After months and hours of fighting tooth and nail, we have managed to close the loop on all of our outstanding claims for refunds with airlines and hotels! We ended up pretty lucky by not losing lots of money and ending up stuck with a bunch of travel vouchers that would be difficult to use based on how things are going these days. In the end, we’ve been surprised, beyond thankful, and also disappointed about all of it and have learned some valuable lessons for the future. Find out more about our experience below.
The worst airline: Copa Airlines
We had booked one-way tickets from CTG – Cartagena (Columbia) to LIR – Liberia (Costa Rica) with a stop in PTY – Panama for April 2020. We decided to wait for the notification of the cancellation to request a refund as based on the tariffs, we would be entitled to get our money back because they cancelled the flights. As expected, they denied the claim for a refund and offered us a travel voucher for use before December 2020 which was not suitable for us at all. We then decided to submit a claim through our American Express Platinum’s travel insurance and hoped for the best….some 2 months later, after them dropping the ball, it was declined because we were offered a voucher. Our last resort was to submit a request for a charge back through American Express and thankfully that worked! We are happy to report that Copa has since amended their policy to something better but at this point, we wanted the money back since we are not sure if Copa will survive this and question how this airline operates a whole based on our experience with their customer service. Copa now offers a travel voucher for the same route, at no cost, based on availability, until December 31, 2021 or a voucher with 20% more value.
The most surprising: LATAM Airlines
We had booked one-way saver fares that were the cheapest of the surprisingly expensive option of flying from BOG – Bogota (Columbia) to CTG – Cartagena (Columbia) for April 2020. We once again waited for notification that our flight was cancelled to submit a refund request. We were not expecting too much since LATAM had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but within 4 weeks, we had received a refund for the 2 tickets, minus $15. We are unsure what the $15 fee was for but we decided to accept it without further questions/complaints. Of all the airlines we had claims with, this one was the least likely to be refunded based on our perception.
The most annoying: Air Canada (Aeroplan)
As Aeroplan more or less becomes part of Air Canada and less of a separate entity (its been a complicated relationship for years….together, separate, affiliate, together…), the bounds of who is responsible for what becomes blurry. Overall, we have appreciated the generous policies offered by Aeroplan and Air Canada but have had to follow-up and spend way too much time speaking to agents over the phone because their online request system doesn’t appear to work very well. We submitted requests to have the points and fees for our tickets to travel from YVR – Vancouver (Canada) to BOG – Bogota (Columbia) via LAX – Los Angeles refunded. Some 6 weeks after submitting the request, still nothing. It took numerous phone calls to get it sorted due to a glitch with their computer and did not appreciate the “don’t call us because we are so busy and don’t have time to talk to you and since the wait time is so long we will hang up on you” automated message that we heard way too often. That being said, we still plan to use Air Canada/Aeroplan in the future; the changes we predicted happened but there are some positive surprises to the program too.
The most helpful: Alaska Airlines
Considering we have top tier status with Alaska Airlines, it was no surprise that they would be helpful, accommodating, and quick to answer our calls about rewards and paid tickets. Like Air Canada/Aeroplan, we did experience some frustrations with our bookings but they were resolved in a timely manner and Alaska was quick to process refunds for that were applicable and went above and beyond to refund other fees that they didn’t need to from our understanding. In addition to paid tickets, we had rewards tickets booked on Fiji Airways, Japan Airlines, Emirates, Condor and British Airways.
We did encounter two issues with Alaska Airlines though. One issue was that some of the funds in our wallet would only be applicable to new reservations, not changing existing ones that would be more expensive. The second issue is that we did end up losing one segment on a Companion Fare. We are hopeful we will get to fly Alaska again in the future since they extended our status and our lounge access into 2021.
The easiest: Hotels
As much as we want to save money and book the cheapest rates, especially at more expensive hotels, we have learned the hard way that you can lose a lot of money, especially when your flight is cancelled and you get there a few days late which is why we usually book flexible rates. That being said, pre-COVID, hotels were implementing harsher and less flexible terms making it more difficult to deal with last minute cancellations. Thankfully, we were able to cancel all the hotels we booked with points and cash for refunds. Most of our hotels were booked with Marriott Bonvoy and the others through Cheaptickets.
In addition to feeling bummed about cancelling so many trips, it was a bit of pain to deal with airlines to get points and cash refunded or vouchers for future travel. In some cases, we ended up with more money because we paid for things in USD when the CAD was higher, meaning that when the CAD dropped, our refunds were higher. That being said, we have been in the reverse situations and have lost up to $75 when the CAD value increased; sometimes credit cards will make an adjustment but it’s not a guarantee.
We do feel that having airline status is still the best way to ensure you have the most flexibility and access to better customer service when dealing with airline tickets and often booking the cheapest fare is not the way to go. Having an understanding of tariffs and aviation in general also helps to deal with agents because some of them don’t really know anything, including their own airlines policies regarding various fare types.
One of the things we did recently is cancel and rebook all of our future hotel stays because the terms are way more flexible now than when we initially booked. Like after the economic crash of 2008, the travel industry will need to adapt and be more outgoing in drawing people back until things recover again and reach pre-COVID levels but that will take a long time based on projections and ongoing travel restrictions that are unlikely to go away in the near future.
At this point, we are just hopeful the airlines we have points and travel credits with will still exist and that we will be able to use what we have earned. If we don’t, we at least had fun traveling to earn all those miles. As for future travel, we will still seek to book the most flexible options as possible due to all the new variables and protocols now around air travel like temperature screening and COVID testing.
Do you have any outstanding COVID-related cancellations? Are you worried about getting to use your vouchers?
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