COVID-19 cancellations (Part 1)

This item appears on page 14 of the September 2020 issue.

The closing of borders worldwide due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans. ITN thought it would be interesting to compare how various tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., handled the disruptions and travelers’ bookings, so we asked ITN subscribers to write in about their experiences. The reports poured in, and we are presenting a number of them here and in upcoming issues.

As can be seen, not only do companies have contrasting policies, travelers have different approaches and philosophies, let alone ways of planning and booking trips.

In December 2019, I reserved 11 nights at Estancia Los Potreros (,, outside of Córdoba, north-central Argentina. I had visited the estancia 11 years earlier for some wonderful horseback riding and returned for a stay, March 13-23, 2020.

On March 11, I flew on American Airlines from Gainesville, Florida, to Miami and then on Aerolíneas Argentinas to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a connection to Córdoba. All went well except for a 7-hour wait in Miami; I waited from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the ticket agent to appear, a few hours before departure, so I could get my boarding pass and go to the business-class lounge. (I was first in line!)

I arrived at the estancia the afternoon of March 12, met guests who were from the UK and went for a nice ride. Just before dinner, we were informed that the president of Argentina had declared the borders were closing to all flights. We would have to leave no later than March 15. Such a disappointment!

Fortunately, estancia owner Kevin has a sister who is a travel agent, and she made arrangements for me to leave on the 15th. Now the fun part… .

I had a flight on American Airlines direct from Córdoba to Miami ($3,780 in business class), I stayed one night at the Miami Airport Hotel ($182), then on March 16 I caught a flight on American to Gainesville ($224). That made a total of $4,186 in extra expenses. However, had I not gotten out when I did, I would still be there.

• I then filed a claim with my credit card issuer, Capital One, requesting a refund of $1,269 from Aerolíneas Argentinas for half of the airfare I’d paid them, since they canceled my return flight scheduled for March 23.

Capital One credited my account for that amount and submitted my claim to the airline on March 19. I was told the airline had 90 days to respond and that the credit would stand as long as the airline did not dispute it. As of July 6, the airline hadn’t challenged my claim.

• I contacted my travel insurance provider, Tin Leg (St. Petersburg, FL; 844/927-9265,, to make a claim for “trip interruption,” which would have paid $750 for “return air only,” but there was an exclusion, and my claim was denied because of “circumstances due to border closings.”

I do plan to make a trip back to Estancia Los Potreros in February or March 2021 and have been provided a credit for my stay.

Rosemary McDaniel
Trenton, FL

We were scheduled to fly to the island of Yap in Micronesia on Feb. 24 in order to attend the Yap Day Festival, to be held in 2020 on March 1-2. However, on Feb. 21 (two days before we would spend a night at an airport hotel in Los Angeles), we learned that we wouldn’t be allowed to enter any of the Federated States of Micronesia because we would be coming from a country with cases of COVID-19.

We found this out in an email from our hotel, the Manta Bay Resort (, which we had emailed on Feb 20 to confirm our airport pickup, since our flight was arriving at 2 a.m.

We would have had to go to a virus-free country or territory and remain there for 14 days virus-free prior to being allowed to enter Yap. By then, we would have missed the entire festival, so we canceled the trip.

The hotel manager gave us the option of receiving a full refund or getting a credit for a future stay at the resort. We opted for the refund and received it promptly.

• We never saw a notification from United Airlines about the travel alert. We wouldn’t have gone onto their website until it was time to check in for our flight, and we might not have even noticed the small general link about travel alerts on their home page. Our routing was LAX-HNL-GUM-YAP, and, since we weren’t checking any luggage, we wonder if we would have gotten to Hawaii or Guam before learning we could not go on to Yap.

We called the airline and said we had to cancel the trip due to COVID restrictions on travel. We requested a refund on our non-refundable, economy-class fares and were told it would be no problem. We received a check in the mail for the full amount several days later. We couldn’t believe it!

Kudos to both the Manta Ray Resort and United for fully refunding our canceled trip!

Phyllis & David Stolls
Riverside, CA

I had booked a May 6-29, 2020, trip to Borneo and Brunei with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris (Los Gatos, CA; 800/527-5330,, but it was canceled on March 16 due to COVID-19.

Cheesemans offered a 100% refund or a 110% travel credit. Since I had another trip with them booked for the following year (and partially paid for), I applied part of the credit to that trip and applied the remainder to the same Borneo trip in 2022, which is the next time it will be offered. All of the paperwork was completed in one day, making everything very easy.

• I had planned to spend time in Brunei on my way to Borneo. I booked United Airlines, Boise-San Francisco-Singapore and back and booked flights on Royal Brunei Airlines from Singapore to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo, and back. I was to take Malaysia Airlines from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan in Malaysian Borneo to start my Cheesemans tour.

Woman making injera (sour fermented flatbread) in Bahir Dar, northern Ethiopia, in October 2019. Photo by Marian Herz

Because I canceled my United Airlines flights, they only gave me a credit, good for booking a flight by September 2021. During my call, they refunded the miles and dollars I had used to upgrade, the money taking about a week to be processed. While on the phone, I also asked how to use the credit and learned a couple things.

If it’s a “travel certificate,” it’s good for a longer period of time, but it can only be used on an itinerary that’s 100% United. No part of the itinerary can be on one of their partner airlines (making it mostly useless for a complex itinerary).

I had an actual “travel credit,” which is good for one year from the purchase date of the ticket (although they have extended that to two years during the crisis) and can be used for partner airlines also. The purchaser of the ticket can only use the credit for herself.

To use my travel credit, I went into my United account and clicked on “My trips.” Only one reservation came up. I then clicked on “View all my trips,” which took me to a page that had my two current reservations on it. That’s when I discovered some new tabs.

I tried clicking on the “Canceled” tab and was told I had no canceled flights. I then clicked on “Future flight credit” and found my Black Sea trip flight reservation. (I was just trying to figure out what each tab did.)

Just to see what would happen, I clicked on “View details” and got to a screen that showed the price I had paid for the flight, the date by which I had to use the credit, a link to find out the difference between a travel credit and travel certificate, and a link to either book with travel credit or convert to a travel certificate. 

I clicked on the “Book with credit” button to book a future flight (to the Dominican Republic in 2021).

During the reservation process using the credit, the flight options did have prices listed. I figured out that each price shown was the difference between the credit I had and the price for the new ticket. (I figured this out by opening another tab on the internet and going through the steps of booking the same flights on United without a credit, then comparing those prices with my “Book with credit” prices.)

Royal Brunei Airlines initially told me they would only offer a credit that had to be used by the end of 2020. When I pushed back, they agreed to give me a refund for my flights minus BND50 (near $36) for each one.

When I applied for the refund, I neglected to include the entire return trip in my request. Royal Brunei didn’t receive my request for refunding the missing flights until June 8, which started the clock ticking again. The refund was then processed in a couple of weeks.

Malaysia Airlines refused to give me a refund, only giving me a credit that needs to be used by the end of 2020 and no later.

• I had also booked rooms at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport – Singapore, one night in each direction. Initially, the hotel refused to refund me, as it was a non-refundable booking. However, they did offer a credit that could be used by the end of 2020. I pointed out that I would not be traveling to Singapore until 2022, making a credit worthless. I didn’t give up, though.

I’m a Hilton Honors member, and I had received an email from Hilton mentioning that, due to COVID-19, they were refunding even non-refundable reservations (made before June 30, 2020). I forwarded that email to the Crowne Plaza, a member of the rival InterContinental Hotels Group, and suggested they should follow Hilton’s lead, and they agreed to a refund.

When the refund didn’t come through in the time frame they had indicated, I contacted them and was told that they had refunded the money to, which is how I had booked the room. I called, who contacted Crowne Plaza to confirm they DID agree to refund the money. Finally, the refund appeared in my credit card account.

• I also had travel insurance for the entire May trip. Travel Guard (800/826-5248, agreed to move the insurance to the 2022 trip. It took a few weeks to receive the new policy with the dates changed to 2022.

(Everyone should check with their travel insurance company to see if the coverage can be moved to a rescheduled trip.)

• Subsequent to everything mentioned above, a June 26-July 10, 2020, Black Sea trip was canceled that I had booked with Zegrahm Expeditions (Seattle, WA; 866/525-0754, Zegrahm offered to move the reservation to a July 2021 departure, which is what I chose to do. (They also offered up to 125% in travel credits for booking a future trip.)

I had not yet been charged for extra hotel nights, so no issues there. United again gave me a credit for the ticket and refunded the upgrade fee and miles; it took about two weeks for the fee refund to be processed. And Travel Guard, at no additional cost, changed my insurance policy to reflect the new dates of the 2021 Black Sea trip.

Marian Herz
Boise, ID

My wife, Maria, and I, along with a granddaughter on one trip, had 16 flight tickets with three airlines booked from late March through July, all of which we canceled in early March due to COVID-19.

We received full refunds for four tickets on Cathay Pacific (New York-Manila in Premium Economy and Manila-New York in basic Economy) and for eight Extra Comfort tickets on Hawaiian Airlines (New York-Singapore-Tokyo-Honolulu-New York).

Hawaiian canceled one or two of the flights just two days after we canceled, so it would seem they were giving refunds regardless.

Four more tickets on JetBlue (an open-jaw trip to Florida in Economy) have been put into their “bank” for future use within two years, and we do not expect any refund on these.

Fred Steinberg
New York, NY

On Jan. 27, 2020, I reserved all of my business-class flights for an around-the-world trip, June 1-July 17, 2020. At age 95, this would have been my 41st trip around the world and my 20th time booking through American Airlines (AA), which belongs to the oneworld alliance of airlines.

After COVID-19 appeared, AA could not furnish me all the stops I had booked — Fort Myers-Dallas-Tokyo-Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur-Bali-Hong Kong-Dubai-Cairo-London-Doha-Dallas-Ft. Myers.

I called AA’s Around-The-World desk (800/247-3247) again and requested a refund for all of the money I spent on this 4-continent trip. I received the refund in seven days.

I know most of the people at AA’s Around-The-World desk, and my cancellations were very competently handled.

Virginia Shannon
Naples, FL

My wife, Maureen, and I were booked on the “Grand Africa Voyage,” round trip from Fort Lauderdale, Oct. 8-Dec. 21, 2020, aboard the Amsterdam of Holland America Line, or HAL (Seattle, WA; 855/932-1711, Our travel advisor was Laura Monniger of Travel of America (Covina, CA; 800/228-8843,

We canceled the cruise on our own in early April, not wanting to risk a 74-day cruise around Africa. We had paid a 50% deposit, and, per the HAL policy, we would get a whole refund. The refund took 60 days to be returned to our credit cards.

Less than a month after we canceled, HAL announced the cancellation of the “Grand Africa Voyage.” They offered either a full refund or, for those who had paid a partial payment, as we had, double the amount in cruise credit.

Even if we had waited, we would have opted for a full refund, as we are uncertain at our ages (80 and 75) whether we’ll be able to cruise again.

Dennis Rompasky
Kula, HI

My husband, George, and I had booked a self-drive tour of Iceland for June 17-26, 2020, with Nordic Visitor (based in Reykjavík, Iceland; phone +354 578 20 80 or, in US, 800/490-1019,

We canceled due to the virus, and Nordic Visitor offered us the full value of what we had paid as a future travel credit, with no expiration date.

We had only paid a deposit. They offered a bonus credit of 15%, which is valid until Dec. 31, 2024, for add-ons and upgrades and must be used on a new booking priced at least 70% of the previous booking.

Delta Air Lines refunded the total amount of our round-trip tickets, Tulsa-Minneapolis-Reykjavík ($919 each in economy).

Travel Guard gave us a voucher for the amount we had paid them for travel insurance. It expires May 20, 2022.

We are satisfied with the way we have been treated and hope we are healthy enough to do the Iceland trip in 2021.

Jean Mackey
Salina, OK

I was scheduled to take the tour “Madagascar Off the Beaten Path,” one of my dream trips, Oct. 18-Nov. 2, 2020. After agonizing all of March, I made the very difficult phone call on April 1 to inform Wilderness Travel (Berkeley, CA; 800/368-2794, that I needed to cancel, as I wasn’t willing to travel until there was a vaccine for COVID-19.

With a phone call that lasted less than five minutes, Barbara Wright had me rescheduled for Oct. 16-30, 2021! My money on deposit ($1,835) and my internal flight money ($1,795) was transferred to the new date.

(If I had chosen not to rebook, the deposit would have been refunded, and the fee for canceling the internal flights would have been $260.)

Barbara was very upbeat. Her closing comment to me was, “Go out and smell the flowers!”

• The reservations for my flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Antananarivo, Madagascar (via Amsterdam and Nairobi), on Delta Air Lines and Kenya Airways were made by Leo Robadey at Exito Travel (Fort Collins, CO; 800/655-4053 or 970/482-3019, The cost was $2,197 with an overnight stay in Nairobi.

Leo gave me two choices. (1) Cancel the schedule and store the credit for a future booking with Delta Air Lines no later than Sept. 30, 2022. If I booked the exact same routing and cabin class, the fare difference and change fee would be waived. If the same class were not available, I could rebook, the change fee would be waived, and I would pay any difference in fare between the original ticket and the new ticket. 

(2) Regarding refunds, Leo noted that every airline has different rules, but, since Delta has changed the departure time of my outbound flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam by more than 90 minutes, I should, according to the rules for my flight, be able to request a refund at this time. He said that under normal circumstances, the processing time for a refund is one to three months, but with airlines operating at reduced staff and with hundreds of thousands of requests to fulfill, it could take twice that long.

I have decided to take the refund, as who knows what the future holds for the airlines. While there are no guarantees, Leo does not anticipate a problem with my refund from Delta.

On a sad note, Leo informed me he would no longer be working for Exito Travel after Aug. 1, one of the many consequences of COVID-19.

Hopefully, a successful vaccine will be created, making it safe for me to travel again.

Lorna Tjaden
New Hope, MN

I am not a great fan of online booking agencies, but I did reserve a B&B in Edinburgh, Scotland, for four nights (July 6-9, 2020) through

In April, when it became obvious that the city was going to be closed down for the summer, I contacted Travelocity for a refund. They were EXCELLENT. They understood the issue, virtually no questions asked, and within a week I had received a full refund for my booking.

I will certainly use them again.

Judith Beiner
Boca Raton, FL

My husband, Bob, and I had two trips scheduled and paid for this spring and summer. The first was “Paradores and Pousadas,” to Spain and Portugal with Odysseys Unlimited (Newton, MA; 888/370-6765,, departing March 23, 2020.

Around March 8 or 9, I called Odysseys and canceled our trip because of COVID-19. We received full credit toward a future trip with them.

We had arranged our own air for this trip, so I also called Delta Air Lines and, after a hold time of 30-45 minutes, talked to a very nice lady, who canceled our flight and told me we’d have full credit booked to our account. I immediately complimented her on her good spirits at such a stressful time for both of us. She answered all my questions and wasn’t at all abrupt or abrasive.

Margaret and Bob Zimmerman at Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on April 26, 2017. Photo by Jeff Garrett

In May, I realized that I didn’t know how long we had to use our credit from Odysseys, so I called again. The representative checked our account and said they had completely canceled the tour after we had called. She offered us a cash refund, if we preferred that over a credit to be used by the end of 2021. Since we don’t plan to travel again in the near future, we took the cash option. We received a check for the full amount of our tour about two weeks later.

• Our second trip was a cruise, “Admiration of Amalfi,” from Venice to Monte Carlo on the Seven Seas Voyager of Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Miami, FL; 844/204-7680, We were scheduled to leave Houston, Texas, June 22, 2020, and return July 7.

On April 27 we received an email from our travel agent saying that Regent had canceled the cruise. We had the option of taking a future cruise credit of 125% of our fare or a 100% refund. We chose the refund option, which we were told we’d receive within 90 days. The credit was posted to our credit card account on June 30.

We had arranged our air travel with RSSC, so I didn’t need to contact the airline separately.

We have traveled with both of these companies before and have always been pleased with their offerings. Once a vaccine is available for COVID-19, we plan to resume traveling.

Margaret Zimmerman
Austin, TX