Well, this is not the post that I thought I would be writing right now. I was going to write about our preparation and planning for the 100-day European trip that was to start tomorrow. The one we have been talking about since last summer.
But here I sit to talk about the opposite.
Last Wednesday, I woke to a message on Facebook, from a friend currently in Malta, advising that Malta was shutting down travel from France. We had a flight to Paris where we were going to spend six lovely days before flying to Malta. I knew that I had to make some quick decisions as to what to do.
It's not that I was unaware of what was happening with COVID 19, but I thought it was just about whether I was at risk and willing to take that risk. I knew that John would be good with whatever decision I made. John now tells me that he had been preparing himself for the past six weeks to have to cancel. I wasn't there yet.
I contacted WestJet and was able to quickly change our flight to go to London instead of Paris. I then made an online booking with Air Malta to fly directly from London to Malta, shortly after we arrived. I was able to hold on to that dream for another 21 hours. Barely.
Thursday morning, my daughter sent me an article that forced me to face the reality that to be a good global citizen, we weren't going anywhere soon.
My first concern was for our friend, who was going to housesit our cat for the whole time we were gone. It had seemed serendipitous when I learned she was being reno-victed from her place effective March 1st. She only had to find another place to stay for a couple of weeks and then she would stay at our home, free, for almost 4 four months, a win-win for both of us. Now, if we cancelled, she would be homeless. This situation made and continues to make me feel horrible. She was very gracious, as she is, and understanding about it, but is now scrambling to find a place to live. (shout out to Aimee - Punch Studio) She has found a place and has moved in.
Then began the difficult task of undoing plans that have been in place and grown over the past few months. When I started to look at this on Thursday, neither BC or Canada had advised not to do any unessential travel. Nor had Spain, France or England, which created more difficulty.
As someone older (65+) and attempting to book a longer-term trip, we found out neither our personal medical plans or the medical insurance on our credit cards would apply to us. I then found out quickly that travel medical insurance is a significant expenditure for us. We booked our travel insurance weeks ago, wincing at the premium cost. The good news? We had absolutely no problem cancelling our Medipac policy for a full refund this weekend. After sending in a letter requesting a refund we got the money in the bank two weeks later.
I spent a lot of time on Saturday trying to figure out the best way to reach WestJet. I went down the rabbit hole of reading other people's experiences. Customer service waiting times were unbelievable - WestJet was begging travellers to delay calls until they were within 72 hours of departure.
As we have moved forward to Sunday, cancellations have become more manageable due to governments taking action to slow down the virus.
On Sunday, when we were finally within 72 hours of the departure, I called WestJet. Luckily it only took me an hour and a half. They were great about cancelling and even though we had made a prior change, they waived the cancellation fee. For that, I am grateful. I would much prefer a cash refund rather than a credit - but that's a battle for a different day. This is a battle that a lot of people are waging. The Canadian airlines are insisting that they only need to give a credit - people want there cash back. There are lawsuits in the works.
So on to plans that we needed to dismantle.
Our accommodation in Paris was through HomeExchange, where we had some points. Our hosts reached out to us a couple of weeks ago to let us know that should we decide to cancel, they would have no problem with returning our points to us. So lovely that they thought of it and made it easy for us not to have to worry about that decision. Points returned.
Cancelling the Free Walking Tour was simple, as you tip them after you go, so there was no money involved.
The Catacombs, however, advised, initially, that they were not accepting cancellations. The Paris Musee has announced since Thursday that the Catacombs are now closed, and they will be issuing refunds. I love it when I don't have to chase the refunds down. However, I have received an email from Paris Musee advising that the tickets are non-refundable. Will wait to see if we hear anything further.
Ryanair advised us that they would be cancelling the flight from Paris to Malta so that refund became automatic. They have advised that the refund is coming but things are very slow coming back onto the credit card.
The shuttle bus from Paris to the Beauvais, the airport outside Paris that Ryanair flies from, has refused to accept a cancellation. They advised that their tickets are valid for a year, and we can sell them to someone if we want. We are not impressed. Who knows what our plans will be when we next travel? Not a huge sum, but it all adds up.
Air Malta has now advised that if you are not flying in the next 48 hours, you can send an email requesting a refund. Better than WestJet as it will be a cash refund, and I didn't have to call in. However, over two weeks later still do not know what is happening with this refund.
Our Airbnb host in Malta had a no-cancellation policy and was more reluctant and pointed out the loss to himself. I sympathized with him but hoped that he could also understand our point as we had booked for a whole month, and it was a large sum. He later contacted me to advise of Malta's stop on travel, but he said that Airbnb held the money so they would have to release it. When I initially cancelled on Airbnb on Thursday, they sent me the cleaning fee back, all of $36.00. I have now noticed that they are refunding, regardless of policy, any bookings until April 14th. I contacted them again to remind them that they had only given us a tiny portion. I am crossing my fingers. Had a great interaction with Airbnb and have received our money back for this booking. Yeah!
The Hypogeum in Malta was pro-active and advised us that they were closed and would be refunding our tickets - so, so fabulous when that happens. Received the refund from them. Very pleased with how they have handled this and how Malta has handled the pandemic in general.
We had a week booked on Gozo, a small island that is part of Malta. This was through Home Exchange on our points, and our host was very gracious and understanding. We have now received all our points back for Home Exchange, just waiting for when we can use them! Maybe even in Paris and Gozo!
We have several additional flights to and in Spain with Ryanair, Vueling and Air Europa. I really hope that there will not be an issue with cancelling them, but at this point, it will be a matter of sitting tight and waiting. All airlines around the world are under a lot of stress right now, so there is no point in adding to the problem as the flights are more than a month away. It will mean continuing to be alert to changes as they happen. Ryanair has cancelled our second flight with them and have offered a refund. Still waiting for the first refund to come so it will be interesting to see how long they all take. Vueling appears to be only offering a credit and AirEuropa has not responded yet. We will just have to wait I guess.
We had two Trusted Housesitters sittings planned for May in Spain. I was in contact with both our hosts in the past couple of weeks, while the world was changing. They are unsure whether their plans will be going forward, but they understood why we felt we had to back out. Our hosts plans have changed as well. Who knows - maybe in the future we will end up sitting for them for the same trip?!
Fortunately, other accommodation bookings we had made in Spain were easy to cancel as they allowed cancellations up to the date of arrival. Those were made through Booking.com and VRBO.com. We have received most of the money back. Surprisingly, there appears to be exhange rates fees there that have not occured on any of our deposits.
I was able to cancel our Barcelona accommodations through Airbnb, as our host did not have a strict cancellation policy. So money back!
We had tickets in Barcelona to Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Both have closed their doors, but only Sagrada Familia has notified us that they will be reimbursing us. The money for Sagrada Familia has returned and Par Guell has advised us that money is coming.
We had three different car rentals in Spain. One with points from Aeroplan, Ryanair and EuroCar, all have been cancelled without issue, so those are fine. What money was paid out on these has been returned.
London is oh so far away in June. It's difficult to think they will understand us wanting to cancel at this point.
I had booked our hotel in London through Hotwire as a Hot Rate. They have a rigorous no cancellation policy on these specials. I tried to get a cancellation and was refused. As the booking is for June, I suspect it will still be an issue. I am waiting to have that fight in the future. Still waiting, the hotels have ok'd cancellation up to the end of April. Will contact them after that.
Keenan and I both gave John theatre tickets for London for his birthday last week. One night at Hamilton and another at The Doctor. At this point, London has not shut down its theatres, so...... wait. Patiently. Think you might be going to London in June?! I may still have tickets. Call me. Cancelled The Doctor and they have promised a refund. Not sure what is happening with Hamilton.
All I had done for Halifax was rent a cute little house on Airbnb. Thankfully a relaxed cancellation policy allowed me to cancel it. I will have to keep it in mind when we do go back there. We have also received our payment back for this rental.
The list goes on and on. Fortunately, a lot of our plans have dissolved without too much pain. Going forward and cancelling what's left for April, May and June will be more challenging, but once you pull the string at the start of the trip, it all starts to unravel.
So here I sit, on the eve of the trip we were supposed to start, wondering, what now? It makes you realize how quickly life can change . And is still changing.
Barcelona - I will learn to love you - it's just gonna take a little longer!