Why I’m canceling my RTW trip and which airlines offered me refunds

Last week, I wrote about my upcoming round-the-world trip, which I had been planning for several months (here’s the story). My friends and family were concerned about me going to Asia amid the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. Of course, I had some concerns, too. After asking for answers to the question “Should I cancel my trip to Asia?” on both my website and my Facebook page, I was shocked by how many people said that I should cancel. Some of the comments were coming from big-time travelers, including executives of Asian airlines!

As much as I wanted to go on this trip, I knew what I had to do, and that was cancel. If I didn’t have two little kids, I might have waited until the day before to decide, but as it stands now I can’t be messing around. My biggest fear was contracting the coronavirus and spreading it. In addition, though, there was the fear of getting quarantined for two weeks with sick people and then dealing with the stigma of coming back from Asia.

In the old days (and I mean like a month ago), if you told someone that you’d just returned from China, Hong Kong or Asia (for that matter), their ears would perk up and they’d start shooting off questions about your trip. These days, you tell people you just came back from Asia and they’ll take a step back or two and quickly excuse themselves so they can go wash their hands.

Requesting refund for my flights

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had four separate business class tickets:

  1. Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto (YYZ) via Dallas (DFW) on American (AA) for $502
  2. YYZ to London (LHR) to Helsinki (HEL) to Singapore (SIN) on British Airways and Finnair for $1,582
  3. SIN to Bangkok (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG) on Cathay Pacific for 22,500 AA miles and $62 in taxes
  4. HKG to LAX on AA for $534 (I had a confirmed upgrade using one of my system-wide upgrades for being Executive Platinum)

I was traveling with my best friend Mike, who was going to meet me in Helsinki. (He had separate tickets between New York and Europe on Delta Air Lines.) We were then going to fly to Singapore together, then on to Bangkok and Hong Kong. Mike was using AA miles to get back to Europe from HKG on Cathay Pacific.

I figured canceling our tickets would be easy, especially since Mike called Delta first and was told by an agent, “We totally understand and we have your back.” Delta refunded his tickets in full, and those tickets were just between the U.S. and Europe (not even Asia). In addition, Delta had no record of him going to Asia as he was traveling on separate tickets and on airlines that weren’t Delta partners. So I was impressed.

When I called American Airlines and requested a refund for my Hong-Kong-to-LAX ticket, the agent said, “Sorry, we’re only allowing customers to change their ticket thru March 31st.” Seriously? I can’t travel to HKG in March because I have plans. Sorry. But the agent did reinstate my AA miles for my Cathay flights (and the taxes).

Still, I was pissed about the HKG-LAX flight, so I sent a nasty tweet out to my 100,000+ Twitter followers.

American’s Twitter team is amazing, and they responded within a few minutes as they almost always do. They also sent me a direct message offering to refund my money. That’s nice, but if I didn’t have a large following my guess is that they probably wouldn’t have done it, which seems crazy next to Delta’s policy. I was traveling close to the epicenter of the Wuhan coronavirus and I’m one of American’s top customers (I fly 100,000+ miles a year with AA. My buddy Mike, meanwhile, was only going to Europe and was refunded (and he only flies 50,000 miles a year with Delta). Crazy, right?

When I called Finnair to request a refund, the agent was first of all shocked that I wanted to cancel my plans to Singapore because of the coronavirus (I guess the Finnish media isn’t hyping it up). He then offered me a 50% refund. I told him I’d wait and see what happened. I have travel insurance (I’m one of Allianz’s brand ambassadors), so I thought about turning to that, but I didn’t think that my travel insurance policy would kick in because my ticket was only to Singapore and not to China. Still, I decided I’d reach out to Allianz as a last resort.

Then, I reached out to Finnair’s PR team separately to see what they could do. I explained that I was on a RTW ticket and that the last leg of the trip was Hong Kong. And then, the staff member kindly agreed to refund our bookings. If Finnair had denied my request, I would’ve waited until the last minute to see if the flight was canceled or was significantly delayed and then tried to get a full refund then. If that didn’t work, I would’ve canceled the ticket at the last minute (as long as there weren’t any steeper cancelation fees) and then tried to file a claim with Allianz. Fortunately, I didn’t need to do any of that.

The bottom line

Bottom line: I’m bummed that I’m canceling my trip but I have no doubt that I made the right decision. AA also just announced yesterday that it’s canceling its Hong Kong-to-LAX and -DFW flights through Feb 13th. I’m sure that the cancelation will get extended, because no pilot or flight attendant wants to work that route until the coronavirus blows over.

 

Johnny Jet
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12 Comments On "Coronavirus: Why I’m Canceling My RTW Trip and Which Airlines Offered Me Refunds"
  1. Porter|

    Johnny,
    How many bags, if any, have you lost while flying? Not temporary lost where the white van brings it to you two days late, but lost forever? If so how much were you compensated?

    1. Johnny Jet
      Johnny Jet|

      Fortunately, it’s never happened to me. The most you will get is $3,500 but it’s unlikely they will give you that much. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=f44d59d86088a8ec0cc00118b6436b07&mc=true&node=pt14.4.254&rgn=div5

  2. KAROL|

    I called Allianz about getting trip insurance for my daughter who has a trip planned (and a RT ticket to Taipei out of LAX) in March. They said if she cxls her trip due to Coronavirus, they do not cover. If she got ill there, they would cover her illness. Not sure if that is entirely true, but at any rate that is what they told me over the phone. I did not buy the insurance yet in the event her airline cancels the flight, as she will not go. Waiting to see how the whole thing pans out….:)
    Karol

    1. Johnny Jet
      Johnny Jet|

      That’s basically what I’ve been reading so it’s true. Thanks for sharing

  3. Chuck|

    I contacted United and cancelled my February Asia trip from New York to Tokyo to Bangkok. I was planning to travel from Bangkok to HK in between with another regional airline. The ticket was purchased as a non-refundable ticket. The United agent was reasonable enough and gave me a ticket credit instead so I could book a future United flight (within 1 year). Ticket was purchased via United.com.

  4. Jo Anne|

    I have a trip to Japan in mid April. What is your recommendation about cancelling my trip?

    1. Johnny Jet
      Johnny Jet|

      I would wait a month to see what the situation will be

  5. christ|

    between last flu season and this one there have been over 10,000 deaths in the US alone. coronavirus deaths worldwide are less than 1,000. chill folks …

  6. susan kime|

    HI JOHNNY — I AM NOT COMMENTING ON CORONAVIRUS — YOU MADE THE RGHT DECISION. BUT I AM COMMENTING ON LOST BAGGAGE. MINE WAS LOST FOREVER ON A SMALL FLIGHT ON SAS FROM KRISTIANSAND to OSLO, NORWAY, LAST YEAR. Oh, my caps were on. Anyway, SAS was very nice, I had to fill out what was in my suitcase, what everything cost and I finally was reimbursed. I THINK it was around $800.00, which was fair.

  7. Mark B|

    You didn’t mention British Air in your article. Were you successful in getting a refund from British Air? I paid $1,400 for seats on British Air tickets I confirmed using Alaska miles which Alaska cancelled and refunded both miles and fees. So far BA has taken a position that since they are still flying to Rome from Seattle, no refund.

    1. Johnny Jet
      Johnny Jet|

      My BA ticket was purchased via Finnair. BA is one of their codeshares

  8. RJ San Clemente|

    Last fall my wife and I booked a tour of Brazil and Argentina through Gate 1 Travel for late March/April. We decided to take the “land only” option and make air accommodations separately. For this, I used Google Flights to monitor flight options, eventually ending up with open jaw reservations on American through MIA to Rio and return from Buenos Aires through DFW. The tickets were premium economy, non-refundable.

    When all international travel shut down last week, Gate 1 notified us that they would extend 100% credit for 18 months on a future tour. But I was nervous that American would, at best, only allow us to book new airfare within 1 year of the original purchase, which was also last fall. So, I decided to use their online “refund request” page after first cancelling our flights. It was comparatively easy, although I had to request a refund for each ticket separately. Frankly, I thought this was a shot in the dark, but within three days we were notified that both tickets had been fully refunded!

    So, kudos to American for coming to the plate at this time of great uncertainty!

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