“You’re in a great position!” says Brad of the Walt Disney World Travel Company. Brad’s name has been altered to protect the stupid. It is difficult to agree with Brad’s assessment of the predicament I now find myself in.
Brad is a typically enthusiastic Walt Disney World Cast Member, and perhaps a bit too much of the Florida Sun has gone to his head. When things are working well, it is difficult for guests not to be uplifted with these enthusiastic vibes. However, when things are less favorable, Brad’s assessment becomes a bit irritating.
Despite this, I have some degree of respect for Brad. He has probably been dealing all day with upset and possibly angry customers. You have to be impressed with his level of optimism in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, the real position I am now in is not as favorable as Brad’s assessment.
In summary the position I now find myself in presents many problems:
- There is a travel ban from entering the US from the UK.
- There is a travel advisory notice from the UK FCO advising against all non-essential foreign travel. The FCO advice means that all travel insurance policies are invalid if you should decide to travel.
- Virgin Atlantic has canceled my flights, but I have managed to rebook for October.
- I have a Walt Disney World Vacation booked for July 3. Parks will not be open, our resort is unlikely to be open, and I can’t get to the US. Disney World has also temporarily decided to stop future reservations. They have also emailed all guests, since I spoke to Brad, asking not to contact them as they are unlikely to be able to answer questions.
Rearranging our vacation
We made the decision a few weeks back that we would try to move our vacation to October. Of course, this will only happen if the various international travel restrictions are relaxed. However, we felt a lot was likely to have changed in the next five months.
We managed to rearrange our flights with Virgin Atlantic for October. I will discuss Virgin Atlantic later in the post, but this move has not been a smooth experience. Disney has only beaten Virgin in being obstructive.
Big thumbs up to!
There have been a few companies we have rearranged bookings with who have been fantastic, and I would like to highlight them first:
- Premier Inn allowed simple movement online of my Manchester Airport hotel booking to October. They even gave me a £7 refund, received within days, as my new booking was cheaper.
- Manchester Airport parking canceled online, and a full refund received within a week.
- Expedia booking of Loews Portofino Bay at Universal Orlando canceled quickly online. I had paid a first-night deposit only, and Loews have already refunded this. As a bonus due to the drop in the value of the pound, I received £30 more than I initially paid. We have already made a new booking at the resort for our October stay.
- We purchased a lounge at Manchester Airport through Holiday Extras. The cancellation was easy, but we did receive a voucher instead of a cash refund.
I think all 4 of the above have designed brilliant systems to assist customers. I have no criticisms about the response from any of these companies. Unfortunately, rebooking with both Virgin Atlantic and Walt Disney World has not been as easy as the above.
Dealing with Virgin Atlantic has been a mixed bag. Their financial pressures have been well documented and have almost certainly contributed to their response. Despite numerous flight cancellations, many guests are reporting difficulties in receiving a refund. I have failed to find any reports of cash being returned when researching this post, the only exceptions being for Section 75 Claims. However, I suspect those who have already received funds have been less quick to announce their success on social media.
The current airline business model appears flawed. Sell flights many months in advance, with customers paying in advance a non-refundable fare. While I might not be correct with my assumptions, it seems many airlines keep afloat by running on income received from customers in advance of travel dates. In regular times this model works fine, but when we hit the current situation, their cashflow quickly runs dry as they have already spent the money received on these future flights.
I had been waiting until Virgin Atlantic offered the opportunity to rebook my flights before taking any action. The announcement was made a couple of weeks back, and it was time to accept our July Vacation was over. Virgin presented two options:
- Move your flight to a new date before November 30, 2020. If you take up this option, there will be no increase in flight costs.
- Accept an open-ticket valid until September 30, 2022. Guests taking this option will have to pay any fare difference.
We chose the first option as it was unclear what would happen to an open ticket/voucher in the event Virgin Atlantic goes into administration. Since we made this choice a 3rd option did become available, as our flight was canceled, we would have been entitled to a refund.
Requesting a change of flight was straightforward. A simple online form was available in which you would receive your new flight, if possible, within one week. The form was the easy part; the rest was less straightforward.
I was emailed by Virgin within 6 days that my flight had been rebooked and I will shortly receive confirmation of my new flights. Unfortunately the attached message suggested there might be problems ahead
Your flights have been rebooked however there are no direct flights from Manchester to Orlando on these dates. If the routing isn’t sufficient please call or email back in to change dates.
I have not edited this message to redact names. It was sent as copied above. Virgin had stated that they would contact you by phone in advance if your choice of flights were not available, but chose not to do this.
The flight tickets arrived with indirect flights arranged to stop at Atlanta on the way out and JFK inbound. Not ideal, on first look. Less than perfect, when I noticed the connection at Atlanta was 90 minutes, which would include getting through US immigration. The flight selection seemed a very odd choice when another connection was available 60 minutes later.
Due to changes in the Virgin fleet, there is a lack of flights available at the moment. However, direct flights were available from Manchester the next day. The process to change seemed easy “call or email back.”
- Call…don’t call unless your problem is urgent. Use text or WhatsApp.
- Text…no response…I still have had no response several weeks later.
- WhatsApp…no response
- Twitter..tell you to text or use WhatsApp.
- Email..we can’t deal with this by email..contradicting what they said in the original email
Eventually, due to the lack of options available, I decided to proceed with a phone call. It took just over 1 hour to get through and rearrange my flights for October.
I still have not received a confirmation, and for a short period, I had both my direct and indirect flights listed on my booking, but my Virgin account does now show the correct flights. Hopefully, it is now all sorted, assuming travel bans are lifted.
Virgin is clearly under horrendous pressure, and they never anticipated the situation they are now in. However, the member of staff I spoke to on the phone was accommodating, and she sorted all issues out very quickly. Assuming Virgin survive and travel bans are lifted, we should be going to Orlando in October.
I do find Virgin frustrating, but I do hope it survives the current crisis.
Walt Disney World
We started this blog post focusing on Brad from Walt Disney World, and that is where we will end. As you will remember, Brad optimistically told me we were “in a great position!” Now I guess there is some truth in his statement, eg I could be ###### #### by #####. As this is a family travel blog, I will leave it to your imagination what the #s mean.
Of course, the truth is compared to so many people; we are in a fortunate position at this time. We are healthy and can still financially afford to travel to Walt Disney World, but none of this was what Brad was implying.
Before we discuss my conversation with Brad further, we will mention my earlier dealings with the Walt Disney World Travel Company. Disney has been rather slow advertising changes to their plans during the period of closure. The website previously stated that reservations due to commence before June 30 could be canceled or transferred to a later date. All bookings after June 30 were subject to standard cancelation charges.
However, online forums have mentioned that Disney had, in recent weeks, become more flexible with changes. Despite this, they had insisted on full final payment for a reservation, which seemed unlikely to take place.
I decided to ring Disney a few weeks back and spoke to a cast member we shall call Jon. Jon offered me the opportunity to rebook my vacation for October. The only downside was free dining would not be available, and there would be a 15% price increase in comparison to my original July vacation. The price seemed a lot, and this was for one night less than we originally booked. Jon stated that I was still getting a 10% room rate reduction, but his figures did not add up.
I rang Disney again a few days later and spoke to a cast member we shall call Curt. Curt was not as jolly as either Jon or Brad, but perhaps it was because I worked out the 10% reduction was not really 10%. It turns out to get a 10% reduction I had to take ticket prices at the price they were when I booked my original vacation. Yes, that is correct, Disney increases the cost of park tickets during free dining periods!
I have never noticed the price fluctuations on park tickets previously, but I have checked invoices and tickets are more expensive during free dining. This was a UK booking, and I have been unable to check whether this is the same for other markets. However, it would be worth checking prices carefully if offers are as good as you expect. Being surprised by my findings from my discussion with Curt, I decided against changing my booking at that time.
Following my discussion with Curt, an announcement was made that Walt Disney World would start a phased reopening. Hurrah!
Buried in the announcement was that Disney would be temporarily suspending all new reservations, “so we can focus on guests with existing tickets and reservations.”
Well, we had an existing reservation, and surprisingly the UK site still seemed to be taking new bookings. We discussed a new plan and decided it was time to ring Disney. Just as I was about to ring the UK website stopped accepting new bookings.
As I called Disney the situation we were in was:
- We have a Walt Disney World Vacation booked for July, but all announcements suggest the resort will not be open.
- We have a flight booked for October.
- We have a room booked at Universal Orlando in October for part of our vacation.
- Disney has my money for my July vacation.
I spoke to Brad and explained the situation. Brad offered to move my vacation to 2021, and presumably, the money Disney currently holds. The 2021 price would be considerably more than I had already paid.
I asked about refunds, and Brad became more confusing. I could have a refund, but I wasn’t entirely clear if it would be subject to cancelation charges.
I explained the situation again over October, and Brad helpfully said he would speak to his supervisor. After 10 minutes, Brad came back on the phone.
“I’m sorry all new bookings are suspended,” explained Brad. “Moving to another date would count as a new reservation.”
“Oh” I said, and further queried what I could do now.
“Don’t worry” Brad added. “You’re in a great position!”
“Why?” I queried.
“If bookings reopen, you have already paid and can put the money towards a new vacation.”
In disbelief, I ended the call, telling Brad I would think about it further and to further reflect on my unexpected good fortune.
Of course, Disney may come up with some grand offer for all guests having their vacations canceled. Unfortunately, at the moment, the experience has been less than satisfactory.
Just to make matters worse Disney sent the following email yesterday:
Following the recent announcements about the reopening of the Walt Disney World Resort we are sure that you may have questions about how this affects your booking. We are writing to assure you that we are working diligently to be able to provide answers to all of your questions as quickly as possible. As soon as we have more information about how these changes affect your booking we will be in contact to advise you of the options that are available.
We kindly request that you wait for us to email with more information and to not call us, as we will unlikely be able to answer your questions at this time. Your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated while we work to welcome you back to the Walt Disney World Resort.
Walt Disney Travel Company International
Yes you read that correctly “to not call us, as we will unlikely be able to answer your questions at this time.”
I therefore continue to have a July reservation in a closed hotel, Disney hold my money, but ask you not to call them.
But, according to Brad “You’re in a great position!”
Sorry Brad, it don’t share your optimism.