Olympic Air issued me three separate vouchers for the full value of the canceled flights, totaling 239.16 (near $291), for travel up to 18 months after the original ticket issue.

Sky Express, whom I had paid $248.55 for a one-way flight from Athens to Corfu, gave me the choice of an involuntary reissue or leaving the ticket open and proceeding to an involuntary reissue later on. I chose the latter. The involuntary reissue had to be completed within a year from the original ticket issue date, which was Jan. 11, 2020.

Since then, I have found out that, according to the European Commission (ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/passengers/news/2020-03-18-covid-19-guidance-eu-passenger-rights_en), European carriers have to offer a ticket refund or rerouting if a flight has been canceled by the airline.

In fact, the three credit vouchers that I received from Olympic Air specifically state, “After the 18 months of the date of its issuance, and provided that the Credit Voucher has not been used in full or at all, passenger is eligible to request refund of the (remaining) unused amount paid for his initial booking.”

I have not redeemed these airline vouchers and do not plan on doing so unless the European Union reopens before May. Otherwise, I will request a refund from the airline, but since I booked the flights in January 2020, I will have to wait until July 2021 before I am eligible.

The flight that I booked on Sky Express through Liberty Travel is bound by the same regulations, but it was a more complicated situation. One would think that booking through a travel agency would make it easier, but in the year that has passed since I made that reservation, my travel agent has retired, and Liberty Travel no longer has an office in New York City.

So on Dec. 21, I called the Liberty Travel office in Levittown, Long Island, New York (516/731-5300), and got an extremely helpful travel agent working remotely from Colorado. Hats off to Mike!

Fortunately, there was still a record of my Sky Express reservation in their computer system and how much I paid for it. Mike subsequently contacted Liberty Travel’s airline department, which in turn contacted Sky Express.

As in the case of the aforementioned Olympic reservations that I made on my own, Sky Express gave me the choice of either a rebooking or a refund. Although I was initially tempted to rebook for May 2021, I asked Mike what would happen if Americans still couldn’t get into the EU by then but the flight was not canceled by the airline and it would operate as scheduled.

He responded something to the effect of “I’m afraid you’ll be out of luck” (regarding a refund). So upon his wise advice, I requested a refund, with the thought that I can always rebook later. Mike said he would notify his airline department to proceed with the refund, noting that I understood that I wouldn’t be able to receive it until July 2021 because of the 18-month rule.

• I had also booked 2-day excursions through Viator (www.viator.com), one in Corfu for May 6 and one in Thessaloniki for May 10. Viator refunded my money, since I canceled at least 24 hours in advance, as is their policy for most tours.

• I was supposed to take the group tour “The Pamir Highway,” in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, June 11-28, 2020, with Native Eye (Brantham, Suffolk, England; phone +44 1473 328 546, www.nativeeyetravel.com).

I had a 300 deposit on the tour, and because of the uncertainty as to whether it would run, due to the coronavirus, the final payment due date was delayed. Approximately five weeks prior to departure, the tour was canceled.

At my request, Jim O’Brien, owner of Native Eye, cheerfully agreed to transfer my deposit to the June 2022 departure of the same tour without any monetary loss. (I cannot take the June 2021 departure of his tour due to a prior tour commitment.)

• On Feb. 3, 2020, through Vayama.com, I had booked a June 10 flight from New York to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, with a June 28 return from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The round trip cost $1,396.74 plus a $19.50 Vayama AirHelp fee. The flights, on Turkish Airlines, involved a transfer in Istanbul in each direction.

After the Native Eye tour was canceled, I didn’t want to pay a ticket cancellation fee, so I waited for the airline to cancel, which they did on May 21, canceling the New York-Istanbul flight.

The first word that that flight had been canceled came not from Turkish Airlines or Vayama but through the online travel blog Onemileatatime.com, with an article dated May 20 titled “Turkish Airlines Cancels International Flights through June 10, 2020,” the latter date of which happened to be the day I was supposed to leave.

On May 21, I received an email from Turkish Airlines informing me of a schedule change, but they didn’t tell me exactly what it was, so I went into the “Manage Your Booking” section of their website, keyed in my 6-digit booking reference code and saw that my June 10 flight was no longer listed, even though it was still listed in my account on Vayama’s website.

That same day, I emailed Vayama’s customer service telling them that Turkish Airlines had suspended all international flights through June 10 and asking them to issue me a refund on my ticket. I received a prompt response confirming the cancellation of my booking, but there was nary a word about a refund.

I tried to get a refund through Turkish Airlines’ website, but it said I had to request a refund through the agency I booked with.

Vayama’s website said that if a flight was canceled, the customer didn’t need to take any action. If a refund was applicable, the airline would initiate the refund with Vayama. Vayama also said that it would take several months for all the requests to be processed, and they requested that people not contact them about this.

I am pleased to report that on July 16, a refund was issued to my credit card account in the full amount that I had paid for the flight ($1,396.74). The credit was from Budgetair Amsterdam AU, which is presumably the subsidiary that Vayama used to book my Turkish Airlines flight.

As in the case of the canceled Singapore Airlines flights mentioned above, Vayama came through for me with flying colors. I will continue to use Vayama in the future as I have for many years.

Ada Green
New York, NY

 

 

In February, for a trip to Norway scheduled for September 2020, I bought a plane ticket from Portland to Oslo along with travel insurance through Anna at Internet Tours (Torrance, CA; 800/371-1871, www.gointernettours.com). I paid $3,270.42.

In May, I got an email from Icelandair telling me that my flight had been canceled. I wasn’t aware, at that time, that the borders to Norway were closed to foreigners, so I couldn’t have gone anyway.

I called Anna immediately, and she asked me if I wanted to rebook or cancel. I told her that, considering all of the unknowns about COVID-19, I wanted to cancel and rebook once things got back to normal.

Anna said she did not know why, but Icelandair charged me a cancellation fee ($130.82), so my credit card was reimbursed in the amount of $2,845.24.

$294.36 of my original payment was Internet Tours charges, which Anna immediately sent me a check for.

AIG Travel Guard (800/826-5248, travelguard.com) didn’t refund my premium of $443.92 but did extend my travel insurance until June 2022.

I was really sorry to have to cancel this trip, but, with the help of Anna, it wasn’t such a bad experience. She filed the ticket refund and sent in the Travel Guard refund request, all in a professional and efficient manner.

I was planning on spending the month of September in Oslo, visiting friends and relatives, getting reacquainted with the many lovely parks and museums and seeing the new Munch Museum. I love outdoor sculpture, and Oslo has an abundance of places to enjoy such things. We usually go to the mountains to hike or ski as well. Norway is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a beautiful country, the people are friendly, and the food is delicious.

Like most everyone else, however, I stayed close to home in 2020, doing my part in trying to keep the virus from spreading. I’ll book my new flight with Anna as soon as it’s safe to do so. Hopefully, this will happen before June 2022!

Laura Scott
Portland, OR

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 husband, Sam, and I were on the “Treasures of Spain, Portugal & Morocco” tour with Insight Vacations (888/680-1241, www.insightvacations.com) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

We had departed Buffalo, New York, on March 6 and arrived in Madrid, Spain, the next day. The 17-day tour began the following morning. When we got to Seville on March 11, we were expecting to spend a couple of days there, then visit Morocco for five days, return to Spain’s Costa del Sol area and head back to Madrid for the flight home.

Upon our arriving in Seville, we heard of President Trump’s announcement that flights from Europe to the US would cease in a matter of days. While there was an underlying concern regarding COVID-19 that could not be totally ignored, the tour itinerary was keeping us moving along, and our tour director was reassuring that the tour was continuing.

At breakfast on March 12, a couple abruptly announced that, considering the news reports, they were leaving the tour and flying back to the States. We, along with the rest of the group, made an excursion to Córdoba, concluding our stay in Seville that evening with dinner and a flamenco show, expecting to go to Morocco in the morning.

Unfortunately, on the bus returning to the hotel after the show, the tour director said that Morocco had closed its borders and Spain was shutting down around us. Our tour was over, and the director refunded all of us for the optional tours in Morocco we had paid for.

By this time, we heard that the travel ban on arrivals in the US from Europe did not apply to US citizens, so that was a relief, but suddenly we all faced the reality that we needed flights home. The tour director announced that if Insight had arranged for our airline tickets, Insight would schedule our return flights.

We anxiously double-checked our paperwork, making sure it was Insight and not our AAA agent who had arranged our air. One couple had used Expedia.com, so they were on their own and ended up departing one day later than we did, but Insight had arranged ours.

In the morning, instead of issuing flight schedule information right after breakfast, our tour director indicated that Insight wanted to know how many of us wanted to continue the tour. He explained that, as our director, he would stay with us, but he didn’t think much was open for touring, as places were closing down.

Thinking travel arrangements were already in the works, we were stunned. We informed him that we wanted to go home. All of us did. He seemed relieved and said he would let the tour company know.

At this point, Sam went up to our room to send an email to our AAA agent to see if she could find out if, in fact, Insight was making our flight arrangements. Two major problems interfered with completing these tasks: the time zone in the US was five hours earlier than Spain’s, and the Wi-Fi connection was intermittent, necessitating his starting over, repeatedly, in the writing of messages.

I stayed in the lobby with our tour director. He was our “lifeline,” and I wanted to be there in case word about our return flights came through. Time moved slowly as I watched other travelers, suitcases in hand, leaving for the train station nearby.

As to whether Insight was making the travel arrangements, our agent said she couldn’t see that that was happening.

Finally, our tour director got a phone message saying we all had confirmed reservations. We would travel back to Madrid the next day on our tour bus, stay overnight and go to the airport early Sunday morning. Things were looking up. We let our AAA agent know that we appreciated her assistance and communication with us but we were all set with Insight after all.

The hotel in Seville let us stay Friday night but was closing down on Monday. They provided breakfast on Saturday, and we left on our bus at 8:30 for an all-day drive to Madrid. By this time, there were only a dozen tour members left from the 18 who began this tour.

We arrived at the same hotel in Madrid that we had stayed at on our first night. Some restaurants were closed, and the hotel didn’t serve food, so our tour director bought our dinners and we ate in our rooms. The hotel provided a packed meal when we left at 5:30 a.m. for the airport.

At the airport, the long check-in line moved reasonably well. The airport personnel were calm and helpful and wore masks, as did we.

When the Delta Air Lines travel agent saw our flight information, she suggested Sam and I change flights and board one going to New York instead of Atlanta. The flight from New York to Buffalo left later, so we would have more time between flights as well. We readily agreed — a win/win for us and the airline.

The flight went smoothly. Upon our landing at JFK Airport, we were met with multiple checkpoints. We were given paperwork on our 14-day self-quarantine requirement and stood for a forehead-temperature check. After passing that, we proceeded to passport control and baggage pickup, then made our way to the gate for our flight for Buffalo. It was a relief to let our family know we were back in the US.

The flight to Buffalo was nearly empty, and we arrived on time. We picked up our luggage and went to find our car — our last hurdle.

Seeing that we were under quarantine, we had to change the arrangements we had made for someone to pick us up at the Buffalo airport. Instead, we had friends drop off our car in an airport parking lot and leave it unlocked with the keys hidden inside it, as we hadn’t carried any with us overseas. After a bit of a search, we found the car and headed home, an hour and 15 minutes away. We arrived around 9:30 p.m., tired but relieved.

We had had a very gratifying trip until it was over prematurely. The happy ending to this story is that we survived being in Spain in March without picking up COVID-19.

Insight refused our two requests for a cash refund for the unused portion of our tour. They offered us a travel credit voucher valid until April 2022.

Beverly Hazen
Mayville, NY

 

 

My wife, Vicky, and I were scheduled to depart Sept. 14, 2020, on the “11-Day Classic Scandinavia” with Gate 1 Travel (Fort Washington, PA; 800/682-3333, www.gate1travel.com), a company we’ve used several times.

We booked the tour in October 2019 with a deposit of $200 each plus payment of $169 each for travel insurance. On May 1, due to COVID-19, we received an email from Gate 1 advising us not to send any additional funds, as they were evaluating whether the trip would take place.

On June 18, we received an email stating that the tour had been suspended. The message said we could either get a refund of the deposit on the tour or take a credit, but there would be no refund of the cost of the insurance.

On July 9, we emailed the company to let them know we wanted a refund on the tour deposit. To confirm that Gate 1 had received our email, we called them on July 20. The representative said they had our claim and were processing a credit to our credit card in the amount of $738.

Since this amount included the insurance payment, I was surprised but didn’t question the rep, who was very cooperative and friendly.

• For our flight, Los Angeles-Oslo-Copenhagen, we had made our reservations on Feb. 23 with Norwegian (in the US, 800/357-4159, www.norwegian.com). Departure was scheduled for Sept. 13. The total price for the two of us was $1,983.30.

Shortly after Gate 1 canceled, Norwegian sent us an email saying our flight had been canceled due to COVID-19. They said we could either get a cash refund or take CashPoints with a 20% bonus, redeemable through Dec. 31, 2021, for travel through Oct. 31, 2022.

The bonus seemed nice, however we don’t normally fly Norwegian, and who knows what is going to happen with the pandemic? While we do plan on rebooking the trip if it’s available, we filled out the form on their website to obtain a refund to our credit card.

On July 27, I called Norwegian to see if they had our refund request, which they did not. The representative was very understanding, helped me fill out the form and ensured me that their system now had us requesting a cash refund. Within a month, the full refund had been credited to our credit card account.

• We were in limbo with our SAS (800/221-2350, www.flysas.com) flight from Bergen, Norway, to Stuttgart, Germany, booked at a cost of $161.38 on March 11 for a departure date of Sept. 24.

SAS had not canceled and was unlikely to do so, since it was an internal flight within Europe. We hope to take the same Gate 1 tour to Scandinavia in September 2021, but if we canceled our flight, we would be issued a credit good for only one year, and that timing might not work for us.

We did cancel a few days before our flight, since SAS had not canceled it. SAS said they would give us a full refund, not just a credit. The rep said it would take about four months to receive it. We received a full refund to our credit card account on Oct. 29.

(As for the last leg of our trip, from Stuttgart to Los Angeles, we had not yet booked it. We had planned to visit our son in Germany.)

• We had also booked a hotel in Copenhagen, for an early arrival for the tour, which we were able to cancel without penalty.

• So that’s our story for the trip to Norway and Germany. Cancellations were successful, unlike what happened after having to cancel our family trip to Greece scheduled for March 12-22, 2020.

At the time we canceled our Greece trip, March 11, we weren’t sure if we’d even be able to get back into the US if we took that trip.

Because we canceled, we ended up forfeiting about $2,000, mostly in Airbnb monies but some in fees for canceling six Olympic Air tickets, Athens-Crete round trip.

Airbnb claimed that they had funds to help those who canceled. After many calls and much frustration, Airbnb finally stated that the monies they had were only for the owners of the properties and not the renters.

• For our flights, Los Angeles-London-Athens, we also now have a credit of $6,000 for the six of us with American Airlines (AA) that expires at the end of 2021. (Initially, AA said the credit would expire at the end of 2020.) This credit is a bit dicey in that each of the six of us has to individually use our $1,000, and who knows what travel we will be able to take in 2021?

• For the round-trip flights to Athens, we had bought insurance through Allianz Global Assistance. We contacted Allianz but were told that our precautionary COVID-19 cancellations were not covered.

• We had upgraded these flights to Premium Economy. Though we booked through AA, the upgrade had to be paid to British Airways, which was the actual carrier throughout. British Air gave us a full refund for the upgrades even though we had canceled our flights. That was nice of them.

Chuck Trenkle
Rancho Mirage, CA

 

 

I had four trips canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020. One, to Nepal and Bhutan, was with Discovery Tours, a subsidiary of Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com) that operates small-group tours. The other three, to the Erie Canal, Minneapolis and Poland, were with Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768, www.roadscholar.org).

The Discovery tour was of most concern when it was canceled, since it was the most expensive and I had already paid the full price (more than half by check, so I had little credit card protection). Fortunately, after a few phone calls, Discovery agreed to refund the entire cost, including the travel insurance. The portion paid by credit card was refunded quickly; the rest took two to three weeks.

Since Road Scholar had postponed the due date for my final payments on the Erie Canal and Minneapolis tours, I had only paid deposits and insurance on those tours when they were canceled. The insurance payments were automatically refunded, but I rolled over the deposits to other trips.

As with my other Road Scholar trips, the insurance cost for the “Poland in the Heart of Europe” tour was refunded when that tour was canceled, and I left my deposit as a credit. This time, however, Road Scholar added an extra hundred dollars for my trouble.

Harvey Lampert
North Bethesda, MD

 

 

On Oct. 10, 2019, I booked a one-week tour called “Highlights of Sumatra” for March 15-22, 2020, with Explore! (Farnborough, Hampshire, England; phone, in the US, 800/715-1746, www.exploreworldwide.com).

Although the tour was departing as scheduled, on March 13 (the same day I was supposed to depart for Medan, Indonesia) I canceled the trip because I was concerned about the growing rate of COVID-19 in Indonesia.

One month later, Explore! issued a credit voucher to me for the full amount I’d paid for the tour, $1,292. I had to redeem it by March 16, 2021, but didn’t necessarily have to take the trip in 2021. Because “Highlights of Sumatra” was not being offered in 2021, on Aug. 18 I redeemed my voucher for their “Best of Belarus” tour in September 2021. (Belarus and Poland are the only countries in Europe that I haven’t visited.)

• On Vayama.com, I had booked a round-trip flight from New York to Medan on Singapore Airlines for $1,163.91. Both my outbound and return flights, which involved transfers in Frankfurt and Singapore, were canceled (piecemeal, in segments) by the airline in February 2020, so I was fully refunded. The credit from Vayama appeared in my credit card’s April statement.

• On March 5, through Qatar Airways’ website, I booked a new round trip to Medan for $965.07. As I mentioned, on March 13, several hours before I was supposed to take the outbound flight, I canceled it. I was issued a refund in the amount of $702.07. Because I initiated the cancellation, Qatar Airways deducted a $263 fee.

• After my Explore! tour, I was supposed to spend the nights of March 22-23 at the ibis Singapore on Bencoolen Hotel (170 Bencoolen St., Singapore). I had stayed at that hotel in 2018, but this time I booked through Hotels.com. The first night cost $103.54, and I redeemed a Hotels.com reward for the second night.

Upon my canceling, although my room was booked at a non-refundable rate, Hotels.com got the hotel’s permission to give me a refund for the first night, and the value of the second night was deposited back into my Hotels.com Rewards Silver account.

• I was supposed to take a group tour to Cyprus with Spiekermann Travel (Eastpointe, MI; 800/645-3233, mideasttrvl.com), May 12-20, 2020, but the tour was canceled, coincidentally also on March 13, because of the pandemic.

Ten days earlier, I had written a check for the final payment, but Spiekermann had not yet cashed it. At my request, Spiekermann refunded my $750 deposit because it had been a holdover from a May 2019 departure, which had also been canceled (but due to under-enrollment).

Two months after the tour’s cancellation, I decided that I’d like to take their Cyprus tour the following May because, in my opinion, in terms of itinerary, it’s the best group tour of Cyprus that exists. So I sent Spiekermann a deposit check for their May 2021 departure.

Sadly, as of Jan. 21, 2021, the tour was below the minimum number needed to operate. The company is promoting the tour and will make a decision in mid-March (60 days prior to departure) whether or not to cancel it.

• Immediately prior to the 2020 Cyprus tour, I was supposed to spend three nights on my own at Hotel Corfu Palace (Corfu, Greece), two nights at the Makedonia Palace (Thessaloniki, Greece) and two nights at the Lakin Court Hotel (Larnaca, Cyprus). On the last day of the tour, I had planned to spend the night at the Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel.

All four hotels had been booked through Hotels.com, and, except for the Lakin Court Hotel, all were non-refundable, but I had to cancel all four hotels.

The Lakin Court Hotel issued a full refund, and on May 23, Hotels.com sent me credit coupons for the three non-refundable hotels in the full values I had paid for them. The vouchers would expire June 22, 2021.

I subsequently redeemed my three vouchers for stays in May 2021 but opted to pay a higher rate beyond the value of each voucher so that I could extricate myself from the non-refundable liability. (For example, on Oct. 29 I redeemed my $414 voucher for two nights at the Makedonia Palace hotel and paid an additional $52.18 for the fully refundable rate. The additional amount also included taxes and fees not covered in the value of the voucher.)

I have not rebooked the Lakin Court Hotel because if the Spiekermann tour winds up being canceled, there is no sense going to Cyprus at this time.

• For the Cyprus tour, I was supposed to fly Delta Air Lines round trip between New York and Athens, May 4 and May 21. Because my flights were canceled by the airline, I would be issued a full refund.

Delta’s website, however, did not have provisions to apply for the refund online. I had to call Delta’s number for refunds (800/847-0578) and was on hold for over an hour. I knew my speaker phone would come in handy one day, and that was the day!

The customer service representative cheerfully refunded me without any problem. I called Delta on April 15, and one day later, my credit card was credited the $877.45.

• I wasn’t as successful with the three flights I had within Greece on Olympic Air and the flight I had on Sky Express, which I had booked in person through Liberty Travel

(libertytravel.com) in New York City.

Although all four flights were canceled by the airlines, these airlines do not operate within the US, so they aren’t bound by US regulations pertaining to refunds for flights canceled by an airline.

Instead, Olympic Air issued me three separate vouchers for the full value of the canceled flights, totaling 239.16 (near $291), for travel up to 18 months after the original ticket issue.

Sky Express, whom I had paid $248.55 for a one-way flight from Athens to Corfu, gave me the choice of an involuntary reissue or leaving the ticket open and proceeding to an involuntary reissue later on. I chose the latter. The involuntary reissue had to be completed within a year from the original ticket issue date, which was Jan. 11, 2020.

Since then, I have found out that, according to the European Commission (ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/passengers/news/2020-03-18-covid-19-guidance-eu-passenger-rights_en), European carriers have to offer a ticket refund or rerouting if a flight has been canceled by the airline.

In fact, the three credit vouchers that I received from Olympic Air specifically state, “After the 18 months of the date of its issuance, and provided that the Credit Voucher has not been used in full or at all, passenger is eligible to request refund of the (remaining) unused amount paid for his initial booking.”

I have not redeemed these airline vouchers and do not plan on doing so unless the European Union reopens before May. Otherwise, I will request a refund from the airline, but since I booked the flights in January 2020, I will have to wait until July 2021 before I am eligible.

The flight that I booked on Sky Express through Liberty Travel is bound by the same regulations, but it was a more complicated situation. One would think that booking through a travel agency would make it easier, but in the year that has passed since I made that reservation, my travel agent has retired, and Liberty Travel no longer has an office in New York City.

So on Dec. 21, I called the Liberty Travel office in Levittown, Long Island, New York (516/731-5300), and got an extremely helpful travel agent working remotely from Colorado. Hats off to Mike!

Fortunately, there was still a record of my Sky Express reservation in their computer system and how much I paid for it. Mike subsequently contacted Liberty Travel’s airline department, which in turn contacted Sky Express.

As in the case of the aforementioned Olympic reservations that I made on my own, Sky Express gave me the choice of either a rebooking or a refund. Although I was initially tempted to rebook for May 2021, I asked Mike what would happen if Americans still couldn’t get into the EU by then but the flight was not canceled by the airline and it would operate as scheduled.

He responded something to the effect of “I’m afraid you’ll be out of luck” (regarding a refund). So upon his wise advice, I requested a refund, with the thought that I can always rebook later. Mike said he would notify his airline department to proceed with the refund, noting that I understood that I wouldn’t be able to receive it until July 2021 because of the 18-month rule.

• I had also booked 2-day excursions through Viator (www.viator.com), one in Corfu for May 6 and one in Thessaloniki for May 10. Viator refunded my money, since I canceled at least 24 hours in advance, as is their policy for most tours.

• I was supposed to take the group tour “The Pamir Highway,” in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, June 11-28, 2020, with Native Eye (Brantham, Suffolk, England; phone +44 1473 328 546, www.nativeeyetravel.com).

I had a 300 deposit on the tour, and because of the uncertainty as to whether it would run, due to the coronavirus, the final payment due date was delayed. Approximately five weeks prior to departure, the tour was canceled.

At my request, Jim O’Brien, owner of Native Eye, cheerfully agreed to transfer my deposit to the June 2022 departure of the same tour without any monetary loss. (I cannot take the June 2021 departure of his tour due to a prior tour commitment.)

• On Feb. 3, 2020, through Vayama.com, I had booked a June 10 flight from New York to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, with a June 28 return from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The round trip cost $1,396.74 plus a $19.50 Vayama AirHelp fee. The flights, on Turkish Airlines, involved a transfer in Istanbul in each direction.

After the Native Eye tour was canceled, I didn’t want to pay a ticket cancellation fee, so I waited for the airline to cancel, which they did on May 21, canceling the New York-Istanbul flight.

The first word that that flight had been canceled came not from Turkish Airlines or Vayama but through the online travel blog Onemileatatime.com, with an article dated May 20 titled “Turkish Airlines Cancels International Flights through June 10, 2020,” the latter date of which happened to be the day I was supposed to leave.

On May 21, I received an email from Turkish Airlines informing me of a schedule change, but they didn’t tell me exactly what it was, so I went into the “Manage Your Booking” section of their website, keyed in my 6-digit booking reference code and saw that my June 10 flight was no longer listed, even though it was still listed in my account on Vayama’s website.

That same day, I emailed Vayama’s customer service telling them that Turkish Airlines had suspended all international flights through June 10 and asking them to issue me a refund on my ticket. I received a prompt response confirming the cancellation of my booking, but there was nary a word about a refund.

I tried to get a refund through Turkish Airlines’ website, but it said I had to request a refund through the agency I booked with.

Vayama’s website said that if a flight was canceled, the customer didn’t need to take any action. If a refund was applicable, the airline would initiate the refund with Vayama. Vayama also said that it would take several months for all the requests to be processed, and they requested that people not contact them about this.

I am pleased to report that on July 16, a refund was issued to my credit card account in the full amount that I had paid for the flight ($1,396.74). The credit was from Budgetair Amsterdam AU, which is presumably the subsidiary that Vayama used to book my Turkish Airlines flight.

As in the case of the canceled Singapore Airlines flights mentioned above, Vayama came through for me with flying colors. I will continue to use Vayama in the future as I have for many years.

Ada Green
New York, NY

 

 

In February, for a trip to Norway scheduled for September 2020, I bought a plane ticket from Portland to Oslo along with travel insurance through Anna at Internet Tours (Torrance, CA; 800/371-1871, www.gointernettours.com). I paid $3,270.42.

In May, I got an email from Icelandair telling me that my flight had been canceled. I wasn’t aware, at that time, that the borders to Norway were closed to foreigners, so I couldn’t have gone anyway.

I called Anna immediately, and she asked me if I wanted to rebook or cancel. I told her that, considering all of the unknowns about COVID-19, I wanted to cancel and rebook once things got back to normal.

Anna said she did not know why, but Icelandair charged me a cancellation fee ($130.82), so my credit card was reimbursed in the amount of $2,845.24.

$294.36 of my original payment was Internet Tours charges, which Anna immediately sent me a check for.

AIG Travel Guard (800/826-5248, travelguard.com) didn’t refund my premium of $443.92 but did extend my travel insurance until June 2022.

I was really sorry to have to cancel this trip, but, with the help of Anna, it wasn’t such a bad experience. She filed the ticket refund and sent in the Travel Guard refund request, all in a professional and efficient manner.

I was planning on spending the month of September in Oslo, visiting friends and relatives, getting reacquainted with the many lovely parks and museums and seeing the new Munch Museum. I love outdoor sculpture, and Oslo has an abundance of places to enjoy such things. We usually go to the mountains to hike or ski as well. Norway is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a beautiful country, the people are friendly, and the food is delicious.

Like most everyone else, however, I stayed close to home in 2020, doing my part in trying to keep the virus from spreading. I’ll book my new flight with Anna as soon as it’s safe to do so. Hopefully, this will happen before June 2022!

Laura Scott
Portland, OR