COVID consequences (Part 12)

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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 and a half.


When a couple of our cruises aboard the Crystal Serenity were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, we had our travel agent request that the amount from our fully paid cruises be applied to the balance of our already-booked, back-to-back cruises from Dover, England, to New York, Sept. 5-17, 2021, and from New York to Québec City, Sept. 17-25, also aboard the Serenity.

On March 11, 2021, we received emails from both Crystal Cruises (866/866-8025; www.crystalcruises.com) and our travel agent saying that those cruises had also been canceled. Since Crystal had had our money since 2018, when we booked the original cruises, we requested a refund, but once again we were given a voucher for a future cruise.

We had our travel agent put that voucher toward the balance of yet another Crystal Serenity cruise, one that we had booked back in August 2019, a round trip from San Pedro, California, to Hawaii, scheduled for May 29-June 14, 2022.

• Back when we booked our original cruise, we purchased travel insurance from AIG Travel Guard (800/826-5248, travelguard.com). Thankfully, each step of the way, Travel Guard transferred our coverage from each canceled cruise to the next-booked cruise.

• For our original cruise, we had been booked to fly Air Canada from Los Angeles to Montréal on Oct. 29, 2020, then on to Québec City. We would have flown home from Miami to Los Angeles on Nov. 21 via American Airlines. When our plans were changed in June 2020, our travel agent worked with the airlines in the hope that our “non-refundable” airfare could be applied toward later flights.

On Nov. 14, 2020, our agent got vouchers for us from American Airlines. We now plan to use those in 2022 or 2023.

On Feb. 23, 2021, Air Canada finally sent our travel agent vouchers, with no expiration date.

As you can see, a great travel agent is a priceless jewel.

Thomas & Mary Lahmon
Anaheim, CA

 

 

I previously described our experiences surrounding a curtailed cruise to the Galápagos Islands that my wife, Eileen, and I took with Silversea Cruises in March 2020 (April ’21, pg. 17). Following that, we had other 2020 cruises canceled due to COVID-19, all with our favorite cruise line, Crystal Cruises (Miami, FL).

• For two Crystal cruises in September — Barcelona-Venice and Venice-Athens, Sept. 1-20, canceled on June 23, 2020 — we asked for future cruise credit, which was given (125%) and applied to two sailings we had booked for 2021.

The first, a European cruise in July, was subsequently canceled in March 2021. We were able to replace it with a new 7-day cruise within the Bahamas on the Crystal Serenity, embarking July 10, 2021.

The second sailing was to take us from New York to Miami via the Amazon in October-November. However, on May 17, Crystal emailed, “While we share in everyone’s optimism for the continued roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines globally, unfortunately at this time, differing international border restrictions and potential quarantine policies for various nationalities prevent us from operating your upcoming Crystal itinerary.”

Given the conditions in Brazil, this was not exactly a surprise!

Since we made the final payments for that cruise using credits from canceled cruises, we got credit back in our account again, and the port charges will be refunded (eventually).

I expect we will use our credit for one of the 10-day Crystal Symphony cruises in the Caribbean — which are embarking/disembarking in either Sint Maarten or Antigua from Aug. 2, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022 — or on whatever they plan to do with the Serenity around the same time.

• For two back-to-back cruises in October and November 2020, canceled on June 4, Crystal required us to take a refund, however.

I believe this was because the first segment, a 13-day cruise leaving Oct. 30 from Québec City for Miami, was actually a “free cruise,” an award for reaching our 70th “Crystal Society” milestone. (Milestone credits are based on 1 credit for a cruise of 15 days or fewer and 2 credits for 16 days or more.) Most simply, because the award was for a 12-day cruise, upon booking, we had to pay for the 13th day and for port charges (a total of $2,146 instead of about $13,000).

• We added the second segment early in 2020, before the COVID-19 shutdown. This cruise continued on from Miami on Nov. 12, with return there on the 21st after stops in Mexico, Belize and Grand Cayman. This segment, in a cheaper cabin, cost $6,252 for the two of us.

We went with our more usual non-balcony cabin because the cheaper cabins are lower in the ship, where there is less rocking. Also, on Crystal, everyone is treated the same (extremely well) even if you are in a cheaper cabin. (Because the most expensive staterooms are on the upper deck, a common joke is “you pay to sway.” As an aside, our Bahamas cruise is in a “pay to sway” cabin to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary.)

We received our refund for the Miami-Miami segment on Jan. 27, 2021, and the reason for this may be of interest to readers. Crystal informed us a few days before the refund that “we are now able to process some refunds for planned voyages and published segments that were set to depart from U.S. ports utilizing funds held in trust specifically for U.S. departures.”

In doing some checking, I found, on the Federal Maritime Commission website (www.fmc.gov/resources-services/passenger-vessel-operators), that proof of financial responsibility is required for passenger vessel operators having 50 or more passengers and that embark passengers at US ports (Federal Regulations Title 46, Part 540). This is to ensure reimbursement of passengers when there is “failure to perform the cruise.” Evidence of financial responsibility includes insurance, a guaranty, an escrow account or a surety bond.

As of May 17, we had not yet been reimbursed for the cruise originating in Canada. Considering what Crystal wrote about funds being held in trust, it appears we were better protected taking a cruise that originated in the USA than elsewhere!

John Leach
Hickory, NC

 

 

An update about my experience with Value World Cruises deserves mention.

As I wrote previously (Dec. ’20, pg. 19), a Moscow-St. Petersburg river cruise that my husband and I booked with Value World Cruises (Fountain Valley, CA, 800/795-1633, www.valueworldcruises.com) for May 31-June 10, 2020, was canceled by the company due to COVID-19. We were allowed to rebook the same cruise for June 4-14, 2021.

We later decided to go on the Aug. 23-Sept. 2 trip, hoping that pushing our departure date back would give governments more time to come to terms with COVID and open their borders with fewer rules and procedures. We were allowed to make the change and even made flight reservations.

It was not to be, however. On May 5, 2021, we received the disappointing news from Value World Cruises that its Russian partner had chartered the boat, Moonlight Sonata, through the rest of the tourist season for Russian passengers only.

With that development, my husband and I said, “Enough,” and on May 10, I sent an email to Samo Toplak, CEO of Value World Cruises, requesting a refund and explaining why.

He agreed to reimburse our entire payment, and on May 14 it was deposited directly into my checking account.

I most definitely will try to travel with Value World Cruises in the future.

Dorothy Botnick
Dallas, TX

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 and a half.


When a couple of our cruises aboard the Crystal Serenity were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, we had our travel agent request that the amount from our fully paid cruises be applied to the balance of our already-booked, back-to-back cruises from Dover, England, to New York, Sept. 5-17, 2021, and from New York to Québec City, Sept. 17-25, also aboard the Serenity.

On March 11, 2021, we received emails from both Crystal Cruises (866/866-8025; www.crystalcruises.com) and our travel agent saying that those cruises had also been canceled. Since Crystal had had our money since 2018, when we booked the original cruises, we requested a refund, but once again we were given a voucher for a future cruise.

We had our travel agent put that voucher toward the balance of yet another Crystal Serenity cruise, one that we had booked back in August 2019, a round trip from San Pedro, California, to Hawaii, scheduled for May 29-June 14, 2022.

• Back when we booked our original cruise, we purchased travel insurance from AIG Travel Guard (800/826-5248, travelguard.com). Thankfully, each step of the way, Travel Guard transferred our coverage from each canceled cruise to the next-booked cruise.

• For our original cruise, we had been booked to fly Air Canada from Los Angeles to Montréal on Oct. 29, 2020, then on to Québec City. We would have flown home from Miami to Los Angeles on Nov. 21 via American Airlines. When our plans were changed in June 2020, our travel agent worked with the airlines in the hope that our “non-refundable” airfare could be applied toward later flights.

On Nov. 14, 2020, our agent got vouchers for us from American Airlines. We now plan to use those in 2022 or 2023.

On Feb. 23, 2021, Air Canada finally sent our travel agent vouchers, with no expiration date.

As you can see, a great travel agent is a priceless jewel.

Thomas & Mary Lahmon
Anaheim, CA

 

 

I previously described our experiences surrounding a curtailed cruise to the Galápagos Islands that my wife, Eileen, and I took with Silversea Cruises in March 2020 (April ’21, pg. 17). Following that, we had other 2020 cruises canceled due to COVID-19, all with our favorite cruise line, Crystal Cruises (Miami, FL).

• For two Crystal cruises in September — Barcelona-Venice and Venice-Athens, Sept. 1-20, canceled on June 23, 2020 — we asked for future cruise credit, which was given (125%) and applied to two sailings we had booked for 2021.

The first, a European cruise in July, was subsequently canceled in March 2021. We were able to replace it with a new 7-day cruise within the Bahamas on the Crystal Serenity, embarking July 10, 2021.

The second sailing was to take us from New York to Miami via the Amazon in October-November. However, on May 17, Crystal emailed, “While we share in everyone’s optimism for the continued roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines globally, unfortunately at this time, differing international border restrictions and potential quarantine policies for various nationalities prevent us from operating your upcoming Crystal itinerary.”

Given the conditions in Brazil, this was not exactly a surprise!

Since we made the final payments for that cruise using credits from canceled cruises, we got credit back in our account again, and the port charges will be refunded (eventually).

I expect we will use our credit for one of the 10-day Crystal Symphony cruises in the Caribbean — which are embarking/disembarking in either Sint Maarten or Antigua from Aug. 2, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022 — or on whatever they plan to do with the Serenity around the same time.

• For two back-to-back cruises in October and November 2020, canceled on June 4, Crystal required us to take a refund, however.

I believe this was because the first segment, a 13-day cruise leaving Oct. 30 from Québec City for Miami, was actually a “free cruise,” an award for reaching our 70th “Crystal Society” milestone. (Milestone credits are based on 1 credit for a cruise of 15 days or fewer and 2 credits for 16 days or more.) Most simply, because the award was for a 12-day cruise, upon booking, we had to pay for the 13th day and for port charges (a total of $2,146 instead of about $13,000).

• We added the second segment early in 2020, before the COVID-19 shutdown. This cruise continued on from Miami on Nov. 12, with return there on the 21st after stops in Mexico, Belize and Grand Cayman. This segment, in a cheaper cabin, cost $6,252 for the two of us.

We went with our more usual non-balcony cabin because the cheaper cabins are lower in the ship, where there is less rocking. Also, on Crystal, everyone is treated the same (extremely well) even if you are in a cheaper cabin. (Because the most expensive staterooms are on the upper deck, a common joke is “you pay to sway.” As an aside, our Bahamas cruise is in a “pay to sway” cabin to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary.)

We received our refund for the Miami-Miami segment on Jan. 27, 2021, and the reason for this may be of interest to readers. Crystal informed us a few days before the refund that “we are now able to process some refunds for planned voyages and published segments that were set to depart from U.S. ports utilizing funds held in trust specifically for U.S. departures.”

In doing some checking, I found, on the Federal Maritime Commission website (www.fmc.gov/resources-services/passenger-vessel-operators), that proof of financial responsibility is required for passenger vessel operators having 50 or more passengers and that embark passengers at US ports (Federal Regulations Title 46, Part 540). This is to ensure reimbursement of passengers when there is “failure to perform the cruise.” Evidence of financial responsibility includes insurance, a guaranty, an escrow account or a surety bond.

As of May 17, we had not yet been reimbursed for the cruise originating in Canada. Considering what Crystal wrote about funds being held in trust, it appears we were better protected taking a cruise that originated in the USA than elsewhere!

John Leach
Hickory, NC

 

 

An update about my experience with Value World Cruises deserves mention.

As I wrote previously (Dec. ’20, pg. 19), a Moscow-St. Petersburg river cruise that my husband and I booked with Value World Cruises (Fountain Valley, CA, 800/795-1633, www.valueworldcruises.com) for May 31-June 10, 2020, was canceled by the company due to COVID-19. We were allowed to rebook the same cruise for June 4-14, 2021.

We later decided to go on the Aug. 23-Sept. 2 trip, hoping that pushing our departure date back would give governments more time to come to terms with COVID and open their borders with fewer rules and procedures. We were allowed to make the change and even made flight reservations.

It was not to be, however. On May 5, 2021, we received the disappointing news from Value World Cruises that its Russian partner had chartered the boat, Moonlight Sonata, through the rest of the tourist season for Russian passengers only.

With that development, my husband and I said, “Enough,” and on May 10, I sent an email to Samo Toplak, CEO of Value World Cruises, requesting a refund and explaining why.

He agreed to reimburse our entire payment, and on May 14 it was deposited directly into my checking account.

I most definitely will try to travel with Value World Cruises in the future.

Dorothy Botnick
Dallas, TX