Gone, officially, is any hope of hopping the border with four longtime girlfriends for a summer vacation in Canada. Sadly, we are relieved.
Weekly day trips near home – state parks, rec trails, scenic walks – are more likely than one full week away. These are solo or coupled excursions, not group outings.
We friends lost hope months ago that a safe trip to explore Toronto would happen during these pandemic times, but it took a while to terminate travel plans. Long enough to start feeling squeamish.
Inquiries about canceling lodging and airfare began in March. That was far too early in the game, so we backed off for two months. Three months would pass before travel concerns and issues were brought to acceptable conclusions.
Among the lessons learned:
Cheap travel has its consequences. Buying nonrefundable plane tickets, pre-COVID, meant just that: no compensation if travel plans change. I don’t expect a cash refund from most airlines, even if a flight is canceled or if you are ill.
We eventually felt fortunate to get travel vouchers and pay no penalty for canceling; our Toronto tickets were booked months before coronavirus concerns arose.
U.S. Senate and House bills, introduced in May, propose the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act of 2020, which would require airlines to allow a full refund option. Although refunds could be retroactive, bill passage is not expected.
Aggregators add a layer of complexity. Our super-low airfare to Canada was found through Priceline.com, and that’s also how I booked a West Coast trip that evaporated in April.
To complicate matters, each trip involved two airlines. That meant long wait times to cancel by phone, and directives to not call unless your trip would begin within 72 hours. Although it may be easier to cancel plans online, not all airlines allow that when booking through an aggregator.
At Priceline.com is a cancellation form, with the stipulation that “you understand that canceling your reservation does not guarantee a credit or refund will be issued,” or a penalty fee assessed. We didn’t trust that language and resorted to contacting airlines directly.
The “sharing community” has downsides. I’ve written favorably about AirBnB.com but have grown chilly about this option for lodging. Knowing how to obtain a full refund for our reservation was not clear or easy.
Refund rules stayed rigid (as in losing 50 percent of our money) until the U.S.-Canada border closure was extended to our travel departure date. Even then, we needed an AirBnB rep’s help and got a vague directive to “upload documentation to verify your eligibility.”
Add the uncertainty of a such a stay during these times of susceptibility. This is not one hotel brand’s reputation on the line. Cleaning guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are posted by AirBnB, but what reassurance do we have that guidelines are followed?
Whose tab is it? It seems easier – or is sometimes necessary – for one person’s credit card to pay for a group’s transportation and lodging. Take the total, divide by the number of travelers and get reimbursed. Right?
You trust each traveler to promptly pay what is owed. And if plans change? You trust those same folks to be patient and accept limitations as options for reimbursement are navigated.
I hoped my credit card company would issue a check when our lodging payment was reimbursed. I hoped individual vouchers for airfare were possible instead dumping one big voucher into my frequent flyer accounts.
No problem with either issue. All turned out fine for our group.
Close-to-home getaways are the safer way to go this summer. Check out travel advice from the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov. Among the points made:
Be aware of state and local travel restrictions, which may vary from one locale to the next.
If staying at a hotel, check COVID prevention practices before leaving home. Call the specific property with questions or concerns, not a hotel brand’s generic website or toll-free number.
Bring antiseptic wipes for high-touch areas of your room.
Avoid crowded parks, and favor visits to parks close to home. If venturing farther away, know which park areas and services are open. Bring hand sanitizer or other supplies to practice good hygiene.
Although swimming pools, hot tubs and waterparks appear safe when properly disinfected with chlorine or bromine, it is important to practice social distancing when in and out of the water.