COVID-19 cancellations (Part 9)

This item appears on page 15 of the May 2021 issue.

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.

I bought this necklace and earrings from this very talented woman in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, in February 2020. (South Seas pearls are cheaper than Tahitian pearls.) I can’t imagine all the hours she put into it. Photos by Katherine Shindel

The COVID-19 pandemic turned my dream 2020 ’round-the-world cruise into a half-world cruise. The “Grand World Voyage,” round trip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, aboard the Amsterdam, was with Holland America Line, or HAL (Seattle, WA; 877/932-4259,

It was originally scheduled for Jan. 4-May 12, 2020, and before it was cut short, I was able to sail through the Caribbean, down the coast of South America to the Falklands, on to Antarctica, up to Chile and west across the Pacific to Easter Island, Pitcairn Island, New Zealand and Australia.

Twice our itinerary was changed. The first change was to avoid the virus, and the second was caused by countries closing their ports to us. On March 14, the afternoon before we were to reach Darwin, Australia, the cruise was canceled altogether. The Australian government required the ship to sail to Fremantle (Perth) for passengers to fly home.

We responded with confusion, disbelief, anger and worry. (Due to medical conditions, some passengers could not fly. Others were afraid to fly. I’ve wondered what happened to them and, in particular, a 95-year-old woman, without any family, who lived on the ship. All those folks who argued that living on a cruise ship was cheaper than assisted living never anticipated this!)

Pitcairn Islanders make much of their income from what they sell to cruise ship passengers — jewelry, wooden items, honey, postcards, stamps, etc. Here they are returning home after a very successful visit to our ship (February 2020).

Hundreds of us signed a petition to sail back to Fort Lauderdale via the Panama Canal, as we felt safe on the ship. We later learned that sailing home would have been impossible, as the Panama Canal ended up closing to cruise ships before we would have reached it.

Getting plane reservations was very challenging. Even with the help of the crew and HAL’s air-ticketing people in the US, the ship had to stay four days in Fremantle before everyone who wanted flights had gotten them.

I had booked the cruise through an agent of Cruise Specialists, or CS (Seattle, WA; 888/993-1318,, which provided extra services, such as volunteer CS hosts on board. On our cruise there were three hosts, who would gather every sea day morning to offer coffee, cookies, fellowship and, when needed, help, with a laptop connected to the internet.

My only flight ticket home to Tucson was from Fort Lauderdale in May with Delta Air Lines. On March 16, my CS agent in the US made new reservations for me for March 22, with Virgin Australia and Delta, from Perth to Tucson. When I received his email, I authorized him to book the flights with my credit card on file. One of the CS hosts on board was sent courtesy copies of the emails.

When I checked my email early the morning of the 18th, all was well. Later, I was working on photos in the library when the captain announced that, due to flight cancellations, the HAL flight department would help find reservations for any passengers who needed help. Then I overheard a man say that Delta had canceled all flights from Australia.

I almost didn’t send this photo because of the extremely short haircut I got on the ship. However, this shot shows the incredible size of this moai on Easter Island. (To make the details stand out, my friend brightened the photo and the contrast. Trust me, the grass was not this green!) I was there in February 2020.

Using my iPad, I tried to reach my CS agent by email but was unable to get on the internet after logging onto the ship’s Wi-Fi. At that time, if you could even get on, using the internet from the ship was like sending your data through a straw when the straw was already full.

I went to the CS hosts on board, and the one who previously had been courtesy-copied had printed out an email to me with new flights home to Tucson from Perth that my agent had put on a hold with Qantas and American Airlines. By the time I replied and authorized him to book them, Qantas and American had raised the fare by $1,936 to $6,782.85. This was in less that 15 minutes.

The professionalism of the Amsterdam’s crew was amazing, particularly the Hotel Director, who absorbed the anger of those who thought he could change the situation.

The crew had their own worries, which they hid from us unless we asked. (My two cabin stewards were from Indonesia, where the virus was spreading. How and when would they get home, and then how would they support their families? The younger one’s wife was pregnant with their first child.)

Holland America was very fair. Passengers were each given the choice of a 50% refund and a future cruise credit equal to the refund, to be used on reservations made by Dec. 31, 2021 (though we didn’t have to sail by then), or a 125% future cruise credit. I chose the refund/credit, and the money was put back on my credit card as promised.

(I later booked back-to-back cruises for summer 2022. As a single, I pay a 100% markup to book a verandah/balcony cabin. With much of the fare covered by the cruise credit, I am able to sail with a verandah for 35 days for less than $2,000, including insurance. [My insurance was cheap because I only had to insure what I actually paid for, not the value of the cruise credit.] HAL is paying for me to sail in style.)

Delta Air Lines canceled my May flight from Fort Lauderdale, returning my air miles and refunding my taxes and fees.

Viator ( refunded me for a shore tour.

My travel insurer, Travel Insured (, was overwhelmed with claims but finally paid for my medical charges on the ship and for that inflated airfare.

Luggage Forward ( refunded what I had prepaid for shipping my extra bags home from Fort Lauderdale in May.

In the old section of Recife, Brazil, these dancers were trying to lure us into a souvenir store (January 2020).

Getting everyone’s extra luggage back (thousands of pieces) wasn’t easy for HAL. Country after country refused to allow the ship to dock so the luggage could be offloaded. In the meantime, HAL announced the sale of the Amsterdam. Luckily, in the middle of July, before the sale was completed in August, Singapore allowed the luggage to be offloaded, placed in shipping containers and stored in a secure, bonded facility. HAL then got a ship to carry everyone’s luggage to Fort Lauderdale, where it arrived on Aug. 27.

After the luggage was offloaded, sorted and inventoried and had passed Customs inspection, I got an email on Sept. 29 with my FedEx tracking numbers and saying the luggage would leave HAL’s facility in a few days. On Oct. 7 I got an email saying that, due to the high volume of luggage, it was taking FedEx longer than expected to pick it all up.

I had left a suitcase and a box on the ship, putting the box outside my cabin last, shortly before midnight on March 21. I finally got the suitcase delivered by FedEx on Oct. 20 and the box on the 21st, both in good condition. I was amused that my box arrived exactly seven months later, to the day.

Katherine Shindel
Tucson, AZ



On Feb. 19, 2020, I booked the “Voyage of the Americas” on the Koningsdam of Holland America Line, or HAL ( Departing April, 2, 2020, this was to be a 30-day repositioning cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Vancouver, Canada.

I booked this cruise by phone with my travel agent, Annette, at USAA* (800/571-4208, ext. 4919, For a single cabin, the cruise cost $4,750 plus taxes, fees and transfers. I had a $100 credit, which I applied to the cost. Airfare added $633.26, and Annette also billed me $552 for her services.

In early March 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, HAL offered me the opportunity to cancel this cruise and get a future cruise credit, with no penalty for cancellation. After talking with Annette and being informed I would have a full credit of the base fare and a refund of the airfare, I accepted HAL’s offer to cancel. HAL did not offer a cash refund, and I did not ask for one.

Annette also said that HAL would send me a receipt for this credit, but I did not receive one.

On May 29, HAL refunded $544.69 to my credit card, I presume for the airfare. HAL also reimbursed my previous credit of $100 I had applied to this cruise.

On Jan. 5, 2021, another USAA agent, Anthony, phoned about my credit with HAL, and on Jan. 15 I phoned him back and asked him to contact HAL about it, which he did while I was on hold.

HAL said that my credit of $4,794.56 had expired on Dec. 31, 2020, as I had canceled based on a special offer, with no cancellation penalty, before HAL started canceling its cruises.

My heart sank at the loss. But HAL did the “right thing” and extended the expiration date to Dec. 31, 2021.

Anthony suggested I book a cruise to use my credit. I had not received a catalog of the latest cruises, so I asked him about any possibilities from the West Coast and longer than seven days. I chose a 29-day one, but it was fully booked already.

As a second choice, I booked a 17-day round-trip Zuiderdam cruise from San Diego to Hawaii, Nov. 18-Dec. 5, 2021. With my USAA discount, my total cost as a single was $3,622, of which $864 (port charges and fees) had to be paid by cash or credit card. I told Anthony to also use my previous credit of $100 that HAL had reimbursed me.

I still have a credit of $2,136.56 to use before the end-of-the-year expiration date. I need just a few more sea days to reach 700 and qualify for HAL’s platinum medallion.

Rosemary Stafford
Pleasant Hill, CA

*USAA’s travel assistance and benefits are available to USAA members only.



In regard to trip cancellations due to COVID-19, my wife and I are happy to report that our experiences were very positive and pleasant.

• Our customized “Discover Israel” tour, scheduled for March 18-31, 2020, with National Geographic Expeditions (Washington, DC; 888/966-8687,, was canceled on or about March 15 when Israel closed its borders. National Geographic promptly refunded 100% of the prepaid cost, $20,300.

Purchased through National Geographic, we also had a Travel Protection Plan with USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services. The $3,200 premium we paid for that (on a $28,000 policy for both of us) was also refunded.

• We had made the airline reservations through American Express’ Platinum Travel Service (card members can call 800/525-3355)*. Our round-trip flights, San Francisco-Tel Aviv, had been booked with El Al — $8,000 for business-class seats. The tickets were cancelable before departure at a penalty of about $250 per ticket.

American Express took care of the cancellation but said the refund could take some time. I was advised to follow up when the airline situation cleared up. As of Aug. 25, I had talked to AmEx three times since we canceled the ticket, and they informed me that they had not been able to contact El Al.

I religiously read Christopher Elliott’s column “The Travel Troubleshooter” in the San Jose Mercury, and in 2021, I went on the Elliott Advocacy ( website and sent them an email.

Elliott Advocacy provided an American Express corporate email address and suggested I contact them. I did so on March 4. The next day, I got a call from American Express saying they were reviewing my case and would keep me informed.

I am happy to report that, almost a year after we canceled our round-trip flight to Israel on El Al, the cost of our two business-class tickets was credited to our AmEx account on March 18, 2021. Our AmEx Platinum Travel Service card is worth the cost, but I also give credit to the Elliott Advocacy group in providing a corporate contact.

Faz Ulla
San Jose, CA

*To set up an American Express Platinum Card account, call 877/621-2639.



On Oct. 21, 2019, I booked “The Sicilian,” a 10-day, 9-night bus tour of Sicily with Globus (Littleton, CO; 866/755-8581,, through an online travel agent, Atlas Cruises & Tours (800/942-3301,

The trip was to start in Palermo on May 21, 2020 (my package included a 1-day pre-tour extension in Palermo), and end in Taormina on June 1. I would fly home from Catania.

The booking included round-trip airfare from Atlanta, airport transfers and a single supplement. At the time of booking, I purchased the suggested travel insurance, which included a Cancel For Any Reason waiver.

The total price for the above, after early-booking discounts, was $3,900. I paid a deposit of $799, which included the $249 trip insurance cost. The balance of $3,109 was due April 8.

As word came out about COVID-19, my family and personal physician suggested that, with my chronic COPD, heart disease and other health issues, I should cancel my trip, which I did on March 16. At that time, the CDC had issued a level-3 travel advisory to avoid nonessential travel to Italy, and shortly thereafter, travel back and forth to Italy was banned.

My particular Atlas travel consultant was out on medical leave the day I called to cancel, but other personnel took my information and suggested I file a claim with the travel insurance company, Trip Mate (800/888-7292,, which I did on March 17. I was informed that my claim would be for $550 because the $249 trip insurance cost was non-refundable.

I periodically made inquiries into the status of my refund request and was eventually mailed a travel certificate from Globus for $550 on May 7. No amount of arguing on my part would get Globus, Atlas or Trip Mate to grant a cash refund.

I was told that, under my travel insurance policy’s Cancel For Any Reason protection plan, my reason for canceling was not a “specified reason” that would give me a cash refund, and, in fact, this was disclosed in the fine print of the contract.

The Globus travel certificate may be used for travel within two years of the start date of my original vacation, so it will expire on May 21, 2022, and it may not be used for any initial deposit, travel protection, optional excursions or airfare.

I was, and continue to be, less than satisfied with this resolution. Part of my annoyance stems from the fact that I mistakenly assumed that, under my Cancel For Any Reason policy, I could cancel for any reason and be refunded in CASH.

Having just completed my 2-shot Moderna vaccine course, I am much less concerned about getting a serious case of COVID-19. However, with travel restrictions frequently changing and case numbers still high throughout much of the world, it's unknown when international travel will return to anything like normalcy. Like everyone else, I pray it will be sooner rather than later.

Patrick Wikstrom
Warne, NC