Thanks For Nothing COVID-19 – Almost Travel Tales Of A Single Mum And A Tween

Travel PictureWhen the clock struck midnight to ring in the New Year, the start of a new decade no less, the mood was light, shiny and full of hope - 2020 had the feel of opportunity and brilliance.

2020 was set to be our big year.  Master 11 and I were happily sailing away on a cruise ship plotting our dream trip to the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean.  There was a family wedding coming up in June in Malta and there was no way we were missing out.  We jumped at the chance to join a small group of family travelling there for the celebrations.  We also jumped at the chance to make this a trip of a lifetime and throw in a couple of bucket-list destinations. 

As we were in holiday mode it was easy to imagine ourselves floating in the Blue Lagoon of Malta, trekking up Mount Etna in Sicily, watching the sun set in Santorini and exploring the Acropolis in Athens.  No one would’ve guessed at this global health crisis sweeping the planet, least of all us.

We were so excited about our dream holiday that when we returned to work and school from our cruise, we got serious about booking.  Our stars were aligning and great deals were found in the sales, perfect tours popped up and we booked everything quickly.  We were booked, fully paid and totally committed to our dream holiday, that is before COVID-19 struck. 

Up until now we have resisted the virus chatter, stayed away from doomsday reports and silently crossed our fingers in the hope of this pandemic quickly passing.  But, at the risk of sounding like a negative Nelly, the grim reality is that right now we can’t travel anywhere. 

Apart from the fact that it’s hugely disappointing to be facing a cancelled trip, it’s very stressful to be facing the prospect of having to unravel it all.  We’re talking multiple bookings with International and domestic flights, car hire, accommodation, tours, transfers, ferries and hydrofoils, crossing 3 countries and 2 islands.  Not to mention the cost, which as a single mum is quite overwhelming.  It took a whole lot of penny pinching and scraping of funds to organise.

Putting the disappointment behind us the time has come to tackle the cancellations.  After researching the policies of the travel agent, the airline and our insurance it has become clear that the travel industry is being as supportive as possible.  At least it is here in Australia.

What we’ve found is that most companies are offering credit vouchers and waiving the usual fees associated with postponing bookings.  Some are offering refunds but with cancellation fees, in some cases reduced fees. 

The advice we’ve be given so far is that if you booked through a travel agent to contact them first and work with them to either issue a credit voucher or cancel the trip. 

We’re booked with Flight Centre and their policy is to waive the fees if we take a credit voucher (which is valid for 12 months) or pay $300 cancellation fee for a refund.  The thing they can’t guarantee is what fees will be charged by their suppliers such as hotels, transfer or tour companies. Let’s face it, it is highly likely we will be out of pocket.

Right now, they’re giving priority to people coming home to Australia and those who have departure dates within the next 48-72 hours.  Our departure was for late May so we will have to wait a few weeks before we find out what our exact position is.

Airlines appear to have similar terms; we were flying Qatar for the long haul and they state on their website that you should change your bookings via your travel agent.  Or if you booked directly with them “you can re-book your ticket to alternative dates or destinations, or opt to receive a voucher for future travel, valid for one year from its issuance date. This policy applies to all tickets issued anytime until 30 June 2020, for travel on or before the same date.”

I don’t think it will be easy to rebook a flight at the moment given the bans on travel so no doubt most people will opt for the voucher. 

A side note on Qatar airlines, friends of ours were rushing back from Scotland and had booked business class.  Qatar immediately upgraded them to first class and they were brought home in style – nice work Qatar!

Given we’re not booked first class I don’t think we’ll be jumping the queue any time soon.  But queue jumping aside, the biggest worry about cancelling a dream trip is how much money will be lost in the transaction.  I guess this is why it pays to buy your insurance as soon as you’ve booked - definitely something I’ve been slack in before but never again, thankfully my insurance was all in place before the pandemic.

We have AMEX insurance and there is a standard excess to claim for losses related to cancelled trips.  Although it’s a cost it may well be better than an accumulated amount of cancellation fees from multiple suppliers. 

With the uncertainty of when we can travel freely again, the peace of mind of being able to claim anything is gladly welcomed in our family.

So, after all of this we are politely waiting our turn to speak to Flight Centre and hoping to snag a refund.  There is no disillusion that we’ll probably have to then wait our turn for AMEX to process our claim for losses.  The fact that I know all of this just by visiting websites however, is a testament to the transparent communication of the suppliers and the travel industry as a whole.

I know there are plenty of people trying to unravel their travel plans and we’re certainly not alone.  Hang in there folks, stay patient and be nice to those just trying to do their jobs. Good luck and may we all get a reasonable result.

…now, if someone could just kill the damn virus, we could all be back travelling!


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