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It was the end of 2019 and I found myself daydreaming of a much needed vacation.
2019 was our busiest year yet in the radiology department as we were setting records with the amount of imaging that came through.
By the time the last few weeks of December were rolling around, my fuel tank was nearing empty and I had to motivate myself to make it over the hump.
So it seemed logical to plan something special with my daughter for her freshmen year spring break.
This year we had decided to go to Cancun, Mexico and stay a week at an all-inclusive resort.
What made it even more special for my daughter was that I was coordinating it with the family of one of her best friends so that they could spend it together.
Having my daughter kept busy hanging out with her friend during spring break would also allow me to have some personal down time as well, so it truly was a win-win.
The fact that the resort was all-inclusive also obviated the need for me to plan out each day in terms of dining and entertainment.
Yup, I just planned to lounge around the beach and read a good book as well as enjoy the local cuisine.
Out of all the previous vacations I had planned, this was by far the easiest one, a literal slam dunk win for me, and quite affordable compared to some of the other family vacations we have done recently (most notably my Disney cruise).
The best-laid plans of mice and men….
I guess the biggest red-flag of this whole process was indeed how easy it was.
I should have known better.
Of course you, as well as the entire globe, has a good idea of what ended up happening.
It is amazing that something that is measured in microns can wreak such havoc on humanity, but that is exactly what that little bugger, COVID-19 has done.
Just weeks before the departure, our vacation plans started to unravel as more and more travel alerts started populating the internet.
It became a daily, no hourly, occurrence of me checking all the information I could acquire about our upcoming travel with particular interest in the Cancun locale we would be staying at.
Just a couple of weeks before takeoff there were travelers reporting from Cancun that everything was perfectly fine, ending with advice that there was no need to cancel.
These accounts elevated my hope that this vacation could indeed be salvaged.
One week prior to my daughter’s official spring break, I received notice from her private school that on campus classes were to be suspended one week earlier, essentially giving my daughter 2 weeks off.
The official letter left off saying that the school will be constantly assessing the situation and will let us know how the remainder of the school term would play out.
The unplanned extra week off for my daughter only served to heighten her sense of boredom.
With no outlet to physically see her friends as well as no homework assigned to keep her busy, she was left to her own devices (figuratively and literally).
I sometimes got caught in the crossfire of her boredom as she continued to plead with me to let her hang out with friends and do sleepovers.
I did stand firm, citing that the school was doing this so that social distancing could help flatten the curve and that it would be counterproductive if she engaged in in-person activities with her friends.
I was able to reason with her that the following week we would be in Cancun anyway so she could make due in the meantime.
A rollercoaster ride.
As I mentioned above, this was the first planned trip in which I coordinated with another family.
I kept close tabs with the other family in regards to how they were approaching the pending trip.
The resort that we had booked had a free cancellation policy if it was made 7 days prior to the first night.
Exactly 7 days out I was told by this family that they were going to go ahead and cancel the trip as they were getting spooked by all the news stories even though Cancun was not considered a hot spot at this time.
The following issues I was about to deal with more than wiped out the good feelings I had from how easy the original booking was.
Canceling the hotel was actually quite easy as it was done all online through Expedia.
Given that it was 7 days from the actual stay, there was no penalty fees incurred.
Canceling the flights was a little trickier as there was no quick option to do so on the website.
Expedia only had an option to fill out a cancellation form and said it would take 3-5 days to process and I would be notified.
Much to my dismay, a few days later, our traveling companions said that they had a change of heart and they were going ahead as planned.
They apparently had only canceled the hotel room and held on to the flights (unbeknownst to me at the time).
When my daughter caught wind of this, I was basically caught between a rock and a hard place and I pledged to do my best to get the trip re-booked.
Fortunately the resort room was just as easily re-booked and at the same cost.
The real fiasco came when dealing with the pending cancellation of the flights.
There was no option to cancel the requested cancellation online and I frantically started calling Expedia customer service during this time.
As you can imagine, the phone lines were overwhelmed with other callers because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
If you were lucky to even get through to the automated response system, you then were faced with an hour+ long hold time to talk to a live agent.
I believe I had 3 separate phone calls where I was on-hold for at least 60 minutes only to be unceremoniously hung up on.
I then had to start the process over again.
I even tried the online chat system but Expedia had a completely annoying automated system that never got me to a live agent.
Instead I was faced by some cruel algorithm that would require me to input my itinerary number, ask me if I want to cancel it, and then inform me that an agent is unavailable after my response and then automatically re-initiate the futile cycle.
I decided to call the airline carrier directly (Delta) and after about a 40 minute hold time was able to speak to a live agent and explain my dilemma.
The agent was able to put a note in the system to not cancel the flight request from the Expedia form I had filled out but also wanted me to talk to Expedia directly to be completely safe.
By some miracle, approximately 10 hours from when I first started this ordeal, I was able to speak with a live Expedia agent who was able to cancel my airline flight cancel request and keep my tickets as is.
I felt like the conquering hero in that I had salvaged our spring break at the last minute.
Alas this happiness was all too fleeting.
As a blogger one of the best feelings in the world is when content you publish goes viral.
Unfortunately the inspiration for the “going viral” phrase was playing out in real life and it was truly remarkable how pervasive the actual COVID-19 virus was across the globe.
It was now just days before our departure and there were already musings of the government closing the Mexico-US border.
It soon became clear to me that even if we were able to manage to get to our destination, there was a chance that we would not be allowed to fly back.
Our traveling companions were also re-considering their decision to travel to Cancun and, 2 days before the flight, made the decision that they were canceling the trip altogether.
At this juncture, I too finally decided that the risks far outweighed any potential benefits and decided to cancel the trip.
Although the resort cancellation was once again quite effortless, because it now was less than a week out, I was charged a 2 day penalty (around $600).
Fortunately whenever I plan a vacation to a foreign country, I go ahead and spend some extra money to purchase travel insurance.
I always worry that there may be a medical emergency on foreign soil that would cause me to bear a lot of out of pocket expense so the peace of mind for these travel insurance policies is worth it in my book.
This travel insurance also allowed me to cancel the trip for any reason and thus this penalty was covered with no cost out of pocket to me.
I had learned my lesson and decided to bypass the “Expedia cancellation experience” and called Delta customer service directly to cancel the flights directly.
[For those keeping score this basically meant I had booked the airline tickets, canceled the tickets, re-booked the tickets, and now wanted to cancel them again.]
After another hold of 30-40 minutes, I spoke with an agent who was quite courteous and promptly canceled the flights for me.
She said I would receive a flight credit which I was later informed would have its expiration extended to May 2022.
I am hoping by that time the globe has normalized and air travel is again a viable option.
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Sorry to hear of all the drama, but cancelling was definitely the correct choice for all of you.
And thanks for reminding me to try and get a refund for our ski tickets!
The hotel refunded us, but Mont Tremblant hasn’t reached out at all.
Stay safe, my friend.
Appreciate it. Yes it was the right decision. I believe that Cancun went into lockdown shortly after the cancellation and saw news articles of people stuck in the airport being fed ham sandwiches. So definitely dodged a bullet.
I hope you get a refund for your ski tickets or at the very least credit. I think most businesses have been very understanding of this and figure short term pain will build long term loyalty if they treat their customers right