Why (and how) I rescheduled my father-daughter trip to see Santa at the ‘North Pole’
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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the travel industry both here in the U.S. and around the world, the number of postponed or canceled trips continues to climb. For me, this has meant shifting a Colombia trip to next year’s spring break and rebooking a two-week Asia adventure to late-May 2021.
And most recently, it led me to reschedule a trip for this November that I couldn’t wait to take.
Here’s why and how I rebooked my trip to the “North Pole” (actually northern Finland) — and some strategies that you can possibly use for your own travel plans.
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Overview of the trip
If you’ve ever been around me during the months of November and December, you know that I am a Christmas lover. Holiday music hits my iPhone on Nov. 1, and if I had it my way, the Christmas decorations would be up the day after Thanksgiving (spoiler alert: my wife doesn’t agree).
That’s why I was shocked I had never heard of Santa’s Lapland until coming across it in a magazine article in Dec. 2019. With a daughter who had just turned five, this seemed like a perfect age for her to experience a trip to the “North Pole” to meet Santa. And not only do we typically spend Thanksgiving in Europe, which is when these tours start — she would also turn six on the actual trip itself.
Thrilled with the timing of it all, we grabbed one of the earliest departures from London-Gatwick in Nov. 2020 and started to get excited.
And then … the world changed.
Making the decision to reschedule
When COVID-19 became a full-on, global pandemic, we began adjusting our already-planned trips. Since virtually all of our travel arrangements were booked with points and miles or as refundable rates, we were able to do this without any notable problems. However, we kept our November trip to Europe intact, hoping that containment measures around the world would make it possible for us to still depart on schedule.
After making deposits early in the year, our final (large) payment for Santa’s Lapland was due Sept. 17, 2020. At the end of August, we looked closely at COVID numbers here in the U.S. as well as travel restrictions in Europe. Our trip was supposed to start with five nights in France, and as of now, there are no indications that American tourists will be allowed entry there any time soon.
And with the ongoing, 14-day quarantine in the United Kingdom — where our tour to Lapland was scheduled to begin and end — we simply couldn’t see a way to make it work.
On Aug. 28, we decided to proactively cancel the trip.
The process of rebooking
On that date, we sent a message to the reservations team at Santa’s Lapland, inquiring about rescheduling our trip to 2021. Within two hours, we received a response that not only said we could do that; it would also require no administrative fee and we’d be able to confirm the new holiday before the 2021 season went on sale to the general public. All of the money we initially paid would be transferred to the new reservation as well.
A few weeks later, another representative contacted us with next year’s details. We’d have the exact same itinerary — just in 2021 instead of 2020. The company even shaved £100 ($129) off the price so it would be the exact same cost as our trip would’ve been this year. We’re now confirmed for Nov. 2021 — thanks to the fantastic customer service from Santa’s Lapland and its willingness to work with us.
Other parts of the trip
While the hotel reservations were all refundable, here’s how we’re handling the other aspects of the trip:
- Airbnb: As of publication, Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy that allows for full refunds only covers reservations made prior to March 14, 2020 (ours was booked on Feb. 22) and “within the next 45 days from today,” per Airbnb’s website. Our booking is just outside of this window, so we’re not yet eligible for a refund. We can request a refund with our host, though we’d likely need to eat the Airbnb fees we already paid. As a result, we’re planning to wait it out and hope that in a week or so, we can utilize the extenuating circumstances policy to obtain a full refund.
- Outbound flight: Our outbound itinerary is on Iberia through Madrid (MAD), and it remains on the carrier’s schedule as booked. However, it’s very possible that it’ll be adjusted as the departure date approaches. If not, we can simply cancel, get our Avios back and hold the taxes and fees as a credit toward a future award flight — ideally next year.
- Return flight: Our return journey was a nonstop, Virgin Atlantic flight from London-Heathrow. It has been canceled, so we’re eligible for a full refund of the miles along with the taxes and fees. We’ll probably pursue this route — especially with the recent announcement that Virgin miles will no longer expire — though we may ultimately keep the ticket open to reuse next year.
What are the key takeaways?
Of course, the above situation is unique to me, as I highly doubt that anyone has a trip booked with this exact combination of flights, tours and accommodations. Nevertheless, there are a couple of important takeaways that could apply to your own travels.
It never hurts to ask
I’ve been a points and miles enthusiast for nearly two decades, and across my travels, I’ve found that it truly never hurts to ask — and this is especially applicable during the age of coronavirus. According to the terms of my trip to see Santa, we should’ve been charged a change fee per person, but by inquiring (politely) about shifting our trip to next year, we were given that option with no additional out-of-pocket cost.
Even if you don’t think it will work, go ahead and try it the next time you need to adjust your travel plans.
Be flexible and open to options
It also helps to be flexible with your travels. Did we want to take this trip in 2020? Of course. However, that simply wasn’t an option, so we agreed to postpone to next year.
This can be especially important if you have tours or vacation packages booked. With the downturn in tourism, many tour providers are struggling. Whether you’re entitled to a refund or not, you should be open to additional options if your trip can’t go as planned.
Though this doesn’t apply to the above trip, we did experience this with a tour company in Colombia. We had reserved a Pablo Escobar tour in Medellín this past March, and when it became clear that we couldn’t take the trip, we requested a refund (allowed up to 48 hours in advance, per the terms & conditions). The head of the company politely asked if we’d be open to keeping the funds active for a future trip in exchange for an extra hour on the tour.
We agreed, and we’re now hoping to recreate the trip in March 2021 — though we’ll be flexible if international travel still isn’t feasible by then.
Finally, there’s a common strategy with the other travel arrangements: patience. If you have a trip that required any type of payment in advance — be it a deposit or a full prepayment — and you need to cancel it, there’s no need to rush it. Be patient, and wait to see what happens. If an airline cancels your flight, you should be eligible for a refund. However, if you cancel it first, you’ll likely be left with a travel voucher instead.
Deciding to cancel our trip to Santa’s Lapland was tough, but by carefully considering our options and approaching the situation with an open mind and flexibility, we were able to do so with little hassle. We’re now rebooked for 2021, and as soon as the flight schedule opens ~11 months ahead of the trip, we’ll jump on those too.
If you have an upcoming trip that’ll likely be interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, follow the strategies above, and you just may find yourself in the same situation.
Featured photo by Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld / Getty Images
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