COVID-19 cancellations (Part 8)

This item appears on page 16 of the April 2021 issue.

The closing of borders worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans. In the interest of comparing how various tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., handled the disruptions and travelers’ bookings, ITN asked subscribers to write in about their experiences. Many had stories to tell, the first printed in our September 2020 issue, and we are continuing to share their accounts.

As can be seen, not only do companies have contrasting policies, but travelers have different strategies in planning and booking trips as well as different outlooks.

My wife, Eileen, and I left Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 12, 2020, flying to Quito, Ecuador, via Miami to join a cruise to the Galápagos Islands, “Voyage 8011,” with Silversea Cruises (Fontvieille, Monaco; 888/978-4070,

Upon arriving in Quito, and because of COVID-19, passengers were greeted by airport staff in full hazmat suits checking our temperature and handing out health questionnaires, all before we entered the country.

As Eileen and I had not booked travel from and to the US through Silversea, we had to hire a private transfer to our hotel, the JW Marriott Hotel Quito, but the hotel and further transfers were included in the cruise price.

Silversea had us visit a doctor the next morning for another temperature check and more forms. The rest of the day was spent sightseeing, including an evening tour.

Rising at 4 a.m., we had breakfast and left the hotel at 5:40 for a flight to San Cristobal in the Galápagos Islands. We arrived around 10:30 a.m. island time on March 14. The islands are a national park, and getting our park tickets took another hour in line.

After being transported to the dock, Eileen and I had time to take a few photos of seals, crabs and iguanas before climbing into a Zodiac and heading to the ship. We boarded the Silver Galápagos a little after 1, found our stateroom and went straight to lunch. The food and wine were quite good.

The ship sailed, and at 4:30 we went to a meeting for the distribution of snorkeling gear. However, no staff member showed up — an ominous sign.

A little before 5, I received an email from American Airlines stating that our March 22 Sunday evening return flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to Miami had been canceled. The “choose a new flight” button just said “Check back later.”

I immediately sent an email to our travel agent, Fran Farthing at Argo World Travel (Asheville, NC; 828/322-6400,, asking her to look for alternatives. (She had not received a notification of the cancellation from American, which was unusual.)

At 5:15 we attended an on-deck cocktail party while the ship circumnavigated Kicker Rock, an imposing pinnacle jutting out of the ocean.

About an hour later, Fran wrote that the only suitable flight from Guayaquil to Miami was on Copa Airlines, via Panama City, leaving at 4:15 a.m. on March 22. We purchased it. The business-class fare for the two of us was $2,217.94, non-refundable. A flight from Miami to Charlotte on that Sunday cost us an additional $1,106.82, business class.

Eileen and I were in the piano bar that night enjoying our usual cruise predinner cocktail when an announcement called everyone to a meeting. Once gathered, we were told that the president of Ecuador had closed the borders and that our cruise was canceled. We had to leave the ship at 5:45 the next morning. Ship’s staff assured us that people were working on getting us home.

I contacted Fran with the news of the cancellation. She wrote back saying she was unable to contact Copa to cancel the flights we had just booked.

I gave all our flight details to staff on board the ship, and they were very helpful. They were able to cancel our Copa flight (we now have a $2,217.94 credit with Copa Airlines, to be used before the end of 2021), and they told us that Silversea was trying to arrange a charter flight from Guayaquil to Miami for the following day (Sunday, March 15) to get everyone back. I informed Fran that it looked as if we were going to at least get to Miami.

We had dinner — again, very nice — repacked, hit the piano bar for a nightcap, put our suitcases out at 11 p.m. and tried to get some sleep.

Awakened by the anchor chain at 3:00 Sunday morning, I got up at 4, had breakfast and checked with the front desk. They confirmed that passengers would be flown from Guayaquil to Miami as a group.

Zodiacs started ferrying passengers to the port of Baltra, Galápagos, at 5:45 a.m. At less than 17 hours, this had to be one of the shortest cruises ever to include two ports, a bottle of champagne, three meals, a cocktail party, a drink and entertainment in a piano bar, plus a night’s sleep.

At the San Cristobal airport, there were several hundred others waiting in line, as all cruises in the islands had been terminated.

Silversea passengers were flown to Guayaquil and transported midday to the very nice Oro Verde Guayaquil Hotel.

A Silversea representative informed us that those who had booked flights through Silversea would be flown to Miami but that everyone else was on their own and should contact their airlines. I pointed out that this was not what we had been told on the ship, but she said she didn’t know anything about that and there was nothing she could do.

I called American Airlines’ Executive Platinum help line and was told there were no seats on AA flights out of Guayaquil for the next two weeks. I contacted Fran, and within 45 minutes she found us business-class seats on an AA flight early the next morning. There was no extra charge to us. (Surprisingly, she had used the same help line we had used.)

Eileen and I then went out for some sightseeing in Guayaquil. All the city parks were closed because of COVID-19, although churches were open. People were gathered in groups around the fences, but roads were generally quiet.

Back in our room in the late afternoon, we received a call from a Silversea representative informing us that there was a charter flight to Miami leaving that evening and we could take it. Since we had our business-class seats for the next morning, we declined the offer.

We got up at 2 on March 16 to catch the 5:15 a.m. flight to Miami. (Curiously, the flight was not full.) We made it home by 6:45 p.m.

Three weeks after the cruise was interrupted, Silversea provided an offer of a future cruise credit of 125%, good through March 2022. Given that we already had six cruises booked for 2021 (with other lines) and that, at 73 and with increasing back problems, I am getting past the optimum time for a Galápagos trip, I had said to Fran that we would prefer a refund. Fran persisted, and, finally, Silversea agreed to a refund, warning that the refund would take some time.

We received a full refund of $17,640 from Silversea to our credit card account on July 16.

John Leach
Hickory, NC



In December 2019, I purchased plane tickets for a trip to the Balkans. My outbound ticket (Chicago to Tirana, Albania) was to depart May 6, 2020, and my return ticket (Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, to Chicago) was for May 21. The flights, on Star Alliance airlines, were purchased from United Airlines using mileage awards.

Because of the pandemic, on April 6, a month before I was scheduled to depart, I canceled both flights. Due to United’s policy changes and/or my Platinum status with United, I had no problem canceling the flights and getting my miles and taxes returned.

I only had one concern about canceling the trip. On Jan. 26 on Air Serbia’s website (, I had purchased a ticket to fly from Skopje, North Macedonia, to Sarajevo on May 15. The fare, $101 plus taxes of $68.20, was for a flexible ticket that could be changed but not canceled.

On April 2, I emailed Air Serbia, which has no offices in the US, and asked for a refund. I received a reply on April 5 stating they had not canceled the flight but that I could change the flight to any date during 2020 or I could get a refund for the taxes but not the ticket.

Since I knew I would not be flying on Air Serbia anytime in 2020, I instructed the airline to cancel my reservation and return the $68.20. I wasn’t going to worry about a loss of $101.

It took about a month and a half, but my credit card was credited for the full $169.20. I don’t know if the flight was canceled or if there was a policy change, but I lost nothing.

My hotels in Albania, North Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina were reserved either through or with the hotels directly through their websites or by email. None of these reservations had penalties for cancellations.

Ken Levine
Des Plaines, IL



On July 7, 2019, my husband and I booked a cruise called “Odyssey at Sea: President’s Voyage Around the British Isles” for July 7-28, 2020, with Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768, This trip included shore excursions in every port and all meals (including wine, if desired).

We paid $11,799 each, which included round-trip air from Los Angeles to London and a cabin with a balcony and sitting area. We paid an additional $600 each for a flight-class upgrade to Premium Economy plus $1,581 each for travel insurance. The total cost was $27,960.

In April 2020, when Road Scholar canceled this trip, we were told that we would be fully reimbursed, including the travel insurance cost! The refund was paid promptly.

We have traveled with Road Scholar over 60 times and find their trips to be very educational and inclusive. Their generous refund policy has reinforced our plans to continue to travel with them.

Fran Koort
Santa Barbara, CA



My friend and I booked the tour “Ancient Treasures of the Middle East: Israel, Jordan & Egypt,” from Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768,, scheduled for Nov. 14-20, 2020. (I was to leave home Nov. 10 and return Dec. 1.) However, by midsummer, as Road Scholar was canceling 2020 departures in batches, it became obvious that the trip would likely not go as scheduled.

Final payment was due before the trip might be canceled, so I emailed Road Scholar in August pointing out that Egypt, Israel and Jordan each had different levels of COVID travel restrictions — from avoiding nonessential travel to quarantines to requiring pre-trip testing — without any notice of when those restrictions would be lifted.

I explained that I didn’t want to make my final payment only to request a refund at a later date, nor did I want to transfer my money to a new tour, given ongoing and future travel uncertainties, or, in a worst-case scenario, resort to filing a complaint or insurance claim to recover my payments.

Road Scholar did two things: they extended the final payment date to avoid our running afoul of cancellation policies, and they asked that we wait until the program was formally canceled before deciding on another trip or refund.

Road Scholar canceled the trip on Sept. 22 and, in a phone call on Sept. 30, offered a choice to rebook, transfer to another tour or receive a full refund. I requested a refund, and our refund was credited to my friend’s credit card account on Oct. 9, as she had made the deposits for this trip, though we each made our own air arrangements and purchased our own travel insurance.

• I also canceled my round-trip domestic flight, Phoenix-New York, purchased with miles on American Airlines. American reinstated my miles immediately plus refunded all of the taxes paid. (Our flights between New York and the Mideast had been included in the Road Scholar package we purchased.)

• I also canceled the insurance with Allianz Global Assistance (866/884-3556, that I purchased to cover my flights. I argued that, since the flights were canceled, there was no longer anything being insured; I had no loss. Allianz refunded the small $26 premium.

• I then requested return of my $387 insurance premium paid to cover the Road Scholar trip. My policy was with US Fire Insurance Company, purchased from It included Cancel For Any Reason coverage.

This was’s reply: “The insurance companies set the rules regarding refunds and the transfer of policies to other trips — unfortunately we don’t have any say in the matter.

“The first 14 days you own the policy is the free look period when you can cancel with a full refund. Outside the 14 days free look period, the insurance company will sometimes give a refund for customer goodwill. Based on the upheaval of the travel industry due to the pandemic, the insurance companies are being more flexible.

“Insurance laws prohibit canceling a policy and refunding premium if there is any chance of a claim. In order for us to prove to the insurance company that there is no chance of a claim, we have to provide proof that 100% of all trip deposits were refunded in full. If you can send us documentation that all trip costs and deposits were refunded in full, and you have absolutely no cancellation penalties, and you have not taken a credit for a future trip, we can generally get US Fire to cancel and refund the policy.”

I provided the requested documentation and received a $387 travel insurance credit with

In the past, when requesting refunds of trip insurance premiums on canceled trips, I’ve signed waivers meant to preclude my making claims for any subsequent reimbursements from the insurers beyond what had already been refunded by the travel providers.

I’ve done the same when asking that insurance coverage be transferred from one trip to another. I can usually move coverage of trip dates by simply notifying the insurer. However, if there’s a hint of a claim from the prior dates — i.e., a claim on any change fees or trip-cancellation penalties I may incur — a waiver can come into play.

For example, in 2010 we were heading to Turks & Caicos when Delta Air Lines canceled our connecting flight out of Atlanta due to weather. Delta offered us a return flight home to Phoenix or a flight to Nassau, Bahamas, in hopes of connecting on to Turks & Caicos the next day. We returned home.

It boils down to whether a loss occurred. Even though we’d flown to Atlanta, Delta refunded us in full, so we had no loss on the airfare covered by flight insurance. I signed an insurance waiver against making any claims pertaining to those flights and received a refund of the premium.

We had a separate travel insurance policy covering our trip, which we then rebooked. After the resort moved our dates forward — without penalty or other loss — I signed an insurance waiver against making claims pertaining to the prior trip dates, and the second insurer transferred our coverage to the new trip dates.

The pandemic has underscored the importance of knowing what you’re buying, whether from a travel insurer or tour operator. Unraveling carefully planned trips is hard enough without getting caught by the fine print.

Diane Powell Ferguson
Scottsdale, AZ