Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Do you have a question for The Washington Post’s travel reporters? Submit them here for a live chat on Friday at noon Eastern time.
“My husband and I used Expedia to book our honeymoon/first anniversary trip for Greece in May 2020. At the time, Expedia would not offer us refunds on the local hotels we had reserved (with nonrefundable bookings). Instead, they gave us gift certificates that we could use within one year’s time. Well, we’ve reached one year later, and we still don’t seem much closer to making it to Greece. Is there a way that Expedia can just give us our money back? Thank you.” — Renuka Lakshmanan, Maryland
In the past year, I’ve gotten dozens of emails from readers trying to get thousands of dollars back from canceled travel.The Department of Transportation received such high volumes of complaints about airlines withholding refunds in 2020 that they had to issue an enforcement notice that U.S. and foreign airlines must give cash refunds if a flight to, within or from the United States is canceled or has a significant schedule change.
Jacob van Cleef, Consumer Watchdog associate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund, says while airlines tend to get the most headlines for unfair refund behavior, “the [travel] industry as a whole has been bad.”
I reached out to Expedia Group about your case, and I was told the company has been pushing its hotel partners to extend hotel vouchers to the end of 2021 and hope your issue may be easy to fix.
Van Cleef says you and other travelers seeking refunds for plans canceled by the coronavirus should be prepared to be persistent following up on that. You may have to fight for days, weeks or months to get your desired result.
“Never accept the first offer unless the first offer is all of your money back,” van Cleef says, explaining that travel companies have been trying to offer customers vouchers that may not be as valuable as their initial booking. “They will try to nickel and dime you,” he says.
If you’re not getting anywhere with the company, van Cleef says to file a complaint with an organization such as PIRG that looks out for consumers, or get in touch with a lawyer (if that won’t be a major expense to you). As with flights, you may be able to get help from your credit card company to resolve hotel refund disputes.
But in the event that you feel comfortable traveling and would like to use those gift certificates to actually get to Greece, I took your situation to Eduardo Santander, executive director of the European Travel Commission, an association that represents the European Union’s national tourism organizations.
Between the continent’s vaccination rollout and its “digital green certificates” plan aimed at salvaging the summer tourism season, Santander says those in the tourism industry are feeling very optimistic about the return of international visitors.
“We’re putting all of our effort into making summer happen,” Santander says. “I cannot read the future, but I am very confident.”
At this time, Greece has a plan to reopen on May 14 to visitors who have been vaccinated, have antibodies or test negative for the coronavirus. Because Greece’s economy depends heavily on tourism, Santander believes that plan carries weight.
However, Santander would not bet on a May honeymoon or book airfare just yet. Rather, consider rebooking for the late summer or early fall, as long as you may be able to change the dates again — Santander recognizes that new variants could go rogue and disrupt the pandemic recovery’s upward trajectory. At this time, Europe is facing a new surge of coronavirus cases that has put several countries under lockdown and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends avoiding nonessential travel, even for the vaccinated, as the jury is still out on whether vaccinated travelers can pass the virus to others.
Even if you’re vaccinated and feeling protected, Santander says, visitors will have to stay vigilant with coronavirus precautions. “If there are restrictions, follow them. It’s not only for yourself, but for everybody — the travel community and your hosts,” he says.
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