Currently, I’m finding myself with real-world experience when it comes to navigating the how to’s of canceling and rescheduling travel last minute. I’m sharing my own experiences over the past few weeks to shed light on what you should expect if you ever find yourself with changing travel plans due to a crisis or national emergency.
Initially, I shied away from writing about this topic because I really didn’t want to write anything with the words virus or pandemic on it or in it. I’m not a doctor or any sort of expert on the topic but it happens to be our current crisis and it’s a pretty big one – it’s affecting travel plans globally.
How to Navigate Travel Changes During a Crisis
After passing along real-time information to others in my travel groups by sharing my own experiences these last few weeks, I thought a post might be beneficial for others who may find themselves in travel limbo like I was.
What Can You Expect?
Historically, we’ve seen times with travel restrictions after events like September 11, with the Zika Virus outbreak and again now with a virus pandemic. After September 11th, there were travel restrictions within the U.S. when all flights were grounded for a temporary period. Restrictions have sometimes been more regional or for specific groups like with the Zika virus since it is primarily found in warm tropical climates and transmitted through mosquitos. And now, with concerns over the current health and wellness of the general public, we are seeing unprecedented travel restrictions and cancellations happening globally.
The U.S. has restricted flights to Europe, the UK and Ireland; cruise companies within the United States have suspended all sailings for the next 30 days, hotels are closing their doors, including major chains like all MGM and Caesars properties in Las Vegas… the list goes on and on and while it’s somewhat shocking, I understand the necessity. However, I’m not here to debate about this national health crisis. I want to talk about how it has affected my own travel plans.
As luck would have it, I scheduled a spring cruise this year and unfortunately, it has now been canceled. I’m actually still working through the cancellation process to get refunds and/or credits from our trip as I write this but here’s what I’ve learned so far:
It may take several hours or even days to get ahold of someone from your travel provider (airline, hotel, cruise, etc.) but keep trying and be willing to sit on hold. In the last two weeks, I’ve made three calls to the cruise line as information has continued to change. At times, the lines were so overloaded I wasn’t able to even get my call to connect. When I did get through to a line, I waited on hold for an hour only to have the call drop. I eventually called back, got back into the queue and two hours later, I finally spoke to a real person. It was a long process and it took a lot of patience. I did, however, eventually get through and all of my questions and concerns were addressed.
Have Your Reservation Details & Know Your Cancelation Terms
Once you do get a live person, have all of the information for your reservation or booking ready along with your questions. Be sure to ask about the cancellation terms for your trip. Under normal circumstances, cruise lines typically have a tiered cancelation policy that’s pretty strict after the final payment date which is usually within 45 – 60 days of your sail date. Airlines and hotels can be non-refundable terms depending on how your reservation was booked.
However, the cancelation terms may be more flexible as an emergency situation evolves so it is important to ask if the standard terms have changed or been made flexible given the circumstances if a crisis or emergency is happening. Then make sure you know the date at which you must make a final decision to cancel or make changes to your reservation and how it will affect any refund or credits that may be coming your way.
Be Aware That The Situation May Change From Day-To-Day
Know that depending on the situation or crisis, information may change and evolve rapidly. Just as we have seen with the current public health crisis, companies are changing and adapting their policies along the way.
With our cruise, two weeks ago, I told it was non-refundable and if I chose to cancel, I would be assessed a penalty amount (which was over half of the initial cost) and then I would receive a refund for the remaining amount. A week later, as the situation changed, I was given the option to cancel with a partial refund and a future cruise credit for the penalty amount. Then again, a few days later, all sailings (from multiple cruise lines) were canceled for the next 30 days across the U.S. When I called again, I was told I would get a full refund now that the cruise itself had been canceled and there was also an incentive if I chose to take a credit. The choice was mine and I opted for a refund. Now, this is not a typical circumstance but it is proof that policies can change quickly over a matter of days or weeks.
Use Social Media as a News Tool
Social media can serve as a great news source and often times I am able to get real-time information and updates much faster this way. I am in several travel-related groups across my social media platforms and regularly follow all of the travel providers I use most often on their pages – especially Facebook.
In my experience, travel providers will post major announcements and information to their pages as a means of keeping their customers in the know. This is especially true when there is an emergency or crisis situation that is constantly changing and evolving. Make sure you find the official company pages because these have been verified and are usually managed by someone within the company. That way you know the information you’re seeing is true and correct.
Check Your Travel Insurance Coverages
I always purchase travel insurance when I travel internationally. Travel insurance covers many things such as weather events, illness and emergencies and that’s why it’s a must-have in my book. However, I recently learned there may also be limitations put into place regarding specific situations as well.
In this case, I do have a travel insurance policy that I purchased through my preferred provider, RoamRight Travel Insurance. It’s a general policy that covers all parts of my trip – airfare, cruise, hotels, etc. and has the typical coverages, however, since I purchased the policy after what the insurance company deemed as the known date for the outbreak there’s a clause attached to my policy stating that it does not cover any Coronavirus related cancellations or trip interruptions.
Basically, this means that since my cruise was canceled as a result of the outbreak I cannot file a claim for any losses, interruptions or cancellations. Although this sounds terrible, it’s actually pretty standard. Many travel insurance companies implemented this very specific clause due to the current health crisis and it is likely because as we are in uncharted waters at the moment. However, this is a one-off situation and does not change my opinion as to why I always carry travel insurance. Do always read the fine print and buy travel insurance as soon as you make that first deposit or pay in full in order to maximize the benefits offered on the policy.
Things maybe feel chaotic especially if you’re spending hours on the phone trying to re-schedule or cancel your travel arrangements. It can be especially frustrating if you’re stuck in an endless queue or can’t even get your call to connect.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had to make last-minute changes to our travel plans due to an unexpected circumstance and it probably won’t be the last. I know all too well the stress that comes with feeling like you’re in travel limbo. The good news is, in my experience, many travel companies are willing to work with you in the event of an emergency or unforeseen circumstance – like the time my cruise was delayed due to a hurricane and I had to change flights to get home. This is especially true when there’s a national emergency or global crisis like we’re currently experiencing.
Where Do Things Stand?
Our cruise line is now processing a full refund for our booking since it was within the window of suspended sailings. With the airline, I was given a travel credit good for one year from the booking date. My travel insurance company offered to hold my funds as a credit to apply to a future trip policy since I didn’t file a claim against the policy I purchased. The rental car was an easy cancel – totally refundable. And our hotel, well, I’m still duking that one out so we’ll see what happens with that. Unfortunately, I booked on a non-refundable rate (which is something I RARELY do) so I may lose here BUT I’m crossing my fingers that they are willing to work with me given the circumstances.
Sadly, the travel industry is currently taking a hit, along with our global economy but I don’t want to focus on the negative. That was never my intent. I only wanted to share my real-life experience of riding the cancellation train and what to expect.
I’ll close with this, yes, things seem uncertain for the foreseeable weeks ahead and if you have a vacation or travel plans, during this time, those are likely in the air. My hope is that by sharing my experience you will have a snapshot of what you can reasonably expect. I believe that companies want to do right by their customers and do try to help them in times of unforeseen circumstances. I have faith that things will eventually return to normal and when they do, know that I’ll be first in line to re-book my cruise and I look forward to writing about that trip as well.
Update 4/3/2020: Due to the unprecedented travel restrictions and current global health concerns, I was able to get a full refund on my non-refundable hotel reservation after working with Hotels.com, the travel partner I booked through. Hotels.com reached out with an offer to cancel for a full refund as they relaxed their policy on non-refundable bookings due to the current crisis. My airline has also issued a travel funds credit and extended the time to use this credit out to July 2021. The cruise line has also issued a full-refund which I will receive within 90-days.
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