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 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:
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto (YYZ) via Dallas (DFW) on American (AA) for $502
- YYZ to London (LHR) to Helsinki (HEL) to Singapore (SIN) on British Airways and Finnair for $1,582
- SIN to Bangkok (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG) on Cathay Pacific for 22,500 AA miles and $62 in taxes
- 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.
Yet, @AmericanAir won't refund my HKG-LAX ticket. While @Delta refunded (in full) my best friend's ticket between JFK and Europe because he doesn't want to fly due to the #coronarvirus https://t.co/0l4HD6JxsO
— JohnnyJet (@JohnnyJet) January 31, 2020
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 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.
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