Typically when we book international travel I thought it was a good idea to insure the trip. Like thousands of other travelers we use a travelers credit card with the benefit of trip insurance. Or on a few previous trips, we have also purchased trip insurance from travel service websites such as Orbitz/ Expedia. I considered myself to be kinda savvy and read the insurance agreement terms and what is covered. Apparently I needed to dig a little deeper, and read what is stated as not covered; excluded from the policy. The devil is always in the details, and this is no exception. My assumption was with such broad coverage stated; a global pandemic is also covered. I was WRONG!!!
2020 has served this self titled Jetsetter and Licensed Insurance professional a grounding education known as The Pandemic Exclusion. The cost to attend the course was the cancellation of three scheduled international trips this summer July- August to Paris France, Bali Indonesia, and Negril Jamaica.
Here is a summary background breakdown of what’s going on…
Each of the stated above trips was reserved using Orbitz with flights booked with United Airlines and Qatar Airlines. The Paris France, and Jamaica trips were reserved using the Chase United Mileage Plus Visa (includes trip cancellation benefits). The Bali trip was reserved using Discover It credit card. Each of the trips were purchased as bundles with hotel accommodations using the Orbitz travel service. Orbitz has a stated none-refundable policy on their website.
The airline carriers United Airlines and Qatar Airlines have cancelled the scheduled flights to Paris and Bali due to Covid-19. Notice of cancellation was issued to Orbitz. It is important to note the airline cancelled the flights, not the traveler.
Per Department of TransportationDOT website
- Cancelled Flight – A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to travel.
- Non-refundable tickets – Passengers who purchase non-refundable tickets are not entitled to a refund unless the airline makes a promise to provide a refund or the airline cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change.
- The refund/reservation requirement for airlines does not apply to tickets booked through online travel agencies, travel agents, or other third-party agents. However, these agents are free to apply the same or similar procedures to provide equivalent or similar customer service.
Reading the DOT government information supports mixed feelings of none clarity, it seems our situation no real hope for a refund. It appears by booking thru a travel service an additional layer of complication is added when it comes to seeking a refund. If the travel service doesn’t want to provide the customer service its at their discretion to keep the money paid. I really do not understand how that would work ethically, especially if the airlines are required to provide the refund options. The travel agency is only reserving the service, not providing it. Also this DOT information only applies to airlines; the hotel accommodations are not included with this government protection.
In attempting to contact the Orbitz agents directly, I received notice they are only reviewing travel case issues of those within the next 30 days. To a big corporation our vacation fund make seem like a drop in the bucket, and can be pushed off. But for us small guys; the vacation fund is hours of stressful work, with moments of daydreaming; counting down the days until we can fly away. Our trips are scheduled in the summer, waiting 2-3months to talk to someone about this seems a bit excessive. This was contributing to building anxiety regarding the resolution. I honestly felt some type of way that a travel agency or airline could cancel our travel plans, and also possibly keep our money. I needed some help with this travel situation that has thousands of hard earned dollars in the wind.
My first action was to file a claim with trip insurance due to the cancellation. I assumed since we used the United Mileage Plus Visa to book the flights with United Airlines to Paris, that would help in some way. Nope it did not, the claim was denied stating pandemic is excluded from the coverage. The insurance swiftly denied the claim and offered no further assistance with the matter. The trip cancellation benefits on the travel credit card are that of a standard policy. The only trip cancellation policy that would cover is call Cancel for Any Reason. This coverage still does not provide a full refund of all the cost, it is also expensive to purchase. We reserved the trip to Bali using the Discover It card, which does not provide any trip coverage.
As a consumer that paid for these travel services with a credit card we do have the right to dispute charges for services not rendered. This is allowed under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), which protects consumers against charges for goods and services they didn’t accept or that weren’t delivered. However just filing a claim and hoping for the best outcome is not going to be enough. It is very beneficial to take the time to prove our case for a successful outcome. The representatives that are going thru these mountains of claims will likely not take the time to do a full investigation and fight for us. So we should fight for ourselves by submitting supporting documents to strengthen our claim a full refund should be granted.
Here are 4 suggestions that can help win the decision in our favor:
- Write a statement of dispute. To formally submit a dispute and protect your rights, its best to write a statement and clearly state what you are seeking as resolution. You can start a dispute online or on the phone, but it is still recommended to write a statement for the claim file.
- Provide documentation the airline carrier cancelled the flight. This can be the email notification received and/or notice from the online travel carrier the airline has cancelled the flight.
- Provide any documented correspondence directly with the hotel carrier and hotel management. It is a GREAT idea to reach out to the hotel directly to try to work out an agreement. Although the travel agent service states none refundable on the reservation. It is at the property discretion regarding if they would honor a refund.
- Patience and keeping a positive mindset while allowing the process to do its review. When the dispute representative reaches out to you, promptly return any additional info or document they are seeking.
At this time there is also talk of government intervention to force airlines to refund travelers money. But that is still under review with lots of red-tape political talk. The mental experience is similar to visualizing a pin needle of light at the end of a very long tunnel. Our trip to Negril Jamaica has not been cancelled by United airline at this time. If the airline does not cancel, and the borders are open to fly safely we plan to complete the trip…still keeping the daydream alive.
This experience has changed the way I plan to book travel in the future. It has been a good lesson to learn, I want a refund on the course tho.
Comment your experience with travel cancellations, we would love to hear about it.
Once we receive an update regarding the outcome of the disputes, an update will be posted.
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