COVID consequences (Part 11)

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More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel worldwide, travelers are still dealing with the fallout from canceled and delayed trip plans. As opportunities to safely travel increase, some are still seeking refunds from tour operators, cruise lines, etc., and others’ postponed trips are being pushed even farther ahead. ITN subscribers share their stories from the past year.


2020 was going to be a good year for travel, as my husband, Leo, and I had two international trips planned.

• On April 13 we were to depart on the “Essential Holland & Belgium Culinary River Cruise” with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com), our fourth trip with Vantage.

In order to receive discounts, we took advantage of their “easy pay” plan (pay in full at time of booking by echeck) and on May 13, 2019, paid a total of $9,736 for an A-category cabin. On May 29, we booked two separate optional tours for Amsterdam and Antwerp for a total of $258.

I register all of our international travel with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP (step.state.gov), so I receive constant updates about travel advisories. Early in 2020, because of concerns of COVID-19, we anticipated we would cancel the trip.

Vantage’s brochure stated, in the section outlining their “protection plan,” that a traveler using their insurance coverage could cancel for any reason and receive all monies back, but we did not read their cancellation policies completely. According to Trip Mate’s insurance policy, purchased through Vantage, if we canceled for a reason that was not specifically listed as covered, we would only receive credit (in the full amount) toward another trip. We would receive money back only if we canceled for a covered reason.

In the meantime, there appeared to be a problem with the “life expectancy” of the battery for my 86-year-old husband’s pacemaker, and Leo could not get an appointment for another reading until March 18. Because of this uncertainty, we decided to cancel our trip on Feb. 28 based on medical reasons. (As a footnote, Leo’s pacemaker battery was replaced in September 2020.)

On April 16, 2020, we finally received a doctor’s note, but before we submitted the claim to Trip Mate, Vantage called and offered us 110% credit if we rebooked the trip for April 2021, which we did.

On Jan. 14, 2021, Vantage sent us an email stating that our cruise would now embark on April 13, 2022. We’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed that the world situation and our own health will prevail.

• The airfare is another story. I usually book flights through the Business Class Consolidator (BCC) travel agent Alexis Wellens (510/992-6772, alexis@bcconsolidator.com), as Alexis has always gotten great prices for us.

Through BCC, I had booked non-refundable business-class tickets, Fort Lauderdale-New York-Amsterdam, with KLM/Delta Air Lines for April 13, returning London-New York-Fort Lauderdale on May 1, at a cost of $7,788 for both of us.

BCC at that time didn’t offer the possibility of purchasing insurance, but we usually insure our flights with the assistance of travel insurance broker Dan Drennen (Omaha, NE; 866/979-6753, www.travelinsurancecenter.com). Of course, this was the one time in several years that we didn’t. Boy, were we stupid!

After it became apparent that we would not be traveling in April 2020, on March 16 we canceled our flights.

Alexis checked with the airline, who said their flights were on schedule, therefore they would not waive the cancellation fee. And even though EU travel restrictions prohibited US citizens from entering the Netherlands (except certain categories of travelers), the airline advised her they were not responsible for governmental restrictions.

At the time we canceled, the airlines provided two options: receive an open ticket for a future date or receive partial reimbursement. We decided to cut our losses and take a partial refund of $4,300. We received it on Nov. 5, 2020.

• We were also scheduled to take another trip with Vantage Deluxe World Travel, their Silk Road trip in October 2020. Including business-class airfare and insurance (again with Trip Mate), it cost $20,116.

On July 20, Vantage sent an email stating they had “postponed” this trip to Sept. 26, 2021, and that no refunds would be made, only credits toward future trips, to be used through December 2022.

On Vantage’s Summary of General Terms & Conditions at the time of payment, it stated, “If the tour is cancelled by Vantage for any reason, Vantage shall have no liability beyond the prompt refund of all tour participants’ payments received by it.” After finally reaching one of Vantage’s customer care concierges on Aug. 5, 2020, we stated we felt that, in effect, this trip had been canceled by Vantage and requested a refund.

I spoke to another rep on Aug. 15 and asked that our request for a full refund be bumped up to a supervisor. This rep said he would do so but that it might take six to eight weeks to hear back with their decision.

I sent a query to travel advocate Elliott Advocacy (www.elliott.org) on Aug. 6 and was advised, “At this time, we are encouraging consumers to file a complaint with their state’s Attorney General.”

Because we live in Florida and Vantage is headquartered in Massachusetts, on Aug. 9 I sent complaints to both Florida’s and Massachusetts’ Attorneys General regarding Vantage not refunding our money. I received acknowledgment of the Massachusetts complaint but heard nothing further on that.

Florida’s Attorney General finally responded on Jan. 19, 2021, saying Vantage had sent them the Terms and Conditions/Tour Participation Agreement, which confirmed that Vantage is within its rights to postpone/reschedule any trip to a later date instead of canceling it and providing a refund.

As for our “cancel for any reason” insurance coverage with Trip Mate, again, we can receive a refund only if we cancel for a reason covered by our protection plan, receiving credit toward a future trip if we cancel for any other reason.

We will wait to see whether Vantage will again “postpone” the Silk Road trip. Leo and I will be 87 and 77, respectively, in September 2021 and, due to the possible rigors of this trip and because Leo is presently having major mobility issues, we will ask our doctor to provide a medical excuse for canceling. If we aren’t able to cancel with a doctor’s note, we will try to find another less ambitious Vantage trip for 2022 or 2023.

Even though we usually don’t believe in saying “never again,” once these particular journeys are completed, we will never travel with Vantage again.

Ann Cyr
Delray Beach, FL

 

 

Late in 2019, I paid in full for the tour “The Silk Road: Marco Polo & Golden Cities of Central Asia,” Sept. 20-Oct. 6, 2020, with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (www.vantagetravel.com). With the coming of COVID-19, I decided to cancel the trip and pay what at that time would have been a $300 cancellation fee.

I started by calling Vantage’s customer service line in mid-March. A representative told me to hold off on canceling the trip, as Vantage was starting to cancel trips, and if I waited for them to cancel, I would not incur the cancellation fee, so I waited.

I called again in April and again was advised not to cancel, for the same reason as above.

By May 6, 2020, I no longer wanted to wait, as Vantage’s contract increased the cancellation fees as it got closer to the departure date, so I sent an email requesting to cancel my trip and incur the penalty.

I received a response from the customer service department indicating that someone would call me within two weeks to start processing my refund. No one called.

On May 27, I called Vantage and was told that the refund was in process and I would get it in 30 days. In early August, having not received any refund, I wrote to the Massachusetts Attorney General as well as the Better Business Bureau and started a claim in small claims court in Philadelphia.

Finally, around Sept. 7, I received a deposit in my checking account from Vantage Travel for the full amount.

I’m not sure which of my actions resulted in the refund.

Mary Kirson
Philadelphia, PA

ITN emailed copies of Ann Cyr’s and Mary Kirson’s letters to Vantage Deluxe World Travel on April 13, 2021, and received an acknowledgement of receipt but no formal response.

 

 

At a total cost of $11,994, we booked a river cruise from Bucharest to Budapest in January 2020 with Viking (Los Angeles, CA; 855/338-4546, www.vikingcruises.com). As originally scheduled, our trip, including pre- and post-cruise extensions, was to run Aug. 15-30, 2020.

When COVID-19 caused Viking to cancel the trip, Viking offered a choice of a cash refund or a generous voucher for 125% of the original booking cost. We chose the voucher and rebooked the same cruise for July 2021.

However, in late 2020, Viking announced their COVID-19 safety protocols, like daily PCR testing and near-constant face masks, which, while perhaps necessary, would make the cruise far less enjoyable than we originally envisioned. We decided we didn’t want to take a cruise under those conditions, and, in any event, travel to that region by Americans seemed to be very unlikely in 2021.

We tried to cancel our reservation and request a refund, but Viking’s position is that, once we accepted a voucher, we no longer had any cash in the game, so they will not refund our money.* The only viable option given to us was a voucher for a 2022 departure instead, which we did not accept.

Our voucher allowed us to cancel our July 2021 cruise up to 24 hours in advance of the trip. (We have not rebooked our air transportation.) On April 6, however, Viking canceled that cruise. They offered only to reinstate our voucher because, as they wrote, “Our records indicate no cash was applied to this booking….”

By the time we are able to use the voucher again, Viking will have held onto our money for 2½ years. Policy aside, we feel that’s no way to treat customers.

United Airlines promptly refunded our business-class airfare (on round-trip Denver-Frankfurt-Budapest flights operated by Lufthansa) at the time of cancellation.

Richard & Sue Matteson
Aurora, CO

*As posted on Viking’s website, according to the terms and conditions applying to the vouchers provided, “Reservation changes will be reimbursed in the form of a Future Cruise Voucher in the amount of 100% of any fees incurred.”

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

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel worldwide, travelers are still dealing with the fallout from canceled and delayed trip plans. As opportunities to safely travel increase, some are still seeking refunds from tour operators, cruise lines, etc., and others’ postponed trips are being pushed even farther ahead. ITN subscribers share their stories from the past year.


2020 was going to be a good year for travel, as my husband, Leo, and I had two international trips planned.

• On April 13 we were to depart on the “Essential Holland & Belgium Culinary River Cruise” with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com), our fourth trip with Vantage.

In order to receive discounts, we took advantage of their “easy pay” plan (pay in full at time of booking by echeck) and on May 13, 2019, paid a total of $9,736 for an A-category cabin. On May 29, we booked two separate optional tours for Amsterdam and Antwerp for a total of $258.

I register all of our international travel with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP (step.state.gov), so I receive constant updates about travel advisories. Early in 2020, because of concerns of COVID-19, we anticipated we would cancel the trip.

Vantage’s brochure stated, in the section outlining their “protection plan,” that a traveler using their insurance coverage could cancel for any reason and receive all monies back, but we did not read their cancellation policies completely. According to Trip Mate’s insurance policy, purchased through Vantage, if we canceled for a reason that was not specifically listed as covered, we would only receive credit (in the full amount) toward another trip. We would receive money back only if we canceled for a covered reason.

In the meantime, there appeared to be a problem with the “life expectancy” of the battery for my 86-year-old husband’s pacemaker, and Leo could not get an appointment for another reading until March 18. Because of this uncertainty, we decided to cancel our trip on Feb. 28 based on medical reasons. (As a footnote, Leo’s pacemaker battery was replaced in September 2020.)

On April 16, 2020, we finally received a doctor’s note, but before we submitted the claim to Trip Mate, Vantage called and offered us 110% credit if we rebooked the trip for April 2021, which we did.

On Jan. 14, 2021, Vantage sent us an email stating that our cruise would now embark on April 13, 2022. We’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed that the world situation and our own health will prevail.

• The airfare is another story. I usually book flights through the Business Class Consolidator (BCC) travel agent Alexis Wellens (510/992-6772, alexis@bcconsolidator.com), as Alexis has always gotten great prices for us.

Through BCC, I had booked non-refundable business-class tickets, Fort Lauderdale-New York-Amsterdam, with KLM/Delta Air Lines for April 13, returning London-New York-Fort Lauderdale on May 1, at a cost of $7,788 for both of us.

BCC at that time didn’t offer the possibility of purchasing insurance, but we usually insure our flights with the assistance of travel insurance broker Dan Drennen (Omaha, NE; 866/979-6753, www.travelinsurancecenter.com). Of course, this was the one time in several years that we didn’t. Boy, were we stupid!

After it became apparent that we would not be traveling in April 2020, on March 16 we canceled our flights.

Alexis checked with the airline, who said their flights were on schedule, therefore they would not waive the cancellation fee. And even though EU travel restrictions prohibited US citizens from entering the Netherlands (except certain categories of travelers), the airline advised her they were not responsible for governmental restrictions.

At the time we canceled, the airlines provided two options: receive an open ticket for a future date or receive partial reimbursement. We decided to cut our losses and take a partial refund of $4,300. We received it on Nov. 5, 2020.

• We were also scheduled to take another trip with Vantage Deluxe World Travel, their Silk Road trip in October 2020. Including business-class airfare and insurance (again with Trip Mate), it cost $20,116.

On July 20, Vantage sent an email stating they had “postponed” this trip to Sept. 26, 2021, and that no refunds would be made, only credits toward future trips, to be used through December 2022.

On Vantage’s Summary of General Terms & Conditions at the time of payment, it stated, “If the tour is cancelled by Vantage for any reason, Vantage shall have no liability beyond the prompt refund of all tour participants’ payments received by it.” After finally reaching one of Vantage’s customer care concierges on Aug. 5, 2020, we stated we felt that, in effect, this trip had been canceled by Vantage and requested a refund.

I spoke to another rep on Aug. 15 and asked that our request for a full refund be bumped up to a supervisor. This rep said he would do so but that it might take six to eight weeks to hear back with their decision.

I sent a query to travel advocate Elliott Advocacy (www.elliott.org) on Aug. 6 and was advised, “At this time, we are encouraging consumers to file a complaint with their state’s Attorney General.”

Because we live in Florida and Vantage is headquartered in Massachusetts, on Aug. 9 I sent complaints to both Florida’s and Massachusetts’ Attorneys General regarding Vantage not refunding our money. I received acknowledgment of the Massachusetts complaint but heard nothing further on that.

Florida’s Attorney General finally responded on Jan. 19, 2021, saying Vantage had sent them the Terms and Conditions/Tour Participation Agreement, which confirmed that Vantage is within its rights to postpone/reschedule any trip to a later date instead of canceling it and providing a refund.

As for our “cancel for any reason” insurance coverage with Trip Mate, again, we can receive a refund only if we cancel for a reason covered by our protection plan, receiving credit toward a future trip if we cancel for any other reason.

We will wait to see whether Vantage will again “postpone” the Silk Road trip. Leo and I will be 87 and 77, respectively, in September 2021 and, due to the possible rigors of this trip and because Leo is presently having major mobility issues, we will ask our doctor to provide a medical excuse for canceling. If we aren’t able to cancel with a doctor’s note, we will try to find another less ambitious Vantage trip for 2022 or 2023.

Even though we usually don’t believe in saying “never again,” once these particular journeys are completed, we will never travel with Vantage again.

Ann Cyr
Delray Beach, FL

 

 

Late in 2019, I paid in full for the tour “The Silk Road: Marco Polo & Golden Cities of Central Asia,” Sept. 20-Oct. 6, 2020, with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (www.vantagetravel.com). With the coming of COVID-19, I decided to cancel the trip and pay what at that time would have been a $300 cancellation fee.

I started by calling Vantage’s customer service line in mid-March. A representative told me to hold off on canceling the trip, as Vantage was starting to cancel trips, and if I waited for them to cancel, I would not incur the cancellation fee, so I waited.

I called again in April and again was advised not to cancel, for the same reason as above.

By May 6, 2020, I no longer wanted to wait, as Vantage’s contract increased the cancellation fees as it got closer to the departure date, so I sent an email requesting to cancel my trip and incur the penalty.

I received a response from the customer service department indicating that someone would call me within two weeks to start processing my refund. No one called.

On May 27, I called Vantage and was told that the refund was in process and I would get it in 30 days. In early August, having not received any refund, I wrote to the Massachusetts Attorney General as well as the Better Business Bureau and started a claim in small claims court in Philadelphia.

Finally, around Sept. 7, I received a deposit in my checking account from Vantage Travel for the full amount.

I’m not sure which of my actions resulted in the refund.

Mary Kirson
Philadelphia, PA

ITN emailed copies of Ann Cyr’s and Mary Kirson’s letters to Vantage Deluxe World Travel on April 13, 2021, and received an acknowledgement of receipt but no formal response.

 

 

At a total cost of $11,994, we booked a river cruise from Bucharest to Budapest in January 2020 with Viking (Los Angeles, CA; 855/338-4546, www.vikingcruises.com). As originally scheduled, our trip, including pre- and post-cruise extensions, was to run Aug. 15-30, 2020.

When COVID-19 caused Viking to cancel the trip, Viking offered a choice of a cash refund or a generous voucher for 125% of the original booking cost. We chose the voucher and rebooked the same cruise for July 2021.

However, in late 2020, Viking announced their COVID-19 safety protocols, like daily PCR testing and near-constant face masks, which, while perhaps necessary, would make the cruise far less enjoyable than we originally envisioned. We decided we didn’t want to take a cruise under those conditions, and, in any event, travel to that region by Americans seemed to be very unlikely in 2021.

We tried to cancel our reservation and request a refund, but Viking’s position is that, once we accepted a voucher, we no longer had any cash in the game, so they will not refund our money.* The only viable option given to us was a voucher for a 2022 departure instead, which we did not accept.

Our voucher allowed us to cancel our July 2021 cruise up to 24 hours in advance of the trip. (We have not rebooked our air transportation.) On April 6, however, Viking canceled that cruise. They offered only to reinstate our voucher because, as they wrote, “Our records indicate no cash was applied to this booking….”

By the time we are able to use the voucher again, Viking will have held onto our money for 2½ years. Policy aside, we feel that’s no way to treat customers.

United Airlines promptly refunded our business-class airfare (on round-trip Denver-Frankfurt-Budapest flights operated by Lufthansa) at the time of cancellation.

Richard & Sue Matteson
Aurora, CO

*As posted on Viking’s website, according to the terms and conditions applying to the vouchers provided, “Reservation changes will be reimbursed in the form of a Future Cruise Voucher in the amount of 100% of any fees incurred.”