Coronavirus cancellations have overwhelmed third-party travel booking sites
(CNN) – When Barbara Nicolle from Vancouver Island, Canada purchased a week-long $ 10,000 trip to Mexico using the Expedia booking site, the global pandemic was the last thing on her mind.
She bought her tickets last June. Now, as the coronavirus spreads, Nicolle is among thousands of travelers scrambling to change their plans.
Nicolle had planned to travel with her husband, their three children and an additional minor, leaving for Mexico on Monday March 16.
“We are talking about closing the borders,” she said on Sunday. “At that point, we said there was no way to go.” Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the country’s borders will be closed to many foreigners.
Today, Nicolle, along with many customers of third-party sites like Expedia, Booking.com, and Orbitz, are struggling to get help.
First, she tried contacting Expedia, where a wave of calls made customer service nearly impossible to reach. âI started calling them and staying on hold,â she says. “Usually about an hour and a half to two hours, and [they] just cut you off. I arrived at five o’clock another time. “
Both the airline and hotel told Nicolle they couldn’t help her process her cancellation, sending her directly to Expedia.
âWe reached out to Booking.com and we were like ‘Well, it’s not us, it’s the owner of the property,’â says Milligan, who found information on the Booking.com website. suggesting to call the hotels.
Booking a hotel stay through a third-party booking site can cause complications if you need to cancel.
âAt Booking.com, you can’t reach anyone,â says Milligan, who spent thousands of dollars on his canceled trips, money that has yet to be refunded. “They say they will get back to you within 48 hours [but] no one answers you. ”
The entire travel industry is struggling to cope with a wave of coronavirus-related cancellations. Here’s what you need to know to get refunds from third-party sites, also known as online travel agencies (OTAs):
How do third-party booking sites work?
“Sometimes it’s actually a little cheaper on an online travel agency. That’s one of the reasons people may choose to book.” OTAs are middlemen, Keyes explains, who make money by taking a small commission on bookings.
Sometimes these reservations are more difficult to cancel, in part because many OTAs save on costs by limiting their customer service. âWhen things go wrong like this, it can be a bit trickier if you’ve booked using OTAs rather than directly,â says Keyes. “You have to go through the OTA, and it takes a little longer.”
The good news, he says, is that travelers can still resort to refunds.
âIt varies somewhat from OTA to OTA. Most of them are now slammed with cancel requests and change requests,â Keyes said. To help deal with the sudden onslaught of requests, Keyes notes that most agencies ask travelers to wait right before their trip to call.
âWait to call within 72 hours of your trip to make sure people with very short-term travel plans are given priority,â he says.
How are the main OTAs dealing with the coronavirus?
Each online travel agency has its own cancellation policy. Some, but not all, make special exceptions because of the coronavirus.
Cruises can be booked through third party sites, but this way of booking through âthe intermediaryâ can be problematic when it comes to making travel changes.
What about the smaller OTAs?
Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights notes that in addition to the major OTAs, such as those listed above, there are many smaller OTAs with little name recognition.
âIt tends to be a bit simpler and easier to get refunds, or to have a positive decision on your case, when working with a major OTA,â says Keyes.
âThere are also hundreds of very small OTAs,â he explains. With even less customer support, these small sites can be very difficult for travelers to navigate if something goes wrong.
âIt can turn into a real nightmare,â Keyes says.