Changing (And Canceling) A Mess Of A Trip

Introduction: A Mess Of A Trip
Review: Delta SkyClub Detroit Airport
Review: Delta One Suites A350 Detroit To Beijing
Review: Park Hyatt Bangkok
Review: Thai Airways First Class Lounge Bangkok Airport
Review: Thai Airways First Class 747 Bangkok To Hong Kong
Changing (And Canceling) A Mess Of A Trip


While Ben keeps apologizing for being sick on two of our trips in a row (which suggests that either we need to go on trips more than every other year, or he needs to start taking advantage of the miracle of modern medicine that is vaccinations), I still had a lovely trip. The warmth of Bangkok and Hong Kong was a welcome relief from the Spokane snow, and Ben was surprisingly pleasant for someone who obviously felt poorly.

Fortunately, while he has sweetly reiterated how much care I took of him, there’s really not that much care required when someone is sleeping 18-20 hours a day.

I spent that time taking advantage of the timezone to get work stuff done without distractions (including starting our contributor search), but still had plenty of time to wander in Bangkok, which was especially enjoyable during the cooler evenings. The city was in a festive mood with all the Chinese New Year celebrations, including a lovely delivery of chrysanthemum tea from the hotel.

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Happy New Year indeed 🐕

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Our immediate neighborhood in Hong Kong, by contrast, felt pretty dead (though other parts of the city were bustling when I went exploring). The Grand Hyatt has a convenient location if you’re in town for business, but it’s not in a particularly lively area outside of business hours. Or, at least, not on a weekend that is flanked by national holidays.

On Monday things picked up a bit, but the majority of shops and restaurants in the area were closed during our stay. Which is a little inconvenient when you’re out looking for a pharmacy.

Hong-Kong-City

Once doctors confirmed that Ben legitimately had the flu, we knew we’d have to change our tickets, though since we didn’t know when it would be okay for him to travel we held off on making any changes until the day before we were originally due to depart.

Several of you have asked about the costs and processes for changing all these tickets, so I thought I’d go through that a bit.

Changing the (edited) original tickets

As you may recall, we had intended to fly from Hong Kong to Beijing on Cathay Dragon, to connect back up with the return of our Delta One trip to/from Toronto. We also had separate tickets back from Toronto to the West Coast, because of course we did.

So in terms of tickets, the breakdown was as follows:

  • Cathay Dragon from Hong Kong to Beijing (issued through British Airways for 40,000 Avios + ~$100 each)
  • Delta from Beijing to Toronto via Detroit (return of ~$2000 revenue tickets)
  • My Delta ticket from Toronto to Spokane via Salt Lake City (~$180)
  • Ben’s American ticket from Toronto to Los Angeles (~$230)

Even once Ben was finally given the all-clear to travel, it didn’t seem necessary or wise to subject him to four segments when we could get back to the U.S. in one, so I set about trying to see what miles and dollars could be salvaged from our non-refundable tickets.

Delta

Both Ben and I are Platinum Medallions, and I was calling in reference to a paid international business class ticket (albeit an inexpensive one!), so I was expecting this to be a reasonably easy call. The agent I spoke with was incredibly sympathetic, said she’d been ill once on a trip and that it was the worst thing ever, and was honestly more concerned about how we were going to get home if we canceled our tickets than the fare rules.

She ultimately gave me two choices:

  • Rebook us on our same itinerary for a few days or a week later, without paying any change fees or difference in fare
  • Cancel out the remaining coupons, and issue each of us a voucher to be used within a year of ticketing for the unused segments, with all change fees waived

These were both above and beyond options. Typically the change fees at least would still be levied (at least until the medical documentation is submitted), so for her to offer to waive them was extremely kind, and a good example of treating elites well.

Since we didn’t know when we’d be traveling, and four segments seemed unwise, I chose to receive the vouchers. The credits ended up being ~$1400 each, which was more than I was expecting (though made more sense once I looked at our minimal MQD earnings for the flown segments). She also proactively offered the voucher treatment for my ticket back to Spokane, which she saw in my account without my mentioning it.

Very impressive, and an overall great experience. Delta elites often rave about the service they get from the Medallion desk, and if this is standard treatment I can certainly see why!

American

Ben is also still an Executive Platinum with American, though since “going for great” doesn’t seem to mean “go out of our way to help our best customers” anymore, I wasn’t expecting a similar waiver of rules and fees. Still, I wanted to let them know he wouldn’t be flying so that they wouldn’t be blocking a seat or giving an upgrade to someone who wouldn’t be making the flight.

I explained the situation, acknowledged that it absolutely wasn’t their problem, and asked what the options were. The agent said she could cancel the ticket, but that in order to waive any fees we’d have to submit documentation to customer relations asking to waive the change fee. Regardless, Ben would get a voucher for the residual value, which he could apply to a future trip.

This is the more typical treatment of a canceled ticket, and right in line with my expectations. If we had changed the flight rather than canceled it, we would have paid the change fee and any difference in fare, then the change fee could have potentially been refunded after customer relations reviewed the doctor’s letter. This is likely what you could expect in a similar situation.

British Airways

I saved the best for last here, because while British Airways has generous change policies for award tickets, those end once you get within 24 hours of departure. In retrospect, it would have been smarter to cancel these tickets as soon as Ben was diagnosed with the flu, but I was preoccupied with meandering through Kowloon and calling TAAG Angola, so didn’t think of it.

So, expecting nothing, I called BA, explained the situation, and asked if an exception could be made or if there was any way to have the Avios refunded. To my absolute shock, the friendly agent Niall said he could cancel the tickets, and we’d receive a refund of the Avios, and the taxes less the $55 cancelation fee.

Unfortunately, if something sounds to good to be true, it usually is. There has been no refund of Avios, nor of taxes, and every agent I speak with at British Airways is flummoxed as to why, and can do nothing about it. Some say that tickets can’t be refunded within 24 hours (true!), or that redeposits are instant (also true!), though no one seems to know what to do when an exception is supposedly made, but not followed through on. Executive Club says to email Customer Relations, who then responds saying to contact Executive Club, and back and forth.

At the end of the day, it’s fortunately not a huge deal. We’re not entitled to a refund based on the ticket terms, and if I’d been told that in the first call I would have been fine with it. And I still haven’t been told that a refund isn’t happening, just that I have to complete some new task, which is a bit tedious.

The Grand Hyatt 

While we didn’t have anything to cancel here, I have to emphasize how incredibly kind and hospitable the staff were at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.

They helped me find a doctor who would come to the room when Ben literally couldn’t stand (and paid him directly, adding the charges to the folio), made it easy to extend our stay, sent up cases of water and Pocari Sweat, made plates from the Club Lounge for me to take down to him, and were just generally amazing. Everyone I interacted with seemed genuinely concerned, all of which made a pretty rough experience much more manageable.

Booking new tickets

This was so easy that it almost doesn’t warrant a section of its own, but I know some people are curious.

Once everything was canceled, and after doctors in both Hong Kong and the U.S. confirmed that it was fine for Ben to fly, I called Alaska Mileage Plan. I got a great agent in Seattle, and asked when the next Cathay Pacific flight to the U.S. was where they could see two seats in first, or one in first and one in business. He was familiar with how Alaska can’t always see Cathay Pacific space, and quickly found two seats the following afternoon to Los Angeles for 70,000 miles each and ~$88 in taxes.

At this point he remembered that there was a newly-imposed 72 hour restriction on Cathay tickets, but when I told him that had been revised he placed me on hold and went to look for the new memo.

Still, it took less than ten minutes to get these tickets issued, which was a relief.

Bottom line

I tend to take a pretty zen approach to travel. I figure that I’m plenty smart and have more resources in this space than most, so pretty much anything that comes up can be dealt with in one way or another. That calmness came in handy here, not just with reassuring Ben’s anxious parents, but also with getting the help that was needed from various people and companies without causing drama.

We were also fortunate to be in a major city with fantastic health care, and to have the option to FaceTime a physician back home — this would have all been much more complicated if he’d fallen ill in a rural, developing, or less-connected area, though we both have a modicum of medical evacuation coverage through the Amex Platinum. And being able to get a direct award flight home of course made repatriation much easier, as we didn’t have to deal with trying to change our original itinerary during a busy travel time.

This experience was also a good reminder to make sure you know your coverage options when traveling. Many cards offer some form of travel insurance (and I’ll try and cover that in a future post), but you need to carefully read the terms to know whether things like medical expenses and change fees on award tickets are covered, along with what documentation you’ll need to provide in order to be reimbursed.

In general, award tickets are more flexible if you need to cancel. The specific change polices of revenue tickets depend on the fare purchased, though in this case we lucked out with our Delta status and a friendly agent. In most cases, you’ll be liable for a change fee that can potentially be waived or reimbursed after sending in your documentation, so be sure to keep track of any doctor’s notes.

Have you had to change tickets due to illness? How did it go?

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Comments

  1. When he sweetly reiterated how much care you took of him, was he referring to changing (and canceling) a mess of a trip?

  2. It was a few years ago now (2013) but I cancelled QF flight booked with BA Avios within 24 hours. I referenced what was at the time clause 17.2 of the Executive Club terms and conditions which related to cancellation of rewards within 24 hours where the event leading to the cancellation was beyond my control (and they accepted that illness qualified as an event that was beyond my control under the definition).

    You’d have to check whether the terms and conditions for Executive Club still have a similar provision and in my case it did take a few phone calls (and I had to submit doctors letters per the terms) but I eventually got a full refund of the avios and taxes (less the standard cancellation fee).

  3. Great post Tiffany. The flexibility of award tickets compared to cash is one thing I try and stress with people when they want to get in the points/miles world but aren’t sure it’s worth it.

    Southwest in particular is amazing because their award tickets are fully refundable up until 10 minutes before flight time. I have booked a number of very speculative flights over the years that ended up working out (and others that needed to be changed) because of this policy. It has made me very loyal to Southwest for travel in the US.

  4. I always thought the change fees still applied unless you purchased some form of travel insurance even in the case of illness? Does this typically apply to any form of illness or injury? I had an accident this year preventing travel for several months but paid change fees to change a flight assuming I couldn’t get them waived for a regular no -refundable fare with no travel insurance (purchased on a Chase Sapphire Preferred).

  5. Tiffany, I was unaware of the evacuation/repatriation policy through Amex Platinum. Thanks for sharing!

    My wife and son and I are about to embark on a trip to SE Asia. I was considering a separate travel policy, but it appears the Plat provides much of what’s needed in event of emergency.

    Does anyone have personal experience with this? Is it best to pay the extra for a policy for peace of mind, or will the Plat policy suffice?

  6. I once had to cancel a BA award and it took 14 days for the points to redeposit. Ordinarily, Avios are reposted instantly. Just a data point. Has Ben checked his balance again?

  7. Given his lifestyle ( incredibly frequent flyer, constant changes in time zones/climates, increased exposure to viruses via close proximity on planes etc), wouldn’t it be wise to contemplate a flu vaccination. Maybe lightning doesn’t strike twice but the flu changes every year. This last flu season in Australia was REALLY bad: a lot of people died, some of them young, fit, healthy.

  8. “….he needs to start taking advantage of the miracle of modern medicine that is vaccinations”. While I am all for vaccinations my family of 4 all got flu shots last winter and we ALL got flu. It was a tough winter for all of us.

  9. If there is any symphathy to be given than it is to you Tiffany..Ben is really lucky to always have a reliable person with him when getting a flu or any illness while travelling around. No need to mention getting the proper vaccinations. A half decent FF should know that! I recommend you to travel with a different partner next time so you can at least experience a decent holiday and not playing nurse or SOS assisstant for flight cancellations etc. What is the sense of travelling constantly without looking properly over his health! It is time to marry Ford and settle down a bit. Let those younger vivant jetsetters like James do the job for a while.

  10. Thank you, Tiffany. Glad to see you’re back in the game with the strong writing you usually apply.

    I recently had to cancel a BA reward trip due to unforeseen circumstances that literally unfolded three days before original departure. Avios posted nearly instantly into my account cash minus the cancellation fees took a little while longer.

  11. Thanks for this article Tiffany, this is really useful. Looks like you also got really lucky with the agents you got on the phone as they mostly seemed very helpful and friendly.
    An article on how to deal with medical issues would be great as well! Can I ask how much the doctor in HK ended up charging? Were you guys able to use a US insurance to cover it?

  12. Do you not have travel insurance? Surely any change fees (plus doctors bill, additional accomodation, etc) would be covered?

  13. @ Jetset — It really depends on the carrier, as each has different rules regarding what fees can be waived/refunded and in what circumstances. Travel insurance will often cover the cancelation fees regardless of whether or not the provider does, but there are sometimes other options.

  14. @ Grant — It really depends on the scope of your trip. If you’re going to be primarily in urban areas with good communication, and are in good health, the Amex Plat policy is probably fine. If there’s any suggestion of a pre-existing condition (which Amex won’t cover), or if you’re going to be in areas with fewer resources, a more comprehensive plan isn’t a bad idea. GeoBlue’s Choice plan has decent rates and good coverage: https://www.geobluetravelinsurance.com/products/multi-trip/trekker-compare-plans.cfm

  15. @ Clem — It was ~$250 (because the doctor had to come to us, would have been much less expensive had Ben gone to a clinic). We filed a claim with his insurance, but I think best case it will probably just apply to his annual deductible.

  16. Tiffany, great article. You always provide good info. Also I see you flew back to Spokane. I’m a long time reader and had no idea you were a fellow Washingtonian! Greetings from SW Washington! Hope you’ve been having as lovely days as we have DOWN here in Vancouver lol.

  17. Tiffany, I really enjoyed reading your article!

    To your question: Very fortunately, in over 20 years of frequent international air travel, I only had two health related cancellations. One was with KL on a non refundable revenue ticket: They followed the rules and refunded the fees. Admittedly, I was only a mid tier frequent flyer with them. So absolutely in line with expectations and the fare rules.

    The second was more frustrating: A revenue ticket on LX, refundable against a fee. But all I got was a voucher, even after escalating that I was entitled to a cash refund (minus the refund fee of EUR 80). They insisted I’d have to litigate for money … and this being a SEN at that stage! Very clearly a breach of the fare rules by LX! but in the absence of a small claims court no way to resolve it … but to vote “by feet”. This was one of my triggering events to avoid LX in any case …

  18. Would be interested to hear how much a doctor visit to your hotel costs in HKG.

    What are we talking…magnitude of 10’s? Couple hundred?

  19. For people like you guys, it wouldn’t hurt to have something like MedJet where you pay a fee (not cheap) for an entire year of coverage. Granted you are young and unlikely to have severe issues but ~$500 a year for all of the traveling you do, could save thousands in the event of a necessary medical evacuation. And you can pick where you want to be evacuated to (i.e., not just the closest place).

    I realize many will say that is too much money but when you live on the road, and also seem to be doing well financially, it is probably a small (and probably able to be written off on the taxes) expense. (And there may be other options similar to MedJet.)

  20. Thanks for another great article, Tiffany. I recently went to Mexico City for a few days and really appreciated your detailed trip report from 2016. We made extensive use of your suggestions and had a great trip. Xochimilco and Coyocan was a fantastic way to spend a day.

  21. Excellent article, and I loved the comparison of how each of the CSRs handled a somewhat unique situation. It really highlights which companies empower their employees to attract and, more importantly, retain high value customers. Not surprised about Alaska…I can count on one hand the number of time I’ve had a useless agent with them over dozens of bookings. Same with Delta…I’m a UA->AA->DL convert, starting at the bottom now with no status on DL but have been incredibly impressed over the last year with their service in the air and on the gound/phone. Glad everything worked out!

  22. Did you pay for the two Cathay tickets from a single Mileage Plan account (guessing yours)? If so, could Ben ‘reimburse’ you from his account if he wanted?

  23. @Tiffany – You always write well.

    Question: Does the Amex Platinum evacuation insurance cover anyone on any trip, or is it only for a trip where the ticket was purchased with the Platinum card, do you know? I looked at the terms and I didn’t see anything.

  24. A few years ago we had an appointment in San Francisco for a fetal medical procedure (we lived in Los Angeles). The morning of our UA flight to SFO, we had a change for the worse in our medical issue (it’s all fine now) and needed to have emergency surgery rather than a consult for a future surgery. I called United, explained our situation, and the agent not only cancelled or tickets, but secured us a full refund to our credit card. To be fair, both my wife and I were Golds, but I felt like that was an outcome above and beyond what I could have reasonably expected.

  25. @ bryan t — It was ~$250 (because the doctor had to come to us, would have been much less expensive had Ben gone to a clinic).

  26. @ rich — It’s something I’ve looked into before, but since we are young/healthy and generally have to stay fairly well-connected, self-insuring combined with the Amex Platinum is fine for most cases. If either of us were spending significant time in more isolated areas we’d absolutely do it.

  27. @ Masterchef — We did, but it would have been fine to have the agent ticket from our individual accounts as they were building the itinerary. I just didn’t want to risk an IRROPS situation where we’d be accommodated on different flights. It’s generally not a good value to transfer points between accounts though.

  28. @ TravelinWilly — Aww, thanks!

    Their coverage includes the cardmember, and their spouse/domestic partner, any dependents up to age 23 (or age 26 if a full time student), provided they’re on the same itinerary with you. You only have to be a cardmember, don’t have to pay with the Amex Plat. It’s really a fabulous benefit that we should talk about more.

  29. I like award tickets especially AA ..Did u have Travel ins or just the credit card ins as in $$$ ??
    Good for u Lady u took control !!!

    Thanks

  30. As usual, a very informative essay from the very knowledgeable Tiffany. May I suggest a separate post on the sole topic of travel insurance, including the benefits from (and restrictions of) various cards and insurance programs?
    Thanks.

  31. Skip the vaccinations. Just spend a month diligently getting 8-9 hours sleep a night and you will notice a huge difference. I spent much of my life firmly in the “sleep is for wimps” category. But a change in circumstances afforded me the luxury of regular good sleep and that has transformed my health in terms of my immune system, blood sugar level management and liver/digestion function. Seriously – try it !!!

  32. Does the business Amex card offer the same benefit? That’s really nice if you’re in a tight spot.

  33. “The Grand Hyatt has a convenient location if you’re in town for business, but it’s not in a particularly lively area outside of business hours.”

    Walk 10 minutes to Lockhart Road and you will be in Hong Kong’s LIVELIEST after-hours area!

  34. Yes, you need to take more trips together. Your friendship is one of the fun parts of the blog, so it’d be nice to see you and Lucky do a trip with both of you in good health and enjoying it.

  35. So Lucky doesn’t believe in vaccinating? Isn’t an anti Vac germaphobe a contradiction in terms?

  36. That’s great it was only $250 for a “home visit.” What health insurance do you guys have? It’s so difficult to find any policies in the US that even offer international coverage.

  37. For a very favorable contrast – I was ill in Cape Town (Paarl) and had to visit the doctor twice last December. Doctor visits (almost an hour) cost $40 Cdn ($30 US) each. Fully paid by medical insurance but still with no insurance would have been an incredible deal.

  38. I had no idea you were in Spokane! I am also a female reasonably frequent traveler that transplanted to Spokane and loves the blog! Welcome to the city! Not a lot of choices for non stop destinations, but at least it is a short walk to the gates!

  39. Great article! Thanks for putting it all together. I used to expect that kind of treatment from Delta as a Platinum for years. Last year I was nothing and this year I’m Silver, and to my great surprise I still receive about the same level of service. Perhaps I have to ask a little more instead of being offered things, but the agents are just as good to me. They’ve waived, cancelled, refunded during the last two years. Even with no status, I felt like they were interested in taking care of me…it’s just took 30 minutes to get a call back haha.

  40. A point of comparison between Amex Plat and Medjet: if you require in-patient hospitalization, Medjet will transport you to the hospital of your choice, no questions asked. Also, Medjet covers pre-existing conditions as long as your doctor has ok’ed your travel. Medjet gives a discount if you get the 5-year plan. If you are an AARP member, you get an additional 15% off any Medjet plan. I did get the Medjet plan because it is peace of mind. I am healthy, but stuff happens, such as a young man I heard of who was hit by a car and had to be brought home at great expense.

    Here are Amex Plat’s terms. Very generous, but they transport you to the nearest facility that they consider adequate to meet your needs. Their decision, not yours. And they do not cover pre-existing conditions:
    9. What is Emergency Medical Transportation?
    In the event that you or another covered family member (your spouse or domestic partner, dependent up to age 23, or age 26 if full-time student traveling on the same itinerary as the Card Member) becomes injured or suffers an illness which is not pre-existing while traveling on a trip less than 90 days, the Premium Global Assist Hotline medical department will assess your medical needs and coordinate your transportation.
    Medical transportation may be provided at no cost to the Card Member or covered family member to the nearest appropriate medical facility as determined by the Premium Global Assist Hotline designated physician, from point of illness or injury, when the Card Member or covered family member is under the care of a local medical service provider or facility. In addition, the Premium Global Assist Hotline designated physician, in consultation with the local medical service provider or facility, must determine that such transport is medically necessary and advisable due to inadequacy of local facilities. The person needing transportation may need to complete a HIPAA Release, or provide authorization for next of kin to complete the release. Emergency transportation services in connection with the medical emergency may also be provided to a covered family member pursuant to the full Emergency Medical Transportation Assistance Terms and Conditions. Subject to additional important terms, conditions and exclusions. Please see full Terms and Conditions at americanexpress.com/GAterms.

  41. I recently had to cancel a trip and rebook two weeks later. I had bought travel insurance, and I discovered the credit card I used has a trip cancellation benefit. I tried to open claims with each but each asked if I had any other reimbursement requests in the works, and each had only a yes or no box. I decided to apply for the paid trip insurance first since I paid for it but I think if one cancels they both will since it was for a follow up surgery for cancer. The surgery was unexpected, but if they can call it a pre-existing condition they probably will. But my question is – which insurance is primary? Do you agree the trip insurance is the primary over the credit card benefit insurance?

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