Refunds & the Coronavirus: What I’ve Learned
This post will be updated as my journey through refunds continues.
I am in the strong majority of people who’ve had to cancel a trip – or have had a trip cancelled – because of COVID-19. It’s been a learning process about refunds and the rules/laws surrounding them as people scurry to get every last cent of their money back into their bank account. After cancelling a cruise, multiple flights, excursions and hotels, here’s what I’ve learned in this unprecedented madness.
Let’s start with the topic people are asking about most: flights. Your entitlement to a refund is very simple if you’re an American citizen.
- I booked directly with the airline and they cancelled my flight.
If you booked directly with the airline and your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a cash fund. No ifs, ands, or buts. The U.S.D.O.T. makes that very clear. I had flights cancelled with Lufthansa and TAP Portugal and have been promised a full refund. My flight with TAP was cancelled recently but Lufthansa has notoriously been taking a very, very long time to refund customers. I was promised a refund on 3/19 and am still waiting for the money, even though I would’ve been to my destination and back for a month by now. If you’re in a similar situation and need money more urgently, you might have to go through your credit card company.
- !! UPDATED I booked through a third party site and the airline cancelled my flight.
If you did not book directly with the airline and did so through a third party website, you are entitled to a cash refund. Interestingly enough, you need to access the DOT’s FAQ for the wording under question #3,
Ticket agents are required to make “proper” refunds when service cannot be performed as contracted on a flight to, within, or from the United States.
The main DOT refund page, which I linked under the first bullet, actually says that you are not entitled to a refund. However they still need to honour the text in the aforementioned paragraph as they have published it.
- My flight wasn’t cancelled but there’s no way I’m going to travel.
No matter where you booked, if you cancel your trip because you’re scared of going (which is a very sensible reason), you cannot get your money back. You will need to go through your travel insurance agency on the off chance you’re covered – read more about that below. However many airlines are offering flight changes free of charge and travel vouchers. It’s not the ideal situation for many of us but unfortunately that’s how the cookie crumbles.
However, this is very important to know: Everything will fall on your shoulders. You probably will not get an email telling you of your cancelled flight. Four flights cancelled for me and zero emails. Apparently it’s the customer’s responsibility to check their flight status frequently. Also, as many companies are offering vouchers and flight credit instead of refunds, they will not release money to you until you specifically ask for a refund. Every company I’ve dealt with has not had a refund option available online so I’ve had to call. Unfortunately airlines are making it more difficult for customers to get their money back.
For some reason, most travel insurance does not cover pandemics, border closures, or unforeseen travel advisories. Be sure to read your travel insurance policy closely and ask around to see if others with the same policy have been successful.
I always praise Booking.com for being very clear and easy to use. Some travellers prefer to book directly through hotels but I always book with Booking, and cancellation is one of the reasons why. All hotels and hostels have a very clear refund policy and it’s very easy to find places that have free cancellation before a certain date. I cancelled about six hotel reservations by clicking “cancel,” and the money was back in my account within a record-breaking two days.
A stark example is AirBNB, which has been refusing customers refunds because many of their spaces have a partial or no refund policy. Even if you don’t expect a pandemic to take over the world, the flexibility of Booking is very useful if you change plans or find a cheaper/better place to stay.
The Bottom Line
If you can get your money back, that’s great! If you can’t, I’m so sorry. However this pandemic has been a learning experience for everyone when it comes to travel policies. If there are any takeaways, people should book directly with the airline and read cancellation policies clearly before booking. I also lost money on guided excursions and a cruise because I thought there was no way I’d want to cancel my trip, and I didn’t really care what their cancellation policy was. Many others can relate, and I’m sure we’re all learning a lesson. My personal hope is that travel insurance companies will include more options for coverage in an event like this.
As a side note to all of this, please keep in mind that customer service agents are only messengers. Please be patient with others as we all take on this battle.
Please do let us know in the comments which companies have been more pleasant to work with, and which ones aren’t deserving of our patronage once travel opens back up again.
Until then, stay safe!
Posted on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 in Uncategorized