Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Jun 01, 2020

The chat is canceled in observance of the holiday, but will return June 1. Join us to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc.!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel! This week, a veteran of the Pacific Crest Trail wrote about how the 2,653-mile trek prepared him for life under quarantine. Have you hiked all or part of the PCT or a similarly epic trail? Tell us what you took away from the experience below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of "Tokyo Travel Sketchbook: Kawaii Culture, Wabi Sabi Design, Female Samurais and Other Obsessions," by illustrator and graphic designer Amaia Arrazola.

Before we get going, I want to once again share the link for the Post's coronavirus live blog, which is continuously updated with the latest developments. You can also sign up here for the Post's Coronavirus Updates newsletter; all stories linked in the newsletter are free to access. 

On to your questions!

My wife and I booked a European cruise on Viking to depart in April it was canceled due to Coronavirus. We took the “voucher option’ and rebooked the same cruise to depart August 27. This cruise has now been canceled. I have ALS and my health has deteriorated to the point I cannot plan on taking a future cruise. They (Viking) have had our money ($9K) since December 2019. We want a cash refund. They are only offering us a voucher. This is foul play. Yes—we did purchase Travel Insurance (thru Viking) for BOTH cruises. Please advise! TYVM!  

Try reaching out to one of these executive contacts at Viking. If that doesn't work, please let me know.

Good afternoon and thanks as always for this chat. I wrote in about my success in getting an American Airlines refund (in large part because of your good information) and about getting a full refund of my deposit on an apartment in Barcelona. I am happy to report that Iberia Air is processing my refund for my flight. They canceled it. It was tedious to get to a live rep, and even she was pushing for either rebooking or a voucher. But I persisted in requesting my refund. It may take a month despite the DOT rule but according to the rep they are overwhelmed. I can be gracious on that point but will call again in two weeks to check on the status. Again, I would not have known to request the refund or persist in the process but for you all. Thanks! And stay safe.

So glad it all worked out!

My husband and I scheduled our first big trip alone together in almost 30 years of marriage for October 2020. We are scheduled to fly to Switzerland, take the Bernina Express to Lake Como, then on to Rome to visit family, and finally, Malta. Obviously we don't know what anything will be like then, but we do know our passports expire in August. We had filled out our paperwork and were all set to send them off when the State Department stopped processing everything but emergency renewals. Any idea when they might resume? Or advice?

You're right, the State Department page for your passport status is not helpful. I don't know when processing will resume. It could be several months before they start processing passports again, according to the government. I wonder if there are any chatters who work over at State who know more?

While I was on vacation, courtesy of coronavirus, my flight home was cancelled. I booked a new flight home (because I still had to get home) and, as per the email I received from Cathay Pacific, I called Travelocity to get my refund. That was February 27th. They told me it would take a little while. On May 2nd I realized I still hadn't seen anything about the refund, so I went onto Travelocity's help chat and learned that Travelocity sent a request for the refund to Cathay Pacific in February, but had never heard back. I explained that they needed to follow up. I simultaneously called Cathay Pacific who clearly (and in a yelling manner) told me that I shouldn't call because only Travelocity could call. I've since had 3 more help chats with Travelocity because they've never sent me any communication and according to them the ticket is with Cathay Pacific and therefore Travelocity can't give me a refund until Cathay Pacific talks to them. It's now been 3 months, 1 call to Cathay Pacific and 4 chats with Travelocity and I'm getting the run around. Any suggestions for how to break through the logjam and get my refund?

I'm sorry to hear about that. Try one of these Travelocity (Expedia) executive contacts. If that doesn't do the trick, please contact me directly.

Fun photo idea, but why the need to add age to describe someone? Why not their profession or where they live? Just wondering.

It is The Post's style to include age, and we do include their home city and state or country. That is essential to the piece -- to know the location of their window.

Just a "good news" story -- I was on a Delta flight in early May, and along with several other passengers discovered when we boarded that Delta had accidentally failed to socially distance seats in first class (Delta had said on its website that it was blocking every other first class seat, and all window seats). Delta apologized for the snafu and put half of us from first class in comfort plus. I emailed Delta afterwards to ask for a refund for the fare difference - Delta just responded and said that it was not only refunding me but giving me a voucher for several hundred dollars. Nice customer service! And a reason I keep flying Delta rather than less service oriented airlines like American and United, which also are not practicing social distancing.

What a happy surprise. Another chatter is struggling to reach Delta. Hopefully your story will give them hope!

In 2016, I hiked from the general area of Roanoke, VA, up to the end of the trail in Maine, roughly 1500 out of 2100+/- miles. Seven months. Seven sometimes frustrating, sometimes wonderful, always amazing and challenging months. There was me, and whatever I could carry on my back, but most importantly, there were the people I encountered - both fellow hikers, trail angels who eased the journey by providing unusual and unexpected kindnesses along the way and there was the trail, through VA, WV, MD, PA, NJ, NY, CT, MA, VT, NH, and ME. It changed me, stripped away the bitter, cynical shell I had cultivated up to that point. In another, COVID-free universe, I would be just returned from hiking the portion through Georgia. That was my goal over the Memorial Day week. Hopefully I'll get back to do it in September... (Wow, this was long. Apologies. You hit my typing button.)

Thanks for sharing your story!

In November 2019, I booked an airfare to Hawaii on the United Airlines website, and paid extra for Travel Insurance, also on their website. UA cancelled my flight and I eventually got a refund for the airfare. I found the email from Nov. 2019 confirming my purchase of the travel insurance, and replied to it, requesting a refund. I got a response the same day promising a refund. Please remind people that they need to make a separate request for this.

So noted! Thank you. (By the way, the refund should be automatic. By not automating it, companies save millions.)

I read Christopher Elliott’s story of his “escape from France,” on Forbes, and came away a bit confused about Medjet Horizon. My husband and I spend half the year in France and are on the French healthcare system, and Medicare and Medigap at home in the US. Let’s say we have enrolled in the MedJet Horizon assistant program that you mentioned was so good at getting you and your kids home from Nice. If one or both of us become ill or injured and want to go home, my question is, who pays for the journey? In reading MedJet’s rules & regs, I see one small sentence: “Medjet is a membership program and not an insurance plan; Medjet will not reimburse members for expenses they incur on their own.” What does this mean? Will the member be responsible to pay for the repatriation—plane fare, cost of accompanying nurse, spouse— themselves, while Medjet only makes the arrangements? I’m not sure what “expenses they incur on their own” means. Should one have repatriation insurance on top of the Medjet Horizon coverage? PS: To Christopher Elliott... Congratulations on getting home safely and without illness. I hope you are able to continue the journey with your kids when this is all over.

Thanks for the feedback. Here's my story in the Post about getting out of France. I actually had this conversation with Medjet (FocusPoint) before I left. Basically, it means you can't book a ticket or hotel room and then ask for reimbursement, as you would with insurance. They have to make all the arrangements for you.

Wanted to share a bit of GOOD news... I filed my Global Entry / Pre-Check renewal application on Monday night, and just received the approval message. Two days, start to finish, and now I'm set until 2024! (For those of you who will need to renew soon, the original GOES site has been replaced by the Trusted Traveler Program website, so you'll need to set up a new login & password to access your account.

Amazing news! Thank you for sharing.

When is international travel, especially to Europe, expected to start up?

Most countries are not yet welcoming U.S. residents. The E.U. has restrictions through at least June 15. Individual countries are also handling travel restrictions differently. Greece may be one of the first to open up: It's planning to welcome visitors sometime in July. France and Italy are not yet offering any firm plans. You may want to come up with a list of countries you would like to visit and then investigate restrictions for each one.

I've been staying home for the past three months but I really want to get away for a couple days. I have a friend out in the country who lives alone and works from home, as I do. My state government (VA) has had us limiting non-essential travel and staying home, but with things opening back up, can we travel at all? I don't want to go to a crowded resort or restaurants, just go visit a friend in a socially distant manner, like sitting outside at least six feet apart. It seems that if I can get together with people here in groups of 10 or less while being socially distant, I should be able to do that after a four hour drive.

The stay-at-home order has been lifted in Northern Virginia, so travel is now allowed. 

I booked a 3 night stay at a hotel in Tela, Honduras in March. On the second day of our stay we had to leave as the government was beginning to shut down the country and the beaches closed. I requested a refund through hotels.com and they contacted the hotel who denied the refund. Hotels.com said that's all they can do. Besides never using hotels.com again, is there anything else I can do?

You can file a credit card dispute.

If no one answers on the chat, poster can call his senator or rep's local office. They are supposed to help constituents.

Great idea.

Now that travel restrictions have been lifted along the Delaware and Maryland shores, would you recommend trying to vacation at a local beach destination? What factors should we be considering?

I'm in Ocean City, Md. now. It's fairly busy, but we've been able to find adequate space at the beach. Restaurants are offering outdoor dining, but we've stuck to take-out, which has worked out well. We're not going to the boardwalk, but others are. Retail establishments are open, with limited capacity. Pools can open, but not all have yet, as staffing is an issue (many lifeguards typically come from Eastern Europe, and they aren't here this year). Very few people are wearing masks outdoors, but indoor use, such as grocery stores, has been high. As for hotels and motels, they are mostly open. June is typically not as busy as July and August and it's been very cool here, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes out in a few weeks. 

Will try to make this short! Booked $4,000 worth of Lufthansa tickets through Amex Travel. Lufthansa canceled flights, but Amex Travel said Lufthansa had to refund me. Lufthansa said I was owed a refund, but Amex Travel had to process it. Amex Travel then agreed to do the cancellation and told me to wait 2 billing cycles. That passed with no refund, so I called back and Amex Travel is now telling me I have airline credit rather than a refund and there's nothing they can do about it. I submitted a DOT complaint a week ago, but have only received the automated confirmation. My questions are: 1. Was contacting DOT the right thing to do? 2. What kind of response should I expect (and when)? 3. If that doesn't work, should my next step be to dispute the charges with my credit card or should I try to go back to the airline?

That was the right call. You've been more than patient. Once DOT gets involved, you should expect a quick refund. If not, please let me know and I'll get involved. Here's how to contact me.

Hello. I made an advance pre-paid reservation at the Clarion Hotel Admiral in Bergen, Norway, on February 16th. The reservation (booking number 42291393) was for June 22nd to the 29th, at a total cost of 11,739 kroner, or $1,272.64. Due to the current pandemic, visitors from the U.S. are forbidden to enter Norway until at least the middle of August. I contacted the hotel to cancel my reservation. They said to contact Nordic Choice hotels, with whom I made the initial reservation. Nordic Choice hotels refused to refund my pre-payment, stating that it was non-refundable. They offered me a voucher for a stay within the next eleven months, which I cannot use. Everyone else has been very understanding about the situation. I have received refunds from all other hotels, airlines, and boat trips. Even those that were non-refundable. I have contacted my credit card bank to try to resolve this, but I don't hold out much hope. Do you have any suggestions?

I think you credit card company might help. You are not able to reach your hotel because of a force majeure event. Everyone in the tourism industry is invoking force majeure, and for all kinds of reasons. If your credit card company doesn't help, please let me know. I will do my best to assist.

It is looking more and more like I need to head across the country to help my elderly father deal with some things. It's a 4 hour flight or a two day drive. Honestly, I don't know which is less risky. I can probably isolate from him for a week when I get there, but it isn't guaranteed. We're still looking for another option, but any hints on how to choose fly vs. drive if I end up having to do this.

I don't think one is inherently safer than the other, and there are some risks associated with either one. It's more about how you approach it. Planning is key. If you will drive, bring your own food or use drive-throughs and when you stop at rest areas, sanitize contact surfaces and wash your hands. Stay at motels where you won't need to use a busy elevator. If you fly, try to book a flight that isn't full. Stay as far away from people as possible in the airport. And no matter how you travel, wear a mask whenever you are around others. 

Just a heads-up to everyone to look very carefully at airline websites when booking. We were looking for possible travel in August for a family member. Delta's website had a decent round-trip fare of around $575, which was changeable but non-refundable. The also showed a fully refundable fare of $750, which seemed reasonable. When I clicked on it and looked at the fare total, to my horror, they had added the $750 to the $575 for a total fare of $1325! A word to the wise, look before you book!

Thanks for the warning.

Hi - I know you stated previously that we should wait to request a refund until the airline cancels the flight. How far in advance have airlines been canceling flights during the pandemic? We currently hold reservations on Easy Jet (June 16) and TAP Portugal (6/20) and no word yet. Thanks!

If they haven't canceled yet, there's a pretty good chance they'll be flying. Have you looked up the flights online to see if they're still operating?

See today's Travelers United column. It answer's the question. 

Thank you.

It was the early 2000’s when we did two hiking trips in New Zealand with our kids—and neither was the famous Milford Track. The first was a self-guided hike on the Kaikoura Coast Track where we hiked hills, coastlines and farmland and overnighted with local families. The second was a small-group guided hike on the Hollyford Track which was a hike from the mountains to the sea and included a jetboat ride on a lake, glow worm sighting at night and viewing seals on a remote beach. These two hikes were amazing because of the scenery and the lack of other hikers—unlike the more famous treks in NZ. We and our kids will never forget them.

Great recommendations (and tip) -- thanks!

My husband and I have been debating summer plans for awhile. I had thought we could wait a bit because I want to make sure COVID doesn't get worse, but once I went on VRBO and AirBnB I was very surprised by how booked up things were. We were looking at lakes in the mountains so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised. Not sure how beach towns or big summer tourist areas are faring, but if you want a cabin in the woods start planning now!

Yes, domestic vacations -- and vacation rentals -- are going to have a big summer. The ones that survived the pandemic, that is.

Hi! I booked a hotel in Bergen, Norway (Clarion Hotel Admiral) for the dates 22 to 29 June. Unfortunately, Norway is closed to visitors from the U.S. until at least mid-August. I have been trying to contact Nordic Choice Hotels for over a week by telephone and by on-line chat, with no luck. The phone lines are constantly busy, and the chat line is off line. I would like to cancel my reservation, and obtain a refund of $1,273.00. What would you recommend? Thank you.

Have you tried emailing them? That may work best. You'll want to read their most recent missive regarding cancellations. 

I purchased a round trip on SAS from Dulles, July 9 departure. So far, SAS is only offering a voucher, not refund. Cannot tell if the flight is cancelled. On the SAS website, I tried booking a new flight requesting the same itinerary, same dates, and booking is not available. Does this mean the flight is cancelled and they are not disclosing that? How do I find out?

Your best bet is to wait to be notified that the flight is cancelled. It's still more than a month out, so much can change between now and then. 

We want to go to Munich to see our new grandchild in June. We have enough points to get to London or Frankfurt very cheaply, but then would need to transfer to another flight (or train, in the case of Frankfurt). If we transfer in London, will we have to go through the arrivals process, which currently would call for us to quarantine 14 days? Of course, this is assuming we'll be allowed to enter Germany at all--and we will be getting tested before getting near the baby.

As it stands now, you will not need to quarantine for 14 days if you are transferring to a flight to Germany at Heathrow. Through at least June 15, you would have to quarantine in Germany for at least 14 days upon arrival. 

Hi there - thanks in advance for the help. I have called Delta early morning for 4 days, and each time the recording tells me that they can't take my call as volumes are too high. They canceled my flight (scheduled for a couple of weeks ago) and gave me an e-credit. I understand my rights require them to refund me, correct? How do I ask (demand) my refund if I cannot even get in the help queue? Is there an escalation path? My ticket was in excess of $1500 so I want to get the refund to which I'm entitled. thanks for the help!

You might try late night or early morning if you need to get through by phone. Or you could email one of these Delta executive contacts.

Hi and thanks for continuing your chats! My family’s flight to London on Virgin Atlantic was cancelled. I tried calling to get my refund but kept getting disconnected or told to text message. I texted and found an email but only got automated responses. It’s been about 10 days. I know they are busy but not sure how much time to wait to get a response? Of course if it take a voucher there are online options but we would like a refund as we aren’t sure when we can travel again. What would be your advice on how long to keep trying vs. contacting the credit card company?

I would contact your credit card company and have them fight the good fight but continue calling them as well. Try every available channel, including email and social media. Good luck!

If you HAD to travel across the country at some point this summer, would you do it by car (38 hour drive) or flight (9 hour flight with layover)? And what would be your point that would make you feel like it was time to go? I need to start cleaning out a deceased relative's house, and there is no one else to do it. Unfortunately, there are no good options to get there from here.

As I said in a previous response to a similar question, it's more how you approach the trip. Planning is key. If you live with someone who could drive with you, that might be a better choice, as you could minimize the number of nights in a motel by driving more hours in a day. But if you're alone, flying may make more sense. 

I haven't hiked the PCT nor do I plan to. my husband would like to though -- he has been planning it for a bit. We live in Portland, OR -- so well, it is *right there* (Okay, maybe we did a bit in some hikes we have done at some point). We did meet someone a few years ago who was hiking through and stopped in portland for a few days. My role will be to send the food and supplies along the way to my husband so he can do it. It's a big commitment.

Sounds like a vital role to me! 

I haven't flown since the pandemic took hold so I'm curious when you approach the TSA agent with your drivers license are you supposed to take off your mask so they can see that the picture and your face match? If not, doesn't this just expose once again that the whole TSA shakedown is more theater the security.

You can keep your mask on but TSA officers can ask you to lower it if they can't fully ID you. You don't have to fully remove it, though. You can pull it down to show your face. You can also ask them to put on new gloves if you are not comfortable with them touching your ID with an old pair.

Italy seems to be opening back up (just read that the Vatican Museums opened today after being closed for months)...but what about to U.S. travelers? Is a two week quarantine required for summer visitors, or doesn't anyone know that yet?

Italy is not open to visitors from the United States and has not indicated when that will occur. 

I'm going nuts indoors. Can you guys list a couple of the least popular national parks where we might go hiking and camping in the foreseeable future without encountering hordes of people? Thanks!

I would check out the Potomac Appalachian Trails Club for ideas. You can also try some of the known hiking spots like Harpers Ferry, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and Shenandoah National Park, but choose trailheads that aren't packed with cars.

I see a prior poster had a good news Delta story, where he/she contacted the airline via email. There is no contact email on the website. Can you share how you contacted them for a refund? I have had no luck getting through via phone. Thanks!

Delta chatter, do you have an email address for the airline you can share? Thanks!

I may be traveling to MA in late June. Do you have advice on which trip insurance to use? The place where I'm booking my reservation offers it, but wasn't sure what other vetted options there might be.

Web sites to compare policies include InsureMyTrip, SquareMouth and QuoteWright

It sounds like quite a number of refund problems involve travelers who booked through Expedia, Travelocity etc. rather than directly? Is that your experience? Is that an argument for using the third party sites for information, then booking directly? I had always thought that having the third party on your side in a dispute with a hotel or airline would be an advantage, but maybe it's not.

Travelers have been struggling across the board but it is easier working directly with the hotel or airline. I think many travelers might think twice before booking with an online travel agent.

So at a time when you can't travel, what do travel writers and editors do instead?

Apparently you have missed the last 11 or so weeks of travel articles in our section, both print and online.

Hey there - Delta chatter with "good news" story here . Best way to get through is to fill out the comment/complaint form politely and with all information and a contact for you. Took about 21 days for Delta to respond but they did and very thoroughly

Thanks!

My ex-husband lives in Idaho, and our 3 children (ages 10,12, and 13) are supposed to be heading out there for their 6 week summer stay with him (they already missed their 2 weeks over spring break, due to obvious reasons). Normally they would fly out, but with coronavirus, there are reduced flights. If they fly, it will now be an all day affair, with at least 1 and likely 2 layovers. Our youngest is on the spectrum, and while he has done ok with wearing a mask for short periods of time, I think the likelihood of him keeping it on for basically 12 hours straight without having a total breakdown is about zero. I'm also worried about them flying as it seems with only 1 or 2 flights a day going to this particular destination, the flight might be close to full. So that leaves driving. It is a LONG drive, and I don't know anyone I could have go with me (ex runs a business, and can't take off to fly out and then drive with me, even if I didn't think we could get along for that long of a drive), so I would be driving by myself. While in normal times I might try to turn it into a fun road trip, stopping at interesting places along the way, now I'm just worried about where we would stop to go to the bathroom, eat, and sleep over a 4-5 day span. Not sending them is, unfortunately, not an option (legally), so which do I choose?

I would suggest driving, but could your ex meet you halfway and drive the second leg?

Regardless, plot your route out very well, including restaurants with outdoor seating and parks for picnics. Hotels, especially big chains, are following protocols recommended by the CDC, but call in advance to ask about their measures. Request a ground level floor to avoid elevators. Also bring lots of food, drinks, sanitizing wipes and masks. Good luck!

 

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting everyone! New Zealand hiker, 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 back in the office.) Join us 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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