Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Mar 30, 2020

Join us to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc.!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel -- or not traveling, as the case may be. Coronavirus is foremost in everyone's mind today, understandably, so before we get started, I want to share the link for the Post's coronavirus FAQ and its coronavirus live blog, which is continuously updated with the latest developments. You can also sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked in the newsletter are free to access.

In this week's Travel section, we recommended some great reads for the armchair traveler. Do you have a favorite travel book? Tell us which one and why below. Most compelling answer gets a surprise gadget from the annual Travel Goods Show, which took place in New Orleans in early March. On to your questions!

We purchased travel insurance for a European cruise for April, 2020. Our policy stated that our money would be refundable if the cruise line cancelled ( which it did). We received a form letter from AIG Travel Guard that “It is our policy that all premium refund requests must be submitted within 15 days of the effective date of the policy.” They are offering a travel insurance credit voucher that is good for 2 years. While we believe that the voucher offer for 2 years is generous, we prefer to have our money refunded. Your thoughts?

Have you requested a refund? Travel companies, like many other businesses, are trying to convince their clientele to take vouchers rather than refunds. Some are playing hardball, while others will refund when pushed. 

Before our new normal set in I had scheduled to be off from work on Thursday and Friday to spend the time visiting with a friend from Cali. She's canceled her trip and I'm still taking vacation time on Thursday and Friday, looking forward to a mental health break. Me, myself and I want to pack a picnic with my hand wipes and drive about two hours (each way from NoVA) and walk/hike, change the scenery. Thinking beaches, Gettysburg, Northern Neck, anything historical...What's accessible right now? Am I breaking protocol, will I be shamed by society?

We feel for you, we really do, but we have to follow the party line on this one: You should avoid non-essential travel. And remember that no facilities are open -- so no bathrooms.

Check out this recent Travel piece about driving outside town to hike (and why you shouldn't).

I booked a flight through Travelocity for late April on AA. I know it isn't going to happen, so I'm researching options to cancel everything. By logging into AA.com it says "Your Schedule Changed", and the new flight times don't work (I got no email about this). I know, I'm not going anyways, but if there had been no virus, I would not have accepted these changes (e.g., early AM to late PM). Also we have new flight numbers, which means our original flights were cancelled (right?). The AA website says we can "change" our flight (later) with no change fees, but nothing about refunds. Is changing departure times significantly and changing flight #s enough (normally) to insist on a refund? I'm uncomfortable waiting until 7 days/72 hours (what Travelocity requests) before my trip to take care of this. Next up, hoping the VRBO owner will be kind about a full refund...

The Transportation Department rules are clear. If your flight's canceled, you get a full refund within a week. But you would need to find out if the flight has been canceled (my guess is, it has been) and then call American to ask for a refund. You are not required to wait until a week before the flight.

My family has tickets on United to the Denver area for the end of April, and obviously cannot travel now. The family event we were going to attend will go ahead with about 5 locals. I don't want vouchers because we likely will not fly United in the next year (if they are still in business), so how do I get a refund to my credit card?

If United won't refund the money, you'll have to file a credit card dispute under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Contact your bank to initiate a chargeback. That's the topic of my next Navigator column. I'll be sure to include some useful strategies on enlisting your bank to retrieve your money.

When do you think we can start to book trips. Is it possible to book air tickets now at favourable rates?

You can book whenever you wish, but just make sure the booking has a flexible cancellation/rebooking policy or purchase insurance that includes Cancel for Any Reason.

Hello Travel Staff! I am looking ahead to whenever this virus subsides by planning a trip to NYC (if things calm down by the Fall), and thought I'd stay in an Air B&B. In looking at a few of them, I noticed under additional charges, some charge a damage deposit - some $500,$1,000. Is this normal? Have you heard any stories about hosts just keeping that deposit? I'll be traveling alone, won't be hosting any parties, and can probably contain my ice tea in a Corkcicle. Should I be concerned?

It's very typical for owners who rent their units via Airbnb and similar companies to require a security deposit. Some also offer an insurance policy in lieu of the deposit. Typically, a hold is placed on your credit card, and the hold is released before the next guest checks in. 

The side-splittingly hilarious, yet informative, travel books of novelist David Dodge. Inter alia, he and his wife and daughter lived in Mexico, Peru, and the Riviera (where he was researching the area in preparation for his best-known novel, "To Catch a Thief," which was turned into a hit film starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly). Also while in Europe, they took a harrowing road-trip to Turkey, encountering rough dirt roads along the way (especially in then-Yugoslavia). 

Thanks for the recommendation!

Hi - I bought a package to Hawaii from Costco to travel on April 3. I cancelled it last week by a form they posted on line. All of my "land" money was refunded (hotels, cars, etc.), but United would only provide vouchers. However, their policy states we have to travel one year from the date the ticket was issued. Flights for the four of us cost over 6K. Do I lose all of that money if we don't travel before that date? Can I divide the vouchers over several trips (i doubt we'll go to Hawaii now so it's unlikely we'll schedule a trip that costs that much). Thanks!!

I would ask United for a full refund. The airline's position is not supported by Department of Transportation rules.

Like Maryland did this morning? You can go out for food, health care related and whatever else the Commonwealth describes as essential in the order. Other than that, stay at home. Things are going exponential in the DMV.

Yes, the order has been issued. Stay home! 

Assuming the person has a fairly large capacity bladder, could s/he drive out skyline drive for the views and just drive back. Not get out of the car or do hiking, but just get a different view out of their car?

Yes, they can! I have been tempted to drive to the ocean, breathe in the salty ocean air, and drive back. But I would have to liquid fast for 24 hours before I could manage that.

Lufthansa cancelled our April 6 round-trip to Germany. We called the 800 number yesterday. The customer service people would tell us nothing. They said to call back in two weeks. Meanwhile, we had to pay for these $3600 (total cost for 2 people) premium economy tickets that are on our Visa bill that comes due April 1. We have always been fans of Lufthansa but are losing faith in them. If they cancel our flights, why is there no refund?

I would not mess around. If Lufthansa canceled and you're certain they won't offer a refund, file a chargeback on your credit card now.

I had a flight booked with AA later this month non-stop to DC to LA. They have changed it to a flight with connections that arrives 3 hours later. The "good" news is that I was planning on cancelling my trip, and I think this will require them to refund me my money. Any idea how to assure that I get my money back - aside from calling (which they don't want)? I don't want a voucher for future use. Thanks!

Yes, they definitely canceled your original flight. Contact the airline and ask for a full refund. Here's how to reach American Airlines.

We want to warn anyone thinking about buying a ticket through Expedia or Travelocity. You have 24 hours after purchase to cancel your ticket for a refund. After that, you are totally out of luck getting your money back -ever. Additionally, they do not respond to phone or email messages. Thankfully, when we did ours, for some unknown reason, I purchased insurance so hopefully we will get our money back. Never, ever again, no matter how cheap the price, will we ever do business with them again.

Thank you for the warning. Yes, under Department of Transportation rules, you have 24 hours to cancel. After that, regular refund rules apply.

I hold a security clearance so my chance of going to Cuba is non-existent. I loved Oscar Hijuelos's books for bringing Cuba to me!

I was inspired to travel by Frances Mayes' books. "Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy" gave my husband the idea to surprise me with my first trip to Europe after he came across my bookmarks on our shared computer. We found her house and several other places mentioned in the book. It was like a treasure hunt. More of her writing led us to Etruscan roads and tombs. Her knowledge and interpretation of Italian religious art inspired me to canvas tiny churches and monasteries far and wide. "Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy" sent us on the trail of Piero Della Francesca, to Arezzo, Urbino, Monterchi and Sansepulcro. All in all, seven trips to Italy inspired by her excellent writing. I will next be reading the 1988 novel "Summer's Lease," wherein the main character follows the artist's trail.

I absolutely love the late Peter Mayle’s tales of living in the South of France. “A Year in Provence” was so captivating that a few years ago we traveled to Provence. A dream come true!

Good thing I'm at home. "The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert" by Susan Brind Morrow is fantastic. Cover has blurbs from William Safire, Fareed Zakaria and Christopher Buckley, among others. She lived with nomads in the Red Sea Hills. A woman traveling alone, too. Bit of autobiography too. It is lovely. I should re-read.

My wife and I have tickets to London two weeks from now. We have not yet cancelled our flights, since, as noted by you all, it would be better for us if the airline beat us to it. My question is what sort of schedule change is sufficient to get a cancellation. We were on a flight from the hub city that offered a longer layover, but that flight no longer seems to exist, and as of yesterday we are now on a flight to London with a much shorter layover. I have gotten no schedule change notice from the airline, only noting the change when I looked up our flights myself. Would this be enough of a change to ask for a full refund, or am I still stuck with airline credits at this moment if/when I cancel? The question of exactly when to cancel (with two weeks to go, the decision is imminent) is also of note, and any overall advice would also be much appreciated. Thanks for all you do!

It depends on the airline. For example, with United, I believe it's a six-hour change in your arrival time. But you would have to be significantly delayed before you could ask for a refund.

Are airlines issuing cash refunds when they cancel one or both legs of a trip? United canceled my April 8 flight from Dulles to Lisbon. When I look at my roundtrip reservation online, I only see the return flight for April 25. What are my options, if any, for a cash refund for the entire R/T ticket (rather than a credit voucher) ? I don't even see anything on my United account as to how they will credit the cancelled outbound flight. 

ANSWER: ELLIOTTC

Airlines are strongly encouraging you to take a ticket credit. However, if they cancel a flight, you're owed a full refund. Here are some United Airlines contacts that might be helpful.

Because of the pandemic there is much uncertainty regarding when to book your first holiday for when it’s safe enough to travel again. What are the signs of recovery of the outbreak to place a booking for travel? When can we travel again without the potential of being infected?

 I'm guessing the first sign of recovery would be that far fewer people are getting infected and dying. Stay-at-home restrictions being lifted would also be a good omen. But until a vaccine is invented and everyone gets it, there will be a chance of infection. 

Delta Airlines cancelled the first leg of a layover of my round trip ticket. Am I entitled to a full refund of the entire round trip ticket or just the first leg portion? I don't want to have to settle for credit or rebooking.

If you booked both legs on the same ticket or itinerary, then yes, you can get a refund for the entire round-trip reservation. If you booked two one-ways, then no.

Will travel insurance change to include repatriation at reasonable prices, as a result of the Coronavirus?

No, the only way you would be repatriated at the travel insurance company's expense is if you die while traveling. Most insurance covers that.

Do I need to cancel a vacation to the Baltic states at the end of this summer?

We don't know, but recommend you wait for as long as you possibly can before making the decision.

What’s your day to day life when things are largely shut down? How are your kids doing?

We're doing fine, thank you for asking. The lockdown is severe in France. We're only allowed to leave the apartment for one hour a day to buy groceries or exercise. There are police checkpoints and an 8 p.m. curfew. The kids are busy with their lessons and I've become a full-time coronavirus reporter. I miss Arizona but it doesn't look like I'll be back there any time soon. On a personal note, I look forward to our travel chats every Monday. Talking to my friends has become the highlight of my week.

In response to several questions last week, you indicated that if an airline cancels flights, the traveler is owed a refund. Air France canceled my trip and is offering a voucher which will become refundable after one year if not used. Their website says “Please note that flight cancellations linked to the coronavirus (Covid-19) are considered to be due to extraordinary circumstances, therefore exempting airlines from paying compensation.” Is this correct? Is it different for domestic and foreign airlines?

Some airlines have refused to issue timely refunds. Whether they will be forced to do so is still to come. Perhaps bailout monies should be tied to timely refunds. If you purchased your air tickets via credit card during the past 60 days, it's worth disputing. But many people purchase their air tickets months before travel. 

I can’t imagine flying on a full plane after this pandemic. Do you think airlines will stop selling tickets for middle seats and leave them as buffers? I’d be willing to pay about a third more.

Some airlines are already assigning passenger seating to avoid them having to sit next to someone. So a lot of us still flying can avoid the dreaded middle seat.

Booked through a travel agent, I have a KLM flight out of SFO to Rome with a stopover in Amsterdam on April 15. So far, the flight has not been canceled. My ticket is nonrefundable, but under the circumstances I hope they cancel the flight and refund my money. As of now the one-time “refund” they’re offering is a voucher, which I have to use by mid-Nov, when I originally bought my ticket. My questions: If they cancel the flight, would I be eligible for a refund to my credit card, as it seems I would be on a US-owned carrier? Should I apply for the refund and notify my credit card company at the same time, or do one before the other?

Yes, if the flight is cancelled, you are eligible for a refund. You can't request the refund until the flight is cancelled. If the airline refuses to give you a refund, you can then contact your credit card company to dispute the charge, but only if you've made the purchase in the past 60 days. 

Help, I haven't been able to convince my husband that a out-of-state camping trip next week is a bad idea. He found an open campground and nothing that I say deters him. He thinks that there'd be little or no interaction with people at gas stations, drive throughs, grocery stores, hiking or bicycling. Thanks!

Just hit him with the hard facts; Experts expect 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. The government is telling everyone to avoid non-essential travel. And even if you don't run into many people at a gas station or grocery store, all it takes is one virus-positive person to pass it on to you or your husband. If you must camp, pitch a tent in your backyard or living room. Don't risk it. If we all follow the rules, we will be camping, and traveling soon enough.

(If that fails, hide one of the tent poles!)

Our planned European River Cruise with Gate1 was cancelled. Lufthansa flights were cancelled, as well. We contacted Lufthansa about a refund and they indicated that since they were paid by Gate1 the refund would have to be issued by Gate1. Called Gate1 and they said I had to call Lufthansa, which of course we had already done.. Gate1 claims Lufthansa is blocking the refunds. I am sensing a runaround. I think that Gate1 Is in need of cash. Do you have any advice? I am assembling a paper trail. I want the air refund that we are due!

Please keep a paper trail. I can help with this one. Here's how to contact me.

Last July 2019, we purchased a r/ tickets for a IAD-AMS flight for a planned trip in May 2020. The trip has been cancelled due to the world's current pandemic situation. In reviewing United Airlines refund/voucher policy last week, it seems as though they're only offering the opportunity to change/re-book with no change fees or a voucher to use within 12 months of the original purchase date. To me this is a little unfair and short-sighted, as many travelers book early and as soon as the international date is available (usually 330 days in advance) to book to get the best deal. In this case only allowing 12 months from the purchase date isn't realistic. First, we still may not be able to travel internationally in early Jul 2020. Secondly, although my original trip has been pushed out til late 2021, I could possibly use the ticket for another planned international trip but that isn't til late Apr 2021, 9 months after my voucher expires. Yes, I have travel insurance but as we know many won't pay for an pandemic. Thoughts?

I would push for a refund, as long as United canceled your flight. You should not have to figure out how to use a voucher you never wanted.

I have a flight in June, after most airlines are doing waivers. There’s been a schedule change (there’s a connection and now both flights leave at the same time, but from two different airports). So I know I can call and get a refund. What I want to know is, should I call now and get this done, or are airlines still reckoning with all sorts of things and I should wait. The reason for the trip has been canceled so I definitely don’t want to go. The only reason I have for calling now vs later is in case they make another schedule change that makes this ticket workable again.

Airlines are asking travelers to call only if they are scheduled to fly within the next 72 hours. However, you should be able to cancel online. I just cancelled an American flight online.

British Airways contacted me about an upcoming trip. They offered a voucher, to be used within a year... I sure hope I get to use it. No question, just a comment that they reached out a month ahead of the trip.

Thank you.

I'm not sure asking for a credit card charge back will help. The flight is still operating so service has not been denied (one of the requirements of a charge back) Changing your mind is not covered. I'm seeing 'credit card chargeback' as the answer to a lot of travel problems at the moment and a lot of people will be dissapointed when their credit card company says 'no' because the reason for the request is not covered.

No, you can only get a full refund if the flight is canceled by the airline. That's absolutely correct.

I understand people are getting antsy being stuck inside, but a stay at home order is just that. Do not take a trip for "non-essential" travel, even if it's just a trip to the beach or woods for air. You are not entitled to an exception from that order just because you feel like it. Imagine if everyone didn't obey the order. So, stay put.

 I am not the best about staying put, but I agree with you. Let's suck it up for now, so we can have a later full of travel and exploration.

If you're in the greater DC area, drive down to the Potomac River. A quick round trip shouldn't be too rough on your bladder.

Excellent idea! A friend in Chicago is "traveling through her window." She is looking at the architecture outside her window and researching the buildings' histories.

Hi - I booked a trip with a tour company, and they notified me, 'good news, we negotiated with our hotels and airlines, and we have rescheduled the trip for next may", same dates, only a year out. No option for credit or refund. I have insurance, but not cancel for any reason, however now my new trip is not covered, I guess. Do I get new insurance and cancel for any reason? This company is not being as generous as others, just take it or leave it basically.

I would take a look at your contract. What does it say under refunds? Are there any provisions for a cancellation by the suppliers? If so, you may be able to argue for a full refund.

VRBO host cancelled reservation and is keeping all money including cleaning fee. Host says it is all government fault, no refunds, no credits. VRBO says they will only refund taxes (host tried to keep these too) and VRBO fees. All of this is painful enough but at a minimum, VRBO should require cleaning fee refund. Why would anyone book with VRBO again?

Huh? If the host cancels, you should receive a full refund. I'd like to take a look at your case. Could you send me details? Here's how to reach me.

I have a trip planned to California 4/13. My state has a shelter in place order effective today through 4/29. Does that help with getting a refund from an airlines? Plus I am in a higher risk group (age). Thanks!

Not really. Your airline would have to cancel your flight to receive a full refund.

For those asking about refunds of airline tickets, don't many major airlines have online forms for requesting refunds? Going online is vastly preferable to sitting on hold for hours. But if you do submit an online form, take a screen shot before you click "Submit,"; you should receive a confirming email, but I'm not sure all airlines do that.

You're absolutely right. If you can do it online, you'll save a lot of time. Definitely take a screen shot. Calling is a huge waste of time. But if you have to call, wait until 2 a.m. when the phone lines are less busy.

I don't see how the DoT rules will help your poster Has UA cancelled the flights? If not then no refund. If they have then yes they can have a refund. It's not clear from the post what has happened.

You're right. If United canceled the flight, then a refund is due. If not, then the OP has to deal with the current refund policy.

But Chris, are you still able to get baguettes and croissants?

Mais oui!

Just remember it is illegal in NYC so caveat emptor.

Short-term, unhosted rentals in buildings with more than two units are not permitted. 

I was scheduled to fly to Lisbon on Delta (using miles), and they were great. None of this "have a voucher" stuff - miles back in my account, taxes refunded, and no fee for the process

Yay! Finally a story with a Hollywood ending.

I am curious on your hunch, going forward. Can you see where airlines may, just may, give customers the respect we deserve? Wider seats, more leg room, etc. I base my hopes on them being humbled by this entire experience.

Don't hold your breath. I've been hearing from airline employees who say they'll take that government money and keep on doing what they've been doing.

I may be only dreaming about future travel, but I'm actively reliving the past and really enjoying it. I typed up my scrawled travel diary notes and sorted thru photos from a Highlands expedition four years ago. Next step, designing the album.

That's a great idea! I'm trying to make a gallery wall in my apartment now and am also looking through travel pictures to hang. Anyone else doing something fun to re-live past travels?

Hi, thanks for taking questions. I have a deposit on a VRBO in Barcelona for a June trip. If I cancel the reservation before the full amount of the rental is charged on my credit card, I lose the deposit. If the full charge goes through (late April) but I cancel any time prior to the two week period before the reservation date I will get a full refund. Do you think I should cancel now, lose the deposit but not risk the full charge, or wait. I will deal with the airlines closer to my (alleged) departure date. I am in a high risk group due to age and really don't want to lose a large chunk of change but if I do, well I do. Thanks!

I've been getting a lot of Vrbo complaints in the last two days. If this were my decision, I'd cancel now. Don't let the full charge go through because the owner could decide to keep your money. By the way, you can still ask for a refund on your deposit. Here are some Vrbo contacts.

A couple right in the prime demographic for COVID-19, 71 and 69. Health is good. We have a two-week cruise around the British Isles leaving in early July. Purchased Princess' high-end cruise insurance and our air travel is award miles with United. Any thoughts on go/no-go greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Wait to make a final decision. I'd also read the fine print of that insurance policy now. United has only offered to refund award miles for flights through May 31, so you'd definitely want to wait on that. 

Months ago, I booked round trip tickets to Hawaii in June on United Airlines. Right now Hawaii has multiple areas on lockdown, plus a 14-day self quarantine for anyone arriving. That kind of blows my planned 2 1/2 week vacation. United airlines policies keep changing on refunds. I know you can't give me an answer, and it's too early to try to reach them, but I'm just venting. Thank you.

Thanks for venting. Remember, if they cancel the flight, you get a full refund!

"Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy" chronicles author Helene Stapinski's trips to Italy to find out whether family stories are true: was her great-great grandmother a murderer? A great book that my book club will discuss when we can all get together again.  

From my college days, the Carlos Castaneda books for all kinds of different traveling!

While it's not exactly a travel book, my sister and I went to Bali after the publication of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia." We visited the healer, Wayan, and spent the day having her healing treatments. It was very interesting including having hot lemons rubbed over our skin, some kind of leaves and maybe even some mud. There were a few other tourists there doing the Eat, Pray, Love circuit. We loved Bali but I don't ever have to go back for those healing treatments.

Hello! In January, my family (four of us total, two kids) scheduled a trip to Costa Rica for Spring Break. The trip is obviously cancelled -- Costa Rica isn't even allowing foreign visitors in until mid April. I also read that American Airlines has cancelled all flights to Costa Rica until early May. But when I search my flight on American's website, it says our flight is still scheduled. Any idea what's going on? Are airlines waiting until the day of the flight to cancel their flights, to avoid having to provide a refund? I know the airlines are hurting, and I would normally be fine with a flight credit. But I'm not confident we'd be able to travel later this year (American's credit needs to be used by 12/31). Plus, since we booked the flight through Costco Travel, Costco told us we would have to tie the flight to a vacation package through them. I really don't see us going to a resort anytime soon. Thank you.

Wait till the flight date gets closer. American has announced that it is suspending flights to Costa Rica through May 6, so the flight will be cancelled. You should be eligible for a refund when that happens. 

Looks like our hour is up, thanks for chatting today, everyone! Frances Mayes reader, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize (and know that we will mail it as soon as we are able). Join us again next week for more Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Helen Carefoot
Helen Carefoot is Travel's editorial assistant.
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