COVID-19 cancellations (Part 3)

This item appears on page 15 of the November 2020 issue.
The bride and groom after a traditional wedding ceremony in Ethiopia (September 2017). Photos by Paula Varner.

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. Many answered the call, and we printed several letters in the last two issues, with more to come.

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

My wife, Donna, and I were scheduled for a “Crossroads of the Adriatic” Balkans trip with Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (Boston, MA; 800/955-1925,, April 21-May 8, 2020.

About March 20, OAT’s website stated that all trips through May 2020 were canceled due to COVID-19 and that one of three options for booked travelers was to receive a full refund. On March 21, we received an email from OAT informing us that our trip had been canceled and that we had the option of receiving a full refund. We called OAT that day and opted for a refund. We were told it would be issued in about 7 to 10 days.

When our refund was not received, we called OAT on April 1 and were informed that refunds would not be given, so, with no other option, we rescheduled for May 2021. We emailed OAT on April 1 about our dissatisfaction, but they never responded to us about our experience.

Eric Tobin
Doylestown, PA



Aside from an independent trip to Scotland in May, I had two other 2020 tours disrupted due to COVID-19: a “Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” trip with Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT, in March and a “Northern Pantanal” photography trip to Brazil with McDonald Wildlife Photography (McClure, PA; 717/543-6423, in September.

• In all three cases, my international flights were booked on Delta Air Lines and my tickets were non-refundable. For the Spain/Portugal trip, I received a full refund of the airfare because one of my flights was canceled by the airline before I called to cancel it myself. Under Delta’s COVID-19 policies, I received credit vouchers, good through December 2022, for the cost of the other tickets.

• For the Iberia tour with OAT, I paid a deposit of $350 on May 22, 2019, when I signed up and the balance of $3,645 on Dec. 19.

One week prior to the scheduled March 20 departure, I was notified by phone and email that the trip was canceled. I was told on the phone that I could apply the cost of the original trip to another 2020 or 2021 OAT trip or, if I chose not to rebook by April 12, 2020, I would automatically receive a full refund of the tour cost.

The email contained details on rebooking options plus the statement, “… if we do not hear from you by April 13, 2020, all funds paid on your reservation will automatically be returned to you in the manner in which you paid.”

Had this refund happened as promised, all would have been well. However, things morphed in unexpected ways, communication with the company was poor, and I had to spend more time than should have been necessary to receive the refund.

On March 27, OAT emailed me saying they had rebooked me on the “Back Roads of Iberia” trip for the “closest available departure date in 2021” and provided information on options for selecting a different trip. I called OAT to ask about the discrepancy between this communication and the information I had received earlier. I was told that “policy had changed” and that OAT was no longer offering refunds; rebooking was now the only option.

I informed the representative with whom I spoke that the rescheduled Iberia trip would not work for me and that I was unhappy about the policy change but was willing to look for possible alternatives.

From early April through early June, I received a number of emails and letters encouraging me to finalize that trip or to switch to a different 2021 trip and offering assorted incentives, including a $500 credit, a 10% savings on the trip cost and a waiver of change fees.

An April 3 email noted, “… in previous communications we sent about postponing your departure, we shared that you would receive a refund, followed by information about rebooking your trip for a 2021 departure,” then it reiterated that they had rebooked me on a 2021 departure. There was also an acknowledgement that “this is not what we originally communicated to you in the letter you received.”

After reviewing the 2021 alternatives and finding that none worked for me, I sent a letter via certified mail on April 26 formally requesting a refund as originally promised. On June 13, having received no response of any kind to my letter, I filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. Both entities contacted OAT on my behalf.

On June 26, OAT called me to say they had processed my refund. A few days later, a letter from them (which mentioned none of the details of my specific situation) arrived. That letter contained an apology and mentioned that I had been given a $500 “Good Will” certificate that could be applied to any 2021 or 2022 trip.

My refund was credited to my credit card account four days later, and I notified the BBB and the Attorney General’s Office that the issue had been satisfactorily resolved.

• Meanwhile, McDonald Wildlife Photography did a marvelous job of monitoring the COVID-19 situation for their September tour in Brazil, making contingency plans and communicating with trip participants.

I paid a $1,500 deposit when I signed up on Dec. 13, 2019. The remaining $7,585 trip cost was originally slated to be paid in two equal installments, due in April and June.

On March 12, the due date for my April payment was postponed by a month, and in late March we were told not to make any future payments until June, allowing them more time to decide if the trip would need to be rescheduled.

On May 5, after consultation with those of us who were signed up for the trip, the 2020 trip was officially canceled. Dates for a rescheduled trip in 2021 were communicated to participants two days later, and I’m now happily signed up for the 2021 trip.

In addition to being pleased with the final outcome, I am very appreciative of the way McDonald Wildlife Photography handled the entire process. They thought ahead, communicated clearly and often and took constructive action in a timely fashion.

Karen Andrews
San Diego, CA


2020 was going to be my year to travel! I was eagerly anticipating Paris/Morocco, Sicily and Bhutan/Nepal, all through Overseas Adventure Travel. But then the world closed. Now my hope is that by 2021, travel can resume.

• I planned a few days in Paris in April 2020 followed by OAT’s “Morocco Sahara Odyssey,” which I booked on Dec. 29, 2019. I have now rebooked the Morocco portion for April 2021, opting for OAT’s special pandemic policy allowing me to transfer all previously earned travel credits plus their extra $500 Appreciation Credit into 2021.

• With the pandemic’s spread from China, my doctor didn’t want me traveling to Asia, so I dropped my November 2020 Bhutan/Nepal experience and booked OAT’s “Ultimate Africa,” Aug. 29-Sept. 15, 2021. Again, OAT transferred all travel credits and provided a $500 Appreciation Credit.

• As pandemic news from Sicily became increasingly worrisome, I canceled my June 2020 “Sicily’s Ancient Landscapes & Timeless Traditions.” My $350 deposit was applied as a credit to my account.

• Most challenging is OAT’s forthcoming “Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard.” In 2019, I had placed my name on a waiting list for a solo cabin for a June 2021 departure. I finally cleared that wait list and hope to sail then.

Here’s an excerpt from an April 22 email from OAT summarizing their policy: “I hope that when the time comes for your [Arctic Expedition] departure in June of 2021, we will once again be free to travel the world — and that you’re looking forward to that day as much as I am.

“To show our appreciation for you keeping your reservation, we will apply a $500 per person credit to your account… You can put this toward any outstanding balance on your current departure date or use it for future travel in 2021 or 2022.”

• Related to these travel changes are travel insurance premiums. Dan Drennen of Travel Insurance Center (Omaha, NE; 866/979-6753, is my travel insurance broker.

Dan guided me to Travel Insured International (855/752-8303, They offer a primary-payer policy that requires premium payments only as the travel costs, in advance of the trip, are paid.

For example, for my Sicily trip, now canceled, I had paid a deposit of $350, with an initial insurance premium of $54. (Had I paid the balance of the tour package and air, I would have increased the insurance “limit” and paid the correspondingly increased premium.) When I canceled, I only lost the $54 travel insurance premium, not the full anticipated premium (around $700).

For each rebooked trip, Dan shifted destinations and dates, enabling each policy to stay intact. I even retained my preexisting-condition waiver. The Travel Insured International policies I got also covered me in the case of a tour company’s bankruptcy.

As for future travel, hope springs eternal!

Wanda Bahde
Summerfield, FL



Among numerous other trips planned for 2020 and 2021, I had paid in full for an “Alaskan Discovery” tour, June 2-18, with Grand Circle Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/221-2610, Grand Circle canceled this tour but was not giving refunds, so I put the money toward their “Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard” in June 2022 (dates not set at the time).

• I had also been booked on the “Fjord Cruise & Lapland” trip, Sept. 29-Oct. 18, 2020, with Grand Circle’s sister company, Overseas Adventure Travel. I called to reschedule that tour to Oct. 22-Nov. 8, 2021, and was not charged any penalty fee.

Esther Perica

Editor’s note: See Oct. ’20, pg. 17, for Esther’s notes on other trips for which the plans changed.



I had three travel experiences in 2020 canceled due to COVID-19. Totaling about $30,000, all three trips had been paid in full, including air and travel insurance. Getting everything settled was itself an adventure.

• With Alaska Airlines, I was booked to take a round-trip business-class flight in March from Seattle, Washington, to Santa Ana, California, to celebrate a relative’s 90th birthday. The day before I was scheduled to fly, the party was postponed. I didn’t know it, but Alaska Airlines had already canceled my flight, which I found out online while trying to cancel my reservation. I was offered a voucher.

Some weeks later, I called to ask some questions, including, “Where is the voucher?” A very nice rep helped me, ultimately asking if I would prefer money back instead, to which I said, “I suppose I would.” It turns out that because the airline canceled my flight, by US law they had to offer a choice of refund or credit.

I usually don’t buy insurance for domestic flights, but I had bought it this time, while booking online, with Allianz Global Assistance (866/884-3556, I later contacted Allianz and asked, “Since the airline canceled my flight and there is no longer anything to insure, can I get a refund for the policy purchase?” Happily, the answer was “Yes.” A few days later, a credit appeared in my credit card account.

• I was scheduled to take the “Circumnavigation of Iceland” cruise/tour with Zegrahm Expeditions (Seattle, WA; 800/942-1303,, June 10-22.

In the Peruvian Amazon, we watched Yagua people in a traditional dance (June 2019).

From my first call to Zegrahm, I knew they likely wouldn’t cancel the trip any sooner than 30 days before the embarkation date. They kept in contact with me and finally let me know they were canceling it and I’d be getting my money back (a voucher was also offered). The refund appeared in my credit card account in late July.

This cruise/tour cost $12,480, and the air (purchased through Zegrahm) was another $2,256. Insurance, with Travel Guard, was an additional expense also purchased through Zegrahm.

When I paid the initial deposit on the trip, I paid an insurance premium of $246 to cover the deposit ($3,120). However, when I paid the balance, including the air, Zegrahm neglected to charge me for the premium to cover the balance. The cost of the insurance didn’t appear on Zegrahm’s invoice.

Upon canceling, I was interested in getting back the $246. Zegrahm talked to Travel Guard, who offered the premium back as a voucher (expiry, June 2022). I visited the website of another travel insurance company a few months ago, and there was a banner stating “Fear of Coronavirus is not a Refundable Reason to Cancel,” so getting anything back at all is welcome, but vouchers are annoying; you have to keep track of the email for future use or lose the money. Vouchers expire; money is forever!

Everyone at Zegrahm was eager to help me. They do wonderful trips, and I will not hesitate to travel with them again.

• August 30 was the departure date for a 1½-month “Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze River” tour with Overseas Adventure Travel, which, with pre and post trips, included Mongolia and Cambodia.

OAT had been good about letting me know what was happening, and I thought they were doing a great job of staying on top of things. Quite early on, they routed us away from Hong Kong due to the political activity. In January, they told me they had “people on the ground in China” monitoring the coronavirus situation. They next canceled our tour’s scheduled stops in Wuhan due to COVID.

Finally, I received a phone call followed on March 20 by an email saying the China trip had been canceled and that we could have a voucher, with a bonus, or do nothing and get a full refund, including the costs of flights (Cathay Pacific) and travel insurance that had been booked through them. I chose to do nothing.

About a month later I called to inquire when I might see my money. I had paid a bit over $14,000. I was told they had changed the policy on March 27 and now no one was getting refunds. Vouchers only.

I asked to speak to someone higher up and got a call a couple of days later. The man said they were only giving vouchers, and if I couldn’t use the voucher, I could give it to someone else. He did mention “force majeure,” to which I responded I had it in writing that they had promised I could have a refund. Hitting a wall, I politely hung up.

I then called the Attorney General’s office in Washington state to see if this was something that was in their interest. Not only was I told “Yes,” I was told to contact the Attorney General in Massachusetts, where OAT is headquartered. Massachusetts’ office was immediately responsive, and I sent them copies of the documents they might need. (I always keep a paper trail until well after a trip is over.)

In maybe just over a week, the AG’s office emailed to say I’d be getting all my money back, and if I didn’t hear by a certain date to let them know. The money came through, in total, very quickly.

An OAT representative who called was very conciliatory and apologetic, and OAT’s CEO sent a letter that was so well written that, whether it was a form letter or not, the effort impressed me. It included a “$500 per person Good Will Certificate… which you can use toward any trip of your choosing through December 31, 2022.”

I had been thinking I wouldn’t trust the company again, but within a day or two of everything being settled, I was willing to give them more grace. I can’t imagine what sort of nightmare logistical problems they faced with all they had to do in a matter of days without much warning. They had thousands of travelers all over the world whom they had to figure out how to get home plus all sorts of arrangements to cancel.

I understood that from the beginning, but my take was they had promised a refund, then tried to renege, and I wasn’t going to let that just go without some effort to get what they promised. I have always believed that if there is something you want, you should give someone the opportunity to say ‘Yes’ rather than assume they will say ‘No’ and not ask at all. Give people the opportunity to say ‘Yes’ and they very well might!

OAT does good trips, and I think, in the end, they handled everything well. They came through in an unprecedented time for which no one had a road map or compass. I will travel with them again.

• Because I booked everything through the tour companies, I only had to deal with them, and they dealt with the insurance companies and airlines on my behalf.

Paula Varner
Tacoma, WA

ITN contacted Overseas Adventure Travel regarding the five subscribers’ letters printed above. OAT provided the following response in regard to these readers’ experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis which has impacted every aspect of daily life worldwide, including our ability to travel. Virtually every country in the world has prohibited leisure travel and/or closed its borders, preventing Overseas Adventure Travel from being able to provide its customers with the travel experiences they had planned this year.

We greatly appreciate our travelers’ patience as we have navigated the time-consuming process of handling traveler concerns and refund issues during the pandemic. As a company, we’ve made many difficult decisions since the beginning of this crisis. We listened to customers’ feedback as we worked to improve our processes to better assist each traveler whose trip was impacted by the pandemic.

OAT is committed to delivering the excellent travel experiences for which we have become known over the past 60 years. To help our travelers begin to plan for future trips, we’ve implemented generous policies providing additional savings and allowing travelers to change their travel dates to suit their individual needs.

For 2021, we currently have over 50,000 passengers who have reserved travel with us. The health and safety of our travelers is always our top priority. We have adopted new health and safety measures based on recommendations from our 36 regional offices around the world. We look forward to welcoming travelers back as soon as they are comfortable resuming travel.

The Overseas Adventure Travel team