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On Thursday, our family sadly decided to cancel our upcoming spring break trip to Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. When news of the coronavirus outbreak started I was mindful that we were heading to Asia, but wasn’t really concerned with traveling to Japan. That was until last Thursday.
Japan announced last Thursday that they were going to close all schools through early April. That’s major. For a country as dedicated to its education as Japan to decide to keep kids out of schools, I knew they were taking this spread seriously.
Shortly after that announcement, Tokyo Disneyland and teamLab Borderless announced they were joining other Tokyo museums and closing as well to prevent the spread. That was our signal, we were canceling.
I thought it might be useful for others to hear why we decided to cancel and what I was able to do about cancellations and refunds.
Why We Canceled
My degree is in biology and while I think this virus is serious and is spreading quickly, I knew that our family members are healthy individuals and with some extra care for public health practices we would probably be fine.
My biggest concerns were around three main issues. One, what if one of us did get sick. Our standard health insurance wouldn’t cover much for out of network care and Japan has warned about the high costs of medical care. The financial cost could be painful.
Because I booked with miles, I hadn’t purchased travel insurance yet. And as the outbreak started most travel insurance providers started saying they wouldn’t cover coronavirus cancellations.
Another concern was about quarantine. What if we traveled to Japan and then couldn’t fly back home or once home we were forced into quarantine. Did I want to risk that possibility? Could we risk that possibility?
And my final reason for deciding to cancel was because with so many Tokyo attractions closing to prevent the spread, our planned vacation wouldn’t be what we planned at all. Why invest in the trip that wouldn’t include some of our priorities. Also, if Japan is sending a strong message to avoid crowds and limit the spread of the virus, is that really the time to go be a tourist in a major international city?
Thankfully our family was in a way better position than most are since I booked our flights with airline miles. I had also been indecisive on my hotel choice for Tokyo, which would be six nights of our trip, and had booked a few options all with free cancellation rates.
One of the extra painful choices in canceling our trip was because I had managed to score four business class tickets to Tokyo on Japan Airlines with my Alaska Airlines miles.
I called to cancel today and will note that even with my special MVP status customer care number, I was offered a callback estimated at 20-30 minutes. I opted for the callback and was called back 22 minutes later.
The agent was able to cancel our tickets and because of my MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines, the change fee was waived since they were booked completely using my miles.
Typically there would be a $125 fee applied for each ticket to cancel our award bookings, but the miles would be credited back after paying the fee. Again, this fee was waived for me because of my status. I’m unsure of whether Alaska would have made an exception for our tickets since we were flying to Japan.
All 240,000 Alaska miles have already been credited back to my account and the taxes and fees I paid will be refunded to my credit card soon. I was told that those refunds are a manual process and can take about seven days.
Our return flight was booked with miles and cash with Delta and I called today to cancel. I was offered a callback in approximately 1 hour and 5 minutes and was called back 51 minutes later.
I told the agent that due to coronavirus we needed to cancel our trip. The Delta phone agent looked up our reservation and said since our cancellation was from Japan and due to coronavirus he had some leniency on granting the cancellation and waiving the fees.
The cash portion of our miles tickets (about $205 each) would not be refunded as cash however since the cash was actually used to buy the miles (10,000 miles). So while we paid 42,000 Delta miles for each ticket plus about $205 USD, we would be credited 52,000 miles back for each ticket. The taxes and fees would be refunded to the credit card I purchased our tickets with.
I was advised to wait at least seven days for the refund and miles to credit as they are dealing with a backlog at the moment. I was told that if I haven’t received the credits after eight or so days I should call back in to have the credits forced through.
Lastly, we had hotel reservations booked for Tokyo and Kyoto. As I stated earlier, being indecisive about our Tokyo hotel paid off since I had only booked free cancellation rates. Those hotels were simply canceled by the push of a button online.
Currently, my biggest loss concern is our Kyoto hotel. I booked two nights there on a non-refundable rate since we knew what hotel we wanted to stay at and it was only a two-night stay. The cost was $700.
I used the online chat for hotels.com and the agent was very helpful but instructed that she would actually need to contact the hotel to request a refund. She attempted to call and did reach a representative but was told she’d need to talk to the front desk at 7 am Tokyo time, which was in about four hours.
The online agent told me that she would send my request to her “offline team” and they would work on seeing if a cancellation allowance would be made because of coronavirus. I was told to expect an email in 48-72 hours.
If I cannot talk them into canceling the Kyoto hotel my next course will be to figure out what credit card I booked that hotel reservation with and see if there is any chance I have trip cancellation coverage that will offer coverage. But there is a chance that we will be out that $700 hotel cost.
UPDATE 3/3/20: I just heard from hotels.com and they were able to make an exception and offer me a refund on my reservation. I was able to contact them again via their online chat and they issued a full refund for the cancellation.
How I Got So Many Miles
One question you might be asking is how I managed to get so many airline miles that helped put us in this spot where we hadn’t spent a lot of cash on these flights.
I used Alaska miles for the Japan Airlines flights and those miles were accrued from my own flying, with the Alaska Airlines credit card, and by converting Marriott points I earned from two Marriott Bonvoy credit cards into Alaska miles. Alaska has a few international mile partners and since I’m based in Seattle it makes sense for me to give them my loyalty.
We also fly Delta out of Seattle since it’s one of their hubs and my husband flies them for work. I redeemed a bulk of my Membership Rewards points from my American Express Platinum card plus used some of our non-expiring Delta miles to get four Comfort+ tickets from Osaka to Seattle.
The Biggest Cost
In conclusion, we’re looking pretty good with only a possible loss of $700. However, the biggest cost for us is the loss of this amazing trip experience we had planned. I’ve known for over a year that this was going to be our trip for spring break. After stalking for reward seats for months, I scored our points tickets in September. And I’ve been making plans ever since.
Mia has watched numerous YouTube videos and made slideshows about all the places she wants to visit, many in Harajuku. :)
Lizzy was super excited to get to see an international Disney park as we planned a visit to Tokyo DisneySea.
I’ll also mention that everything seemed to be lining up for a trip timed with cherry blossom blooming and I had plans for a day trip to Mt Fuji and couldn’t wait to walk through the parks of Kyoto.
All of those plans are gone. Can they be made again? Absolutely. But I have my doubts that everything will line up the same way again. Will four business class tickets come available again? Will our spring break line up perfectly with cherry blossom blooming again? Who knows.
This experience has made me even more mindful of how expensive travel is and how quickly plans can change beyond our control. This won’t keep me from traveling, but it certainly will make me think carefully about cancellation policies and carrying annual travel insurance.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.