How I dealt with Trip Cancellation

Just a few days ago, everyone with a planned trip was in the bubble, whether to go or to cancel. So was I. Thankfully, I took the right decision to cancel it owing to the Coronavirus threat. Trip Cancellation is always a very hard decision. Else, just a week into the trip, I would have been right now searching to take the first flight home. But in today’s date and time, everyone is cancelling their trip and figuring a way to get a refund. Many airlines are offering waivers to cancel or a change of date, and many are still sticking with their policies.

In the past, we had a lot of times close calls and sickness just before the trip – I had a fever (which was just a viral) on the day we went to South America, got flu just 6 days before we left for Greece, grandmother was sick 20 days before we went to New Zealand and so on. But thankfully, it always settled in the nick of time and we went for the trip. Except cancelling one or two domestic trips because of my grandmother being ill, by God’s grace, we didn’t have to deal with trip cancellation of any long international holiday in all these years of our travels. But there is always travel first! Or maybe two times in a row for us.

Unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip last year due to Dad’s surgery and again this year owing to the Coronavirus fears. I cancelled my trip when the outbreak had just reached Europe, and Italy reported 100 cases. Obviously, the situation is different now with more and more operators offering a refund. Below are some tips to deal with trip cancellation, which I used.

Tips for Trip Cancellation

If you have booked everything on your own, it is worth trying for a refund even when the booking is non-refundable. It will take time and effort.

1) The first step is obviously to cancel all hotels and activities that have a free cancellation policy. So at least that is done and dusted and that amount is recovered.

2) For all the non-refundable hotels, send them an email and pitch for a refund. I did it twice, once because of medical reason where I sent all the papers and because of Coronavirus. Many hotels understood unforeseen circumstances and issued a full refund. If they refuse, ask nicely to postpone it to a future date. This worked with a few hotels. Again, if they deny change or a refund, request them to speak to their manager. This worked twice for my bookings. First time in 2019, only one of the hotel outright refused any change or cancellation, and I lost all the money. This time around, all agreed for a refund or a change but needed some persistence.

3) The flight is where you lose money most of the time. In my experience, they stuck on their policy. Only one of them issued a refund for medical reasons. In these times, many are offering free cancellation but still many are sticking to their cancellation policy. Of course, if the flight is cancelled altogether due to the travel ban, they are forced to give you a full refund.

4) When you book any hotel or flight through a third party website, write to both of them. You can explain your problem better and be more persistent than a third party website. If they give in writing that they will issue a refund, you have proof and the third party website has to give you a refund. At times, they don’t entertain and say to contact the third-party website.

5) Twitter is your best friend. It is easier and faster to raise your issue. When you can’t find an email or don’t get a reply soon enough, Twitter is the way to go. I found accounts of all hotels and airlines there and they promptly replied earlier.  Right now, in this scenario, they are burdened with too many queries and may take much longer to reply.

6) At times many operators denied the refund, claiming you can only get it by your insurance. I had travel insurance, but they didn’t cover trip cancellation costs. Second time around, I took higher insurance, which covered trip cancellation costs only due to some extreme conditions. In India, I don’t know even if they state they will cover, will they actually cover? I had bad lucks with insurances in the past when they would find a fine print and deny the claims. If you know good travel insurance in India who will cover it, kindly let me know in the comments below. Rather, I decided to cancel the insurance itself and they said they would refund the money.

7) If any bookings are non-refundable, wait until the travel date. Right now, the situation is changing every minute and more and more hotels and flights are issuing a waiver. Also, the chance of flight cancellation is high. So wait till the date and then only cancel.

7) It will be tough to deal with any trip cancellation, losses associated with it, but I believe if not now, there is always next time. Things happen and you have no choice but to deal with it.

Back in March 2019

Last year, I had planned our trip to Scandinavia. But sometimes life throws curve balls at you. Just 20 days before we were supposed to leave, our family doctor said Dad has to undergo Hernia operation and waiting any longer for it will be risky.

So we took the opinion of few doctors, one said to do it immediately and not wait, another said to do it after the trip and third whose opinion mattered most to us, said we can go but wasn’t fully convinced. Top it all, Kapil had fractured his rib bone. So considering all this, we took the call to cancel this trip.

For this Scandinavia trip, I had mostly booked non-refundable hotels and even had paid for activities. Normally, I try to connive them to take payment on arrival so I can pay by a travel debit card. But this time around, each country has a different currency. It was best to pay for everything by a credit card. Also, I don’t like to pay extra for free cancellation rates. I believe in each trip I will have to spend so much extra for free cancellation rates that I just take the hit for that one time when I have to cancel the trip. 

I had spent a good chunk of my time planning and booking every single detail about the trip. It was emotionally draining to deal with trip cancellation and suffer financial losses. I had to take it positively, if not this year, then the next year. I rather wait and travel tension free the next year. But the hardest part was that Dad has to go through a surgery and there is always a risk of unknown.

View from Breach Candy

At least the hospital room had a sea view which got us through the tough times!

Fast forward to March 2020

Booking a Trip

Since our last trip was back in 2018 to Namibia, we were really looking forward to the trip. Booked everything just 20 days in advance. That time Coronavirus was only limited to China and a few other Asian countries. It did come up in our discussion that should we book or not. But we didn’t bother much as we had a strong intention to go after being waiting for nearly 2 years. Also, some bookings had been shifted from the last year, so if we don’t go, we will lose money there.

So in literally 5 days, I booked all hotels and flights and applied for the Schengen visa. They have a minimum requirement that the application should be submitted 15 days before the travel date, and we applied exactly 15 days before our travel date. After that, I was booking activities, planning all the sight-seeing details, and it was almost time when we would start packing our bags.

Coronavirus Threat

I finished my last booking in the morning and in the evening the news pop up that 100 people are infected in Italy. That’s when I got scared and my alarm bells started ringing. I gave hints to my family that we probably should cancel our trip. Dad took a very long time to recover from Hernia. I didn’t want to risk it. Whereas Kapil thought I’m joking about trip cancellation and said you are just scared for no dam reason. Even our family doctor said it’s not there where you are going, so don’t cancel and go. He also gave an analogy what happens if the plane crashes?

Next 3 days, I stopped all the trip planning and just read about Coronavirus. I read every single information I could find. That’s when I came across a hotel in Spain is under quarantine. After a few hours, I read that now 2 hotels in Abu Dhabi are under quarantine. I spoke to my cousin who had just returned from a trip and said all the staff at airports and many air hostess were wearing a mask. I was convinced that we shouldn’t go. So was Dad. Kapil was very stubborn and wanted to go. Whereas Mom was in between.

Trip Cancellation Decision

Then many thoughts ran through my mind – 14 days Quarantine is a real scare. What if you just cough (we keep having cough now and then) and they suspect and put you under quarantine? I don’t want to take any risk with Dad. In one day, 100 reported cases in Italy, who knows what happens tomorrow. To predict anything for the next hour is tough, who knows what will be the situation from 20 days from now. What if India decided to quarantine on the way back? Also, I thought losses associated with trip cancellation will be minute when compared to being stuck in a foreign land. Last thing which made my decision what if we go and then those countries shut everything like France shut Louvre? So I got my dream trip but didn’t actually see anything!

So considering all the thoughts and fear that ran through my mind, I put my foot down and took the hard decision to cancel the trip.  It broke my heart. Kapil was in depression for a few days. We cancelled around 1st March and we were supposed to leave on the 6th March. Today 15 days later and what would have been just a week into our long trip, everyone knows India has cancelled visas, the USA has banned entry from Europe and so on. Just yesterday, I read the news about Norway and Denmark are in complete lockdown. Thank God, I stuck to my gut feeling and cancelled the trip. Else we would have been in Finland, trying to book the first flight home.

So below are all the details about how I cancelled everything, managed to get some refunds despite being non-refundable and was forced to experience customer service of different operators:

Flights

The toughest part for any trip cancellation is to get refunds from airlines. Most of them are non-refundable and won’t give a cancellation waiver for medical reasons. Booking a full cancelable flight if possible cost a lot. So there is isn’t much option but to take the hit. Also, if you book a flight through any online website (because they offered a good deal) they will have their additional trip cancellation charges.

International Flights for 2019

Booked – Makemytrip.com
Operator – Qatar Airways

In the past, I had got terrible service from Makemytrip, so I use them only as a last resort when the deal is too good to leave it. For this flight, they offered an instant discount of Rs. 8000.

I called them up, inquiring if they could get a medical waiver. I emailed them all the medical documents. They forwarded the details to the airline and said will respond in 72 hours. After 72 hours, they would email back saying that they require more time. This process went on for a month. Eventually, he emailed that the airline has agreed for a waiver for Dad and for the rest of us, normal trip cancellation charges would apply.

In a few days, he replied, that Qatar Airways denied the request even for Dad. When I asked for a reason, they forwarded me the email from Qatar Airways which stated – request denied as the name does not match. I was pissed on such a stupid reply. I had submitted 15 odd documents, each one had the same name. Then I wrote an emotional email to them. They took the matter again with the airlines, who then asked for discharge papers. By now Dad had got a discharge, so I submitted those. Then again it went on for a month.  I was expecting Makemytrip will disappear but they were in constant touch. I was really impressed with their service.

After nearly 2 months, finally, they said the airline has accepted the medical waiver for Dad and will give a full refund. For 3 of us, charged Rs. 10861 per passenger and Makemytrip had a charge of Rs. 749 per passenger. So in the end, I  got a hit of Rs. 34830.

International Flights for 2020

One Way Mumbai to Stockholm on 6th March
Booked – Makemytrip.com
Operator – Emirates

I followed the Emirates website regularly, but they were issuing waivers only for certain countries. Trip cancellation policy allowed a refund after cutting around Rs. 10,000 per person if cancelled a day in advance. I spoke to them on Twitter and they said there aren’t giving any waivers for Coronavirus. So I just cancelled and had to take the hit.

At the time I cancelled my flight, many other airlines like Air France were issuing a refund for any destination. I had heard Emirates is best in customer service through endless people, this is the first time I booked with them and had no such luck with them.

One Way Copenhagen to Mumbai
Booked – Makemytrip.com
Operator – Turkish Airline

Since my return date is in April, I haven’t cancelled yet.  I was waiting if any waiver comes up as now India has imposed a travel ban. Just last night I heard the news that Turkey has banned all flights from 9 European destinations, including Denmark. So my flight is cancelled and has contacted Makemytrip for a full refund. Since all agents have tremendous workload, I’ll wait a few days for their reply.

Domestic Flights

I had 4 internal flights booked from different airlines. None of the airlines accepted medical waiver. Furthermore, I had booked through random sites which pop up on Skyscanner as they were offering the cheapest price. Contacting these sites was a huge hassle. Also, they had an outrageous trip cancellation charge of their own. So even if I get some refund in taxes from the airline, I don’t get anything as it is less than the cancellation charges of these websites. So this was one place where there was no way to get a refund.

Summary of my bookings for 2019

1) SAS airline – This was one flight I booked directly on its website. I had to call them up for cancellation and luckily got 50% back, which was taxes.

2) Finnair booked by BudgetAir.com – When I contacted Finnair for a waiver, they said to contact the agent you have booked through. Agent asked to send medical documents but then didn’t bother replying. Eventually, I didn’t get any refund.

3) Wideroe Airline booked by MyTrip.com – They at least replied promptly and informed that the airline has rejected the full refund request. So, got only a small amount in taxes back after subtracting their agency fees. This is the email I got from them – “The amount that will be refunded is equivalent to an airline refund amount of Rs. 3.060 (as stipulated by the airline’s regulations) minus our agency’s service fee of Rs. 1.800,00″. So basically I got Rs. 1200 back per passenger on a ticket price of Rs. 11,000.

4) SAS airline – I used Cleartrip.com gift card (redeemed credit card points) to pay for it. Cleartrip said gift card is non-refundable and also they can’t do anything regarding the medical waiver. They said you can directly approach the airline and if they give, we will give. But they refused to do any work.

Summary of my bookings for 2020

1) Air Baltic – Didn’t give any waiver. I just got taxes refunded, which was around 25% of the ticket cost as I had booked directly with them. If I had used a third party website, I probably would have gotten nothing owing to third party website fees.

2) Norwegian – I cancelled this on 12th March as travel date was 13th March. They didn’t issue any waiver and got only taxes back, which was about 30% of the ticket cost.

3) Wideroe Airline booked directly – Till now they are sticking to their trip cancellation policy despite Norway is in complete lockdown and restricting entry of all foreigners. Travel date is towards end-March, so I was waiting and watching. But just now, I got an email saying my flight timings are changed. So I contacted them on their chat server on their website and they agreed to cancel it and issue a full refund. Just got lucky here.

4) SAS airline booked through points on Yes Bank Rewards website – Right now they are issuing a credit voucher only if you booked directly on their website and will give refunds only if the flight is cancelled. I have my flight for 1st April, so playing the waiting game.

Norwegian Airline Trip Cancellation

Heartless response when there is a Pandemic!

Hotels

This is one area where you should try to get a refund. In my experience, many hotels were superbly nice and understood my situation both times. The first time it was a medical issue, so I was the only one asking for a refund. The second time I thought none of the hotels would give a refund or be flexible with a change of the date, as hundreds of people will ask for it. Also, when I emailed them for cancellation, it was just a start of the outbreak in Italy and didn’t have any cases in Scandinavia.

Summary of my non-refundable bookings

The ones had free cancellation, I just easily cancelled those and are not mentioned here.

1) Hilton Tallinn Park booked on Goibibo for 2020

I wrote to the hotel explaining we are cancelling our trip as Dad will be at higher risk since he had a surgery last year which took a year to recover. They replied, saying we can’t do anything and you have to contact your third party website for any change or cancellation. Since then, the outbreak of Coronavirus has spread massively, so I assume Goibibo has become super busy and didn’t reply on Twitter for 2 days.

So eventually I called them up and they issued a service request and said they will contact the hotel. Now my travel date was just in 2 days, so I approached Hilton on Twitter. I informed them that the third party website has contacted you and please do the needful. On that, they replied they spoke to the duty manager but haven’t received any information from Goibibo. So again, I called them up and they said they have emailed to the hotel but got no reply. We requested them to call up the hotel to which they denied stating they can only email.

I wrote back to Hilton on Twitter, stating they should have got an email from Goibibo. To which they finally confirmed the receipt of the email and said will respond within 24 hours. After that, I contacted them again for an update. Finally, on the day of the booking, they said they have agreed for a full refund without any penalty and will follow up with Goibibo. Essentially, I did all the postmen job between them, but I’ll do it for my money. I am awaiting refunds from Goibibo.

2) Glass Igloo in Finland (not mentioning the name)

The first time around, they said they can’t issue any refund and I should contact the travel insurance. I wrote back saying they will give nothing and please allow to change it to the next year. To this request, they gladly agreed and booked it for March 2020.

Fast forward to March 2020, I was really worried they won’t accept any change or refund and I will lose all the money. Also, many people might approach them for trip cancellation because of Coronavirus. I wrote to them about my situation and asked about my options if I cancelled the trip. To which they emailed back saying “we can’t offer a refund but will allow change and let me know about the new dates in 48 hours”.

After working out some details, I emailed them my new dates within the deadline. To my shock, I got this reply –

Glass Igloo - Trip CancellationThen it went back and forth over emails, I gave them various reasons like you agreed before and then I cancelled, why should I travel in November when there will be no snow and so forth. They kept sticking to their guns that they can’t do anything. I thought they might have got a lot of cancellation requests in the past 48 hours and suddenly they are making things up to deny the change. I was so upset that I didn’t even have dinner.

Finally, I wrote, please speak to the manager about my situation. To which finally they replied, “I spoke with the manager and she agreed the booking can be changed. I highly apologize for the confusion and any trouble these messages caused you. I was not fully aware of what had been agreed beforehand within my colleagues and manager.”

3) Scandic Rovaniemi and Scandic Ishavshotel booked by Expedia for 2019

I wrote to Expedia describing medical reasons. They spoke to the hotel, got cancellation waiver and refunded the entire amount without any hassle. I believe Scandic hotels were understanding and refunded in full.

4) Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara booked by Goibibo for 2020

I wrote to the hotel explaining that I would like to cancel due to the Coronavirus threat. To which they promptly replied that they would allow cancellation without penalty and I should contact Goibibo for the refund. I contacted Goibibo on Twitter and explained the situation. To which I got a call next day that they have spoken with the hotel and they are denying a refund and asked if I have any proof.

I emailed them a screenshot of my conversation with the hotel. Goibibo took a few days and replied that the hotel approved and they would do the needful. The hotel has emailed me long ago that they have issued a full refund, but I am still waiting to get it back from Goibibo. I am giving them some time because of the current overburden and expecting them to refund in a few days.

5) Hotel in North Finland (not mentioning the name)

Back in 2019

In 2019, I booked through Cheaptickets.com. They promptly replied to emails and said the hotel has denied any request for cancellation and have stated that booking is non-refundable. I told them to press further and ask for a change. To which again they replied, stating the hotel has denied the same and it is final.

Then I wrote to the hotel to please allow change. They reiterated the same thing – “I’m so sorry about your situation, but our booking terms are very clear with non-refundable rates. Like I told you earlier, insurances are for this kind of cases”. I tried to press them further that every single hotel has allowed change or refund, and it is really sad that you can’t do anything. To which I got a reply -“You have now contacted us several times and several different persons about your cancellation. We ask you kindly to respect our booking terms and the answer we have given you that we use NON REFUNDABLE terms for our online reservation. This is now the end of this conversation from our site”.

I had no choice left further and got a huge hit as this stay was for 3 nights.

Fast forward to 2020

Despite the experience last time, I contacted them again for booking. They have now opened a new room that looked enticing. Also, I wanted to stay in this area where there aren’t many hotels. They offered a fantastic price considering I lost my money last time.  Hence, I booked again, which recouped 50% of the cost of the last year’s booking. But this time booked directly with them. Cancellation policy was a full refund minus 50 Euros if cancelled 6 weeks prior to the date and 50% refund if cancelled 15 days prior to the date. I had anyway booked so close to the date that I can’t think of cancellation.

I wrote to them explaining the situation of Coronavirus and I wish to cancel. They replied – “Thank You for your message! I´m sorry, but this booking is non-refundable”. I pointed out that I should get back 50% and if they could at least this time allow a change. They agreed for the refund since it is 15 days prior but denied a change request. I had contacted exactly 15 days prior, one day late, and I would have lost all the money.

Then I made one last request and wrote saying ” please could you speak to the owner explaining my situation and allow a change”. Finally, she wrote back that we can allow to change it.

6) Northern Light Ranch

The first time around, it wasn’t paid, so I just cancelled. Second time around I had paid in full and very well knew it is non-refundable. They allow refund only 90 days prior. I wrote to them and I was really impressed the way they wrote back. This is what they wrote:

Thank you for your message.

We understand your concern and for sure it is wise to consult a doctor to avoid taking any unnecessary risks.

While our accommodation is non-refundable in cases of cancellation made less than 90 days prior to the arrival date, we can not make any refunds of your reservation payments.

What we can offer to you, as an exception, is to re-schedule your stay for March – April 2021, in between the dates from 11th March and 6th April.

Another option is to cancel the reservation and claim compensation back from your own insurance company. If you decide to take this option, we can provide you a document of proof concerning the cancellation.

While the time of your planned stay for March 18th is already so close, please kindly advise us ASAP how you would like to proceed with your booking.

Awaiting your reply at the very latest by Tue 3rd March 2020.

7) Radisson Blu Plaza Oslo booked on booking.com

I had booked this hotel in 2019 and again in 2020 through Booking.com. I emailed the hotel about my situation and they immediately agreed for a refund without requiring any convincing. Then I contacted Booking.com on their help tab on my booking and spoke to a live agent there. He immediately called the hotel, said they have agreed and processed the refund.

This cancellation was one of the quickest and easiest. Thanks to the hotel for allowing refund not once, but twice. Also, cancellation through Booking.com was easiest and fastest without having to wait days to get a reply and then another few days to get a refund.

8) Airbnb

In 2019, I had booked an apartment on Airbnb. This was my first time using them as I prefer hotels to apartments.  I sent a message to which they replied they allow refund during the extenuating circumstances. Since Dad has surgery, it is extenuating circumstances and asked for a doctor’s letter. I sent them over and within minutes they approved cancellations.

9) Reinefjorden Sjøhus

I had booked non-refundable rates both times. Linn, the owner was very understanding and cancelled the booking both times with ease. 

Other Bookings

I had 2 activities booked and paid for in 2019. Both of them, Nordic Unique Travels and Extreme Huskies, refunded in full without any efforts.

For Norway in a Nutshell, I had booked minipris (Non-refundable) train ticket from Myrdal to Oslo. They refused to give any refund for medical reasons. Even now, when Norway is in complete lockdown, they are sticking to their cancellation policy and not allowing any waivers.

Obviously, I had applied for Schengen Visa both times and lost money there.

That’s all on my trip cancellation stories. In all, I’ll say many hotels have been very considerate and offered a refund or change despite being non-refundable bookings. I lost money, but then it was much less than my expectations. Of course, I feel fortunate that I cancelled the trip this time around and don’t have to scramble last minute to find a flight back home.

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