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Travel

Why an Airline Voucher Is Sometimes Better than a Cash Refund



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Over the past couple of months, many of us have learned about the ins and out of canceling flights. Phrases like cancel-for-any-reason insurance and airline voucher are now part of every traveler’s vernacular, and we’ve all found inventive ways to reach airline customer service representatives.

It’s also become second nature to demand that cash refund when canceling flights—and to firmly say no to the travel vouchers most airlines are offering. But should you ever consider taking that airline voucher over cash? Some experts say yes, but warn there are things to keep in mind when you do. Below, we walk you through the nuances of vouchers—the good, the bad, and the potentially negotiable—so you can make the best move next time you cancel a flight.

The case for getting your refund in cash

There are some obvious reasons to take cash over a voucher. Most of us like our money where we can see it, and it’s hard to justify letting an airline hang onto your money—especially when it looks like we won’t be flying any time soon. “From a high level, cash is better than a voucher because you can’t pay for groceries with an American Airlines gift card,” says Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “If you had a $500 ticket, and they’re offering a $500 cash or voucher, cash is way superior because it’s fluid, and it doesn’t have an expiration date.”

Jesse Neugarten of Dollar Flight Club is team voucher, but he agrees there are certain situations in which to push for your money back. “If you’re low on cash and don’t plan to travel anytime in 2020 or 2021, more cash on hand may be the best bet for you,” says Neugarten. “Plus, some airlines, like Virgin Australia and smaller carriers, are shutting down, and they may not be able to honor vouchers in the future.” If you bought a ticket from an online travel agent like Expedia, Travelocity, or Orbitz, then you absolutely want your cash back as well, Neugarten says, and not a gift card or voucher you have no reason to use.

If you end up needing to cancel and rebook a second time, travel vouchers can cause issues with insurance, too. “If you’re buying travel insurance, we’ve been telling people not to take the voucher and to get a refund,” says Megan Moncrief, the chief marketing officer at insurance comparison website Squaremouth. “Historically, travel insurance providers widely grouped travel vouchers with points and miles, as award-based travel, which is typically uninsurable as there is no direct dollar amount associated with [the vouchers].” In laymen’s terms: If you book a flight with a voucher and have to cancel, your flight cost in an insurance claim would technically be zero, meaning you wouldn’t get any of that money back. Moncrief says that some providers are now changing their stance given the current situation, but it’s important to keep this in mind when purchasing travel insurance—something most of us are doing these days—and make sure to understand the coverage offered on award-based trips.

 

The case for taking the travel voucher

All that being said, there are times when it makes more sense to take a voucher—namely, when the airline is willing to offer you a credit of a higher value. “What the smart airlines are doing is offering an incentive to take the voucher,” says Keyes. “They might say you can take a $500 cash refund or a $600 travel credit [for your $500 flight], and that’s when it starts getting interesting.”

Neugarten says his Dollar Flight Club customers have reported the same. “American Airlines and Delta have been offering 10 to 20 percent bonus vouchers to those who elect to keep a credit with the airline, rather than take a refund,” says Neugarten. “These airlines are not advertising that yet, but they are offering this over the phone to select customers on a case-by-case basis, or to those who ask for it.” Few airlines, like Qatar Airways and Finnair, have formalized such offers, telling customers that all vouchers will receive 10 percent increases from the original flight prices.

“I think this poses a great opportunity for travelers to get additional value from their ticket by simply and persistently asking airline agents for these bonus vouchers,” adds Neugarten. “Though these bonus vouchers have been offered at random, some people have simply asked for them.” And if you’re wondering how to do the dance? Neugarten says they’ve found a script that has worked. They make sure to thank the agent, mention they’ve heard of other people taking these vouchers, and use these golden words: “I would prefer to keep my ticket if you would be willing to give me a bonus voucher. Does [insert airline name] have the ability to offer this? If not, I’d happily take the refund.” Given that airlines are legally required to offer cash refunds for canceled flights, it’s well-worth asking—you’ll either walk away with the cash you’re owed, or a higher value voucher.

“Passengers are in much more of a position of strength than they normally are,” says Keyes. “I haven’t heard of a passenger successfully negotiating a higher voucher, but it wouldn’t shock me if some airlines are in a position to do that. They need cash: They have so few incoming bookings and so many cancellations, so anytime they can hang on to a passenger’s money because that passenger agreed to take a credit instead of a refund, it’s worth trying.”

Whenever you take a voucher, read the fine print

If we’ve learned anything during our coronavirus cancellations, it’s to always, always read the fine print. And even when the voucher pot is, as Keyes says, being sweetened, make sure you understand the restrictions of a voucher before pouncing on it. “I’d look at two things,” says Keyes. “The deadline or expiration date can be problematic for a lot of them.” If a voucher expires, say, at the end of the year, it leads to a bigger question: Do you anticipate traveling by then? Is it even possible for you to use this credit?

“Secondly, who can use the voucher?” says Keyes. “Usually you can use [a voucher] to buy a ticket for anyone—a kid, a spouse, whomever—but sometimes the voucher is only eligible for the person who received it. That’s another instance when a voucher becomes level valuable than cash.” Keyes also suggests considering the airline offering the voucher, how frequently you fly it, and if the voucher works on partner airlines.

Vouchers are always better than miles

Last but not least, Keyes cautions that you should understand what type of travel credit you’re getting—and be wary of accepting miles or points instead of a typical voucher. “There’s a difference between a voucher and frequent flier miles,” says Keyes. Some airlines, he warns, have been sending customers tempting deals to accept miles as refunds, or to convert vouchers into miles. But miles are even less tangible than vouchers and harder to use to your advantage. “When you purchase a flight with a voucher, it’s like purchasing with cash: You get the same status, and importantly, you earn miles,” says Keyes. The same can’t be said for flights purchased with miles. The only real benefit to miles as a form of refund, for the average traveler, is that they sometimes have a further out expiration date, but at that point, you’re probably safest asking for your money back.

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Cruises

Some clients are self isolating in villas or rentals advisors say

Though the coronavirus pandemic has paused most of the travel industry, there are a small number of travel advisors and suppliers still serving clients who are away from home, having left big cities to shelter in place in less-populated areas.

One of those is villa rental company Cuvee, which has properties in Cabo San Lucas, Colorado, Tuscany, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Christa Weaving, vice president of marketing, said Cuvee has three families sheltering in place in its properties.

“We are being cautious,” Weaving said. “We’re not proactively marketing it, per se, because we certainly want to be part of the solution, not a part of the problem, but we also want to support our clients and ensure they are in healthy environments themselves.”

Vacation rental company StayMarquis received 100 bookings from New York over a three-day span in mid-March. The company primarily has properties in New York’s Hamptons and Hudson Valley and Massachusetts’ Berkshires.

That moved StayMarquis’ busy season up a few months, said co-founder and managing partner Bryan Fedner. Most guests are families who wanted to escape the city, and many seem ready to stay away for longer.

“As the shelter-in-place mandate got pushed back further and further, these renters now are inquiring about extending their stays into the summer,” Fedner said.

Both StayMarquis and Cuvee have instituted strict cleaning protocols. Cuvee switched to hospital-grade cleaners and deep cleans before and after guests leave. StayMarquis is using commercial-grade disinfectants and microfiber cleaning cloths (in lieu of paper towels), and some cleaning crew members have opted to wear protective suits over their clothes. 

They are also limiting guest interaction with cleaning crews and team members delivering groceries.

“We are taking every extra precaution, and our clients’ safety and privacy and security comes first,” Weaving said. “That’s always been our protocol, but now more so than ever.”

Travel advisors have been behind some of those bookings as they help clients find more ideal locations to self-isolate.

David Rappel, an Encino, Calif.-based Protravel International advisor, had a client who wanted to be close to the ocean in Malibu for the duration of California’s stay-at-home order. He found several options, and the client picked one.

Rappel then got to work setting them up with a chef, housekeepers, airplane charter and car rental as well as gym equipment, household goods and food. He also arranged for protective gear and other precautions to keep the client and staff safe.

Dolev Azaria, founder and CEO of New York-based Azaria Travel, said revenue started to drop and clients had to cancel travel plans in the beginning of March. As a response, she began marketing a concept of “luxury isolation” on her website and to clients: private islands, private aviation, in-home chefs and the like.

She got a number of requests, specifically for Caribbean islands.

“As we were building on those, the travel restrictions became a lot more severe,” she said. “Then there was concern about potentially being stuck in a country where resources and health care were not optimal. So ultimately, what that meant for us is that our radius, the radius that we operate within, really narrowed down.”

As the situation progressed, clients felt more comfortable being away but in close proximity to home, she said. For many, that meant a car or train ride away.

Today, Azaria has a dozen or so clients sheltering in place outside their primary residence. Some are in villas, others in homes of other Azaria clients (she brokered those rental deals herself) and some in their own secondary homes with Azaria acting as a concierge.

“It’s interesting, because we’ve had to really adapt to all of those needs,” she said. “We’ve really become almost like concierge brokers more than anything else, really managing all of our clients’ needs, even the things we don’t typically do.”

Like Rappel, that has meant arranging for services such as private chefs. Azaria said all staff members go through a 14-day quarantine before working with guests, and services are all performed in protective gear; she also has measures in place ensuring guests and staff do not interact.

Weaving said it’s become clear that once the pandemic has ended, it will result in a number of changes in the travel industry. Cuvee is already reviewing its clientele and its portfolio to include more domestic destinations that clients can drive to.

The company is also working on a strategy, tentatively called Sanctuary by Cuvee, which will feature services such as private aviation, homes cleaned with the highest sanitation protocols and more activities within the confines of rental properties.

“Our anticipation is that at some point, travel restrictions will loosen, but people are going to want to take extra precautions when traveling,” she said. 

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Categories
Destinations

Some New York City Landmarks Have Been Turned Into Hospitals

New York has become the focal point for the coronavirus in the United States. With over 74,000 reported cases, New York hospitals have quickly become overcrowded. In response, New York City landmarks have been converted into temporary make-shift hospitals.

At least three popular city landmarks have been turned into temporary hospitals so far. According to NBC News, Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated that New York City will see even more of these makeshift medical centers.

“We’re going to use every place we need to use to help people,” de Blasio told reporters Sunday. “This is the kind of thing you will see now as this crisis develops.”

A 14-tent hospital has been set up in Central Park near Mount Sinai Hospital. It includes 68 beds and a 10-bed intensive care unit. Each bed provides its own ventilator. The hospital is staffed by 60 to 70 medical professionals who have volunteered to help patients who were not able to check into a proper hospital.

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the cite renown for holding the U.S. Open, has started converting into a 350-bed hospital early on Tuesday.

“I’m looking forward to the day when this is going to be a place for tennis again,” de Blasio said in a conference held at the tennis center. “But in the meantime, I’m inspired by the fact that people are stepping up.”

The Javits Convention Center has been turned into the city’s largest make-shift hospital, with 2,500 beds to house sick patients. The center started to receive its first patients earlier this week.

“Javits Center’s done many magnificent exhibitions and transformations, and they never cease to amaze me, but this is a transformation that I don’t think anyone could ever anticipate,” Cuomo said Monday.

The city received even further help after the Navy hospital ship, known as the Comfort, docked in Manhattan on Monday. The 1,000-bed ship is currently accepting patients who not infected with COVID-19 in order to free more hospital space for those who infected.

“We knew from the outset that expanded hospital capacity was critical,” Cuomo tweeted Monday. “We asked and the federal government answered.”

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Cruises

Some airlines processing refunds outside ARC coronavirus

Eight airlines have informed ARC that they will manage
refunds directly and not allow them to be processed via GDSs or ARC’s
Interactive Agent Reporting (IAR) system.

The carriers are Air France, KLM, WestJet, El Al, TAP
Portugal, Air Transat, Kazakhstan-based Air Astana and Spain’s Plus Ultra
Lineas Aereas.

The changes come as refunds are far outpacing sales because
of the coronavirus pandemic. Travel advisors, said ARC, should contact the
airlines directly and follow their individual policies for refunds. 

ARC said it will update its own webpage as soon as it is
notified of any change in an airline’s refund process. The airline-owned
corporation also said that it recognizes the changes will impact the business
flow and processes of agencies, including records, back-office files and
disbursements. 

“ARC settlement is designed to facilitate efficient sales,
exchange and refund processes between airlines and travel agencies. While we
are unable to process refunds for airlines that have made the decision to
manage these transactions directly, we are striving to make it as easy as
possible for agencies to quickly and efficiently contact airlines regarding
refunds,” the corporation’s website says. 

Columbus, Ohio-based travel agent Richard Lewis said he
worries that evolving policies by airlines will lead him to undertake
transactions that result in debit memos. 

“I can’t afford to fight a battle if I’m debited back by a
carrier,” he said. 

Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airlines for Travel
Leaders Group, said that he expects cancellation rules to continue evolving. He
added that debit memos are on the rise. 

ARC declined to comment on debit memos.

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Transport

American Airlines parking some 450 planes coronavirus

In a message to American Airlines employees on Thursday,
president Robert Isom said the carrier has taken steps “unparalleled in our
history” to reduce capacity amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

International flying has been reduced by 75% in April and
domestic flying by 30%. Further reductions are planned for May. In all, 55,000
flights have been scrubbed from AA’s April schedule. The airline will park approximately
130 widebody jets and 320 narrowbodies.

All long-haul international flying has been grounded, except
once-daily service between London Heathrow and both Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth
plus thrice-weekly service between Dallas and Tokyo Narita. 

AA has offered voluntary leave to most employees. The
airline is also offering an early out so workers with at least 15 years at American who are ready to leave can keep their medical care at active employees’
rates. 

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Destinations

Some Caribbean resorts decide to suspend operations coronavirus

As Caribbean countries ramp up travel restrictions in
response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the region is seeing a wave of
temporary resort closures.

Club Med will suspend operations at its Club Med Punta Cana
and Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda resorts in the Dominican Republic from
March 19 to May 1.  

Excellence Resorts will temporarily close the Excellence
Punta Cana from March 20 to June 5. Excellence said all guests who were
scheduled to stay during this period can be accommodated at the Excellence El
Carmen in Punta Cana.  

Both moves come as the D.R. has suspended the arrival of all incoming passengers and has
effectively closed its borders for an initial period of 15 days. The Dominican Republic had
previously suspended flights to and from China, South Korea, Iran and Europe.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Club Med is shuttering the Club
Med Columbus Isle in the Bahamas between March 21 and May 1. 

The Bahamas said on March 16 that the country is prohibiting
entry to any foreign nationals who have traveled in the U.K., Ireland or Europe
in the last 20 days. That restriction is in addition to the Bahamian government’s
March 5 decision to deny entry to any nonresident who has visited China, South
Korea, Iran or Italy in the last 20 days.

Meanwhile, Jamaican resort Half Moon has similarly announced
plans to shut down from March 18 to May 1, citing the Jamaican government’s
recent enactment of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers from
countries where there is local spread of the coronavirus.

The Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas advised future
guests arriving through April 12 to postpone their trips. For guests already at
the resort, Bolongo advised them to book earlier flights home while they are still
available.

In Jamaica, the Riu Negril, Riu Palace Jamaica and Riu
Montego Bay are closing March 19 through April.

Also in Jamaica, Iberostar Hotels plans to consolidate
guests at its three properties in Montego Bay (Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, Rose
Hall Beach and Rose Hall Suites) to two properties.

In the Dominican Republic, the Royalton Punta Cana and
Hideaway at Royalton Punta Cana have relocated their guests to the Royalton
Bavaro Resort & Spa in Punta Cana with a room upgrade based on
availability.

In St. Maarten, the Sonesta Ocean Point Resort and Sonesta
Maho Beach Resort will close from March 22 to March 31 due to
government-imposed restrictions on travel to the destination.

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Travel

No coronavirus waiver? Some airlines have you more covered than others



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As coronavirus spreads, and fears about contracting the disease grow, airlines are increasingly giving passengers a chance to re-tool their travel plans by waiving change fees or allowing their customers to cancel even non-refundable tickets.

In many cases though, these opportunities come with some major restrictions. Most of the airlines that have issued waivers have only done so for specific city pairs, with further limitations on changes based on when the ticket was purchased and when travel is set to take place.

“Airlines that are not being flexible with customers are just asking for trouble. This is not the time for an airline to stick to policies that are designed for a time when circumstances are normal,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research. He added that right now, conditions in the industry are “not even in the same universe as normal.”

The decision to keep waivers more restricted is largely business-related for airlines. It allows them to encourage new bookings for passengers who might be worried about making reservations amid the rising coronavirus fears. But, that leaves some customers who made reservations months ago out of luck for potential changes.

“Some people are going to be inconvenienced, but that’s the nature of the beast. People are inconvenienced all the time. I believe the airlines are OK with inconveniencing a certain number of people, so long as it doesn’t become problematic for their bottom line,” said Ernest White II, host of Fly Brother on PBS and creator of the Fly Brother travel blog.

Still, Harteveldt said now is not the time for companies to be inflexible with customers who are worried about a spreading epidemic.

“If an airline is sticking to its policies, they’ll lose in the long run,” he said.

White said he understands the airlines’ business needs, but agreed with Harteveldt that the companies need to have compassion for their passengers. He suggested that airlines take each booking on a case-by-case basis, which many companies seem to be doing.

“When companies go the extra mile to try and be empathetic or recognize customer issues, it brings a lot of positive energy around the brand, people remember that,” he said.

For travelers, the array of different official and unwritten policies from each airline can be a confusing jumble, and that ultimately hurts airlines, too, Harteveldt said.

“Nobody likes being nickel-and-dimed and nobody likes being taken advantage of,” he said. “Consumers remember when companies are decent and fair to them, and they also remember when companies are not.”

Harteveldt believes most airlines will eventually issue system-wide waivers on change fees and cancellations while coronavirus remains an issue at the top of travelers’ minds. For his part, White wasn’t as sure. He said it’s important for airlines to be decent to their customers, but added that companies have some responsibility to protect their bottom line.

“It’s important for all sides to remember everyone is losing in this situation,” he said.

In the meantime, here’s what major U.S. airlines have said travelers can expect as of March 4 if their itineraries are not covered by an existing waiver:

American: No specific policy. Curtis Blessing, a spokesman for the airline said in a statement to TPG that passengers “can contact reservations if they have additional concerns.”

Delta: No specific policy. Anthony Black, a spokesman for the airline said in a statement to TPG that Delta offers “situational flexibility,” which, he said, “is always in play when there is not a policy to address a specific travel situation.”

United: Passengers who booked tickets before March 3 are not eligible to change or cancel their reservations if their itineraries are not covered by an existing waiver.

Southwest: The airline has a long-standing policy of never charging change or cancellation fees on any booking. “If a customer’s plans change, or they decide they no longer want to travel, the funds used to pay for their flight can be applied to future travel – as long as they cancel their flight at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure,” Ro Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for the airline told TPG in a statement.

Alaska: No specific policy, but Cailee Olson, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in a statement to TPG that for itineraries booked prior to Feb. 27, “our agents are assisting guests on a case-by-case basis.”

JetBlue: The airline referred TPG to an online coronavirus post and did not provide a statement about bookings that fall outside of the published policy.

Hawaiian: No specific policy, but Alex Da Silva, a spokesman for the airline, said in a statement that “we understand guests with travel beyond current waiver periods could be concerned about their plans potentially changing due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, and we encourage them to contact our reservations team for assistance.”

For more on the coronavirus outbreak, see:

  • What does the deadly coronavirus mean for travelers?
  • Myth-busting: Will a face mask keep you safe from viruses on a plane?
  • Extreme measures cruise lines are taking

Featured photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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