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COVID not working as an excuse for canceling reservations

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Last year during the height of the pandemic, there was a general attitude in the travel and vacation industries that allowed people to cancel reservations at no penalty if people had contracted or were exposed to COVID. It wasn’t universal, but most of those corporations were receiving a lot of federal assistance, so it didn’t kill them to be a little nicer to people. But now that shutdowns have largely ended and many of those government subsidy programs are drying up, CBS Los Angeles has gone out to speak to people who are interacting with hotels, airlines, and other travel and vacation outfits and finds that the well of generosity has mostly dried up. If you want to cancel a reservation after the company’s deadline for doing so without penalty and tell them that you’ve come down with COVID, most of them are telling people “tough luck” and charging them the penalty anyway.

A local couple said they were shocked when they were not able to cancel their Santa Barbara hotel reservation after they came down with COVID.

Industry insiders now say the travel industry isn’t as lenient with pandemic-related cancellations anymore. So, what does that mean for those booking holiday travel?

Experts say hotels and airlines aren’t as willing to offer refunds or credits for late cancellations or non-refundable bookings.

One of their interviews is with a married couple who had booked a weekend hotel package to celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary. The couple claims that they were both vaccinated, but came down with COVID anyway. When they called to ask about a refund they were told that was not available and they couldn’t even get credit for a future stay at the hotel. That may sound awful, but when you look into the details, it’s kind of understandable. They booked their stay through a discount, third-party company, but the low rate they received came with the express disclaimer that the booking was non-refundable. They tried asking the hotel manager what he would do if he was in their shoes. He said, “I certainly wouldn’t have booked a nonrefundable room.”

Over the past year, we’ve covered some stories about hotels and banquet halls trying to avoid giving people refunds on long-planned events like wedding receptions. We’ve seen those scenarios arise in Chicago and Texas, along with many other locations. Some of them were trying to flatly refuse any refunds. Airlines tried to offer only credit instead of cash refunds.

Those were terrible policies that the owners of those organizations were trying to enforce, but they were very different than what we’re discussing today. In those instances, it was the hotel or banquet hall that shut down because of COVID after taking the deposit money. The airlines were trying to avoid giving refunds for flights they themselves canceled even though the traveler was there and ready to go.

Now we’re talking about people who make nonrefundable reservations or ones that specifically include penalties for late cancellations and ask for a refund because they became sick. I almost hate to keep bringing this up as an example, but back before the pandemic, if you came down with the flu on the morning that you were supposed to travel to your hotel on vacation, nobody was offering any refunds. That’s just bad luck.

If the company in question is open for business and is ready to provide you with the services you reserved and you fail to show up, that’s really not their fault. And just because your specific reason for being unavailable is COVID, that doesn’t really change the situation. That probably sounds a bit harsh, but it’s just the way of the world. We can’t just keep blaming everything on COVID and expecting all to be forgiven.