Travellers ‘out of luck’ as they seek refunds for COVID cancellations

Would-be vacationers who’d planned to soak up the sun overseas this month are pausing their plans amidst an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases, but say heeding health and government officials’ advice has led to an uphill battle with travel companies for reimbursement.

Earlier this month, the federal government changed its official guidance, advising people not to travel abroad given the uncertainty around the new Omicron variant.

“We really didn’t feel comfortable going on the trip. We didn’t want to carry [COVID]. We didn’t want to catch it. And so we thought we should definitely cancel,” said Kristie Duncan, who has been trying to cancel her family’s upcoming trip to Mexico, which they had booked in November.

“We had no idea, to be honest, of how difficult that would become. Honestly, we thought that it would be very simple … and that is certainly not the case that we’ve experienced.” 

Kristie Duncan, seen here on a trip to Peru in 2017, had hoped to leave in little over a week for a vacation to Mexico but cancelled due to rising COVID-19 cases. She’s been unable to get a refund, and she’s not alone. (Submitted by Kristie Duncan)

While they have various types of travel insurance, none of it appears to apply to the Air Canada Vacations package they booked through online travel site

“It’s come to a point of an ultimatum right now of [going] on the trip and possibly spreading [COVID] and getting it, or cancelling or not showing up to the airport and losing all of that money,” she said. 

“It’s extremely frustrating and scary and stressful.”

“The bottom line is buyer beware. You are no doubt rolling the dice at this point.– Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a travel insurance company

In a statement to CBC, Air Canada said customers are eligible for a refund if their Air Canada Vacations flight is cancelled. Otherwise, the company offers a number of coverage plans to customers when they book, including a plan allowing people to receive a full refund up to 21 days before their trip.

“We want our customers’ vacations to be an experience that they can look forward to, in spite of the ever-shifting environment created by the pandemic,” an Air Canada spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

Mark Randle and Cheryl Hutley took their last cruise to Alaska in September 2019 and were hoping to take another in January. (Submitted by Mark Randle)

Mark Randle says he’s also faced resistance trying to cancel the Caribbean cruise he had planned for later this month.

What he thought was a no-risk package he purchased from Norwegian Cruise Line last March, as something to look forward to when travel became safe again, has now meant hours of calls to the cruise line and his credit card company to try to get a refund or travel voucher.

“I don’t think it’s very reasonable for somebody at this point in time, with the state of affairs of the pandemic globally, not to at least offer us some type of refund or some type of travel credit toward future credit because we’re not traveling,” he said.

CBC also heard from others who had booked vacations through Norwegian Cruise Line and were told they would not be issued refunds. The company did not reply to requests for comment.

‘Buyer beware’

Some Ottawa travel agencies that CBC spoke to said they’ve been kept busy over the holidays as the vast majority of their clients try to cancel or reschedule their vacations.

But Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a travel insurance brokerage in Toronto, said insurance will likely only cover if someone contracts COVID-19 either before or during their trip, not if someone wants to follow the government and health officials’ advice.

“They’re basically out of luck unless the cruise company or the end user … will give them back their money. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

“The bottom line is buyer beware. You are no doubt rolling the dice at this point if you purchase and buy a trip, whether it be a cruise, an all-inclusive or plan a summer vacation next year in Europe. All of these things, unfortunately and sadly, are somewhat on hold until we see what the future holds.”

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