By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– It’s looking like a summer of un-doing for many people. No money back and nothing he seems to be able to do about it. That’s the situation right now for Randall Phelps of Denver, who is still trying to recover loses he figures are close to $16,000 after an ill-fated trip in March as the coronavirus began to spread.

“Just before we left we checked with the travel agents, the airlines and saw no warnings to say we shouldn’t go and so we went.”

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He took his wife, their two teenage children and his wife’s brother and sister. But the day they got to Cusco, Peru to start their journey to Machu Picchu, things started shutting down.

There was no way to get to Machu Picchu, then there was no flight home. Aero Mexico cancelled it. So they bought the next flight available a week later, at a greater cost. Then Aero Mexico cancelled that too. The airline he says, offered no refund and no alternative flights.

Aero Mexico he says is “still is being very obstinate. We’ve been working on this for about six weeks and nothing yet.”

A check of their policies online indicates no clear or consistent policy for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

The problem for the Phelps clan starts with the fact that it was international travel. If you’re flight is on a U.S. carrier in or from the U.S., the airline does have to give you a refund if the flight is cancelled.

“The Department of Transportation has said that you, the airline, if you cancel the flight, you owe the passenger a refund,” says industry analyst Mike Boyd of Boyd Group International.

(credit: CBS)

But, airlines are waiting on some of those cancellations, says travel agent Alison Bacus, of Travel Abacus, affiliated with The Travel Society. If you try and cancel a flight that still exists, you may be stuck with a voucher.

“Until the airlines cancel your flight, you cannot get a refund and a lot of the airlines are waiting until the very last minute.”

She’s also found some of the airlines have been helpful with people who cannot fly due to medical risks.

“Some of the big ones like Delta and United are being very, very thoughtful in their responses if people have a valid reason not to travel.”

Some of the bigger problems she’s seen have been on flights overseas.

“Sometimes they’re getting nothing. Some of the smaller European carriers are, some of them have gone out of business.”

Others are in danger. Other North American and European carriers, while often under greater regulation, are not giving refunds for cancellations, but vouchers. Canada’s rules for example, amount to a mere suggestion from the government that carriers refund money for cancelled flights; so, some carriers are not.

Things are going better with hotels, which often have cancellation policies by certain dates, but again, overseas rules may vary. Joanne Richardson is a frequent traveler who will likely eat some loses this year. She and her husband have been a long list of great places. She loves to take great photos of animals, people and places.

“They just refused to give us any money back or any vouchers,” she says about a trip to Morocco.

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Tour companies are under no government requirement to offer refunds for cancelled trips, so some are offering vouchers. Sometimes they will offer greater value, like a 10% or 20% percent bonus for taking a voucher. A voucher however, isn’t always what people want.

“When you think about they have your money for a year and they get to invest it. I’d rather be investing it,” says Richardson.

Passengers who are outraged at cancelled flights might go to their credit card company and attempt a charge back.

“Go to your credit card company and say, ‘I paid for a flight, they didn’t deliver a flight, I’m going to dispute this claim,’” says Boyd.

Results are likely mixed, but it’s a possibility. Boyd calls it a moral issue that airlines refund money.

“If I buy a ticket I have made a legal commitment to fly with them regardless? That’s just not accurate.”

He fears many foreign carriers are in trouble, “As far as airlines going out of business in the US, no. Elsewhere in the world they’ll come down like flies at a Raid convention.”

Randall Phelps and his group were forced to stay 19 days in Cusco, Peru. They never got to Machu Picchu. They also booked another airline to try to get out and that flight, too, was cancelled. They finally got out via a charter flight coordinated by the US Embassy. He doesn’t even have the bill for it yet. But he’s impressed at what they did.

“The US Embassy performed some spectacular work getting 9,000 people repatriated.”

Additional interesting fact:

Private travel agents may be getting some of the worst of the economic effects of the coronavirus. Alison Bacus says she is working without income and actually paying money out.

“All we’re doing is we’re refunding, crediting, giving money back. I actually have to pay money back to the airlines that they’ve paid us previously if a client cancelled a flight… It hurts a lot. But you know what, we’re in it for the long run and you know what, we’ll still be here after this pandemic is over.”

If you have a Good Question for CBS4’s Alan Gionet, you can email it to or post them to CBS4’s social media sites with the hashtag #4GoodQuestion. He will try to report on as many as he can.

Alan Gionet


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