Coronavirus cancellation: My ill-fated trip to Tahiti and how AA, Marriott, Hilton and Airbnb stepped up
In an alternate universe free of coronavirus, I would be checking in today for my return flight from Tahiti to New York. Unfortunately, that trip-of-a-lifetime was delayed.
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Back in December, The Points Guy's Nick Ewen wrote about incredible, rare availability to Tahiti using American Airlines points. I jumped on the deal, booking myself a trip on Alaska Airlines in first class from New York-JFK to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and then on to Papeete International Airport (PPT) in Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui in business class for just 80,000 American Airlines miles each way.
Related: Air Tahiti Nui in business class from LAX to PPT
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I got an Airbnb for the first night for just $47 near the airport and then booked an Air Tahiti flight from PPT to Bora Bora (BOB) for about $342.
The plan was to review the Le Méridien Bora Bora, staying for two nights, and then to spend two nights at Hilton's Conrad Bora Bora.
I was supposed to leave on March 18, but of course as the date approached, the COVID-19 crisis was really ramping up. As the dates got closer, countries began tightening travel restrictions and even closing borders. On March 6, Tahiti ordered any arriving visitors to get a doctor's note stating that they were healthy. A few days later, the government offered health checks for departing passengers.
I was still going to try to go, but then on March 15 things really began to feel weird. Many international flights were being suspended, there were new travel warnings from government agencies and even travel bans. I began to worry I might get to Tahiti, but might not be able to get back home. My gut told me not to risk it.
So I cancelled the trip. I was really worried as I had prepaid for just about everything, including nonrefundable hotel rooms.
My first step was to cancel the flights on AA.com. I did that and then I called them to see about getting the miles redeposited. I had heard horror stories of six-hour wait times, but amazingly, I got through in about 10 minutes. It may help that I have Platinum Pro status on American Airlines. I got a really nice agent. She told me that normally there would be a redeposit fee even for elite members but that she would waive it in this case.
The 160,000 AA miles were redeposited by the next day.
Related: These are the worldwide travel advisories for March 2020
Next I called Marriott, expecting a long wait. The call was actually answered in about 10 minutes. I was shocked. They also agreed to refund the entire cost -- nearly $1,800 -- for the stay (the most expensive hotel room I'd ever booked, BTW). The credit showed up on my Chase Ink card on March 18.
My next stop was calling Hilton. Again I assumed it would take hours to get through, but I managed to talk to an agent in about 10 minutes. Incredibly, they also agreed to give me a full refund, but said it could take weeks. It actually credited back to my Hilton Aspire American Express card (which I love) in just a few days. I had the credit by March 18.
The easiest by far was Airbnb. They have a fairly generous coronavirus cancellation policy (though it took them a while to get it together).
I simply logged in and clicked "cancel" and got a full refund.
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I was incredibly and pleasantly surprised by how easy the cancellations and refunds were. It makes me appreciate Airbnb, American Airlines, Hilton and Marriott, all of whom gave me my money and miles back on nonrefundable bookings with less than a week to go before the trip. The circumstances are extraordinary, but all four giant corporations really stepped up. It also makes me want to be loyal to them going forward.
Related: Check out the latest updates on airlines’ coronavirus-related waivers, cancellations and route suspensions.
Related: Everything you need to know about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak.
The "problem children" were Expedia and Air Tahiti. I was unable to cancel my flight on Air Tahiti from Papeete (PPT) to Bora Bora Airport (BOB) despite trying to do it on both Expedia's website and with Air Tahiti. I called Expedia several times, and finally decided to try to wait out the hold times. After about an hour, I was disconnected. It was a very frustrating experience. Expedia will not let you cancel unless your travel dates are within the next few days, and it's very hard to get through to them. Hopefully they will improve soon.
Eventually after several emails, I did get a response from Air Tahiti that I think means I might be able to get a credit for future travel, but it's unclear exactly how that happens. I will follow up with them as I (hopefully) get a chance to rebook in the next few months. I will write up the experience then as well.
Yet I continued to beat myself up over the question: Could I still have gone?
It turns out the answer was no. The day before I was set to go, Tahiti ordered all incoming guests to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. That means I would have gotten there and then been sent immediately into quarantine. It remains unclear what "quarantine" looks like, but the Maldives opened an old resort for quarantined arrivals so that might have been my fate too. At first glance, quarantine in paradise sounds glamorous, but I think visitors are literally not allowed to enjoy the beaches or pools.
The other problem would have been even getting to the islands. The flight I was scheduled on was cancelled at the last moment, so it's unclear if I would have been able to even get to PPT to be quarantined. And I still don't know if I would have been able to return to the U.S. once the quarantine was lifted.
Can you imagine being stuck in a resort for weeks or even months? Imagine having to pay resort prices for that long. Instead of Tahiti, I'm holed up at my father's ranch in beautiful Montana.
All in all, I'm super bummed I didn't get to go to Tahiti, but I'm really glad I didn't get stuck there too. And I will get a chance to go once this is all over.
I still want to do the review of the Le Méridien Bora Bora.
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