Traveling (or not) during a pandemic

It has been over two years since my last international trip. No wonder I have spent the last few months excited about my December vacation in Dubai for Expo 2020.

Alas, this will not be the case.

Long before the Omicron variant made South Africa and our neighbors in the world radioactive, I suffered a sports injury that was found to be severe enough to require surgery to repair a fracture that was not healing. herself. Luckily my trip was covered by Discovery Insurance so I figured the process of filing a claim and getting a refund would be a snap. I was wrong.

The small print

Dubai Expo 2021

After having meticulously gathered all the required documents, I sent them. But despite the fact that my orthopedic surgeon explicitly stated in his letter that it was not advisable to travel to Dubai, Discovery was not happy with the wording as it did not mention anything about being “unfit for”. to travel “. It seemed finicky to me, even though I can see their point of view. Yes, I could theoretically limp on a plane and theoretically spend three weeks limping on a foot that isn’t fully healed, but of course that wouldn’t be a good idea. As far as I’m concerned, this appears to be “unfit to travel”.

The bottom line is they won’t pay unless my doctor writes another letter with the exact wording they need. And so, rather than having yet another medical bill (because of course everything is billed), I figured I might as well make the claim based on the fact that the trip would have been canceled anyway in reason for travel bans. Alas again, that still wouldn’t work because, buried in the fine print, the insurance policy explicitly excludes it. Instead, I have to claim a refund from the travel suppliers.

“Abnormally high volume”

Obviously, that makes sense. Indeed, this is something I started to do even before filing the insurance claim. But the process has been one complication after another. Because I purchased the tickets from the Kulula website (using my Discovery Vitality diamond status for a nice discount) Emirates couldn’t help me. But by sending DMs to Kulula and Discovery on Twitter, each told me to contact the other to resolve the issue. It was as if no one wanted to take responsibility for helping.

Next came the phone calls to Vitality Travel, the first of which had a wait time of one hour and forty minutes (the call center was then closed for the day) while the second had a wait time of More than an hour. As much as I was so thankful that I could outsource this to a team of virtual assistants through an amazing app called Hey Jude (use promo code wdyspo and thank me later), that was overkill. (Note: Why do they continue to apologize for having “unusually high call volumes” when they are so often the case these days that they might as well be categorized as the new normal?)

Eventually, after talking on the phone, the conversation shifted to email. It took at least a dozen round trips over the span of ten days to confirm all the details (sometimes more than once) and trigger the flight cancellation so I could get my refund. But while I was happy to hear that I could get my money back (minus the administration / booking fee, which I guess I can always try to get back from Discovery Insurance), it was a little overwhelming to find out that it’s going to take six to eight weeks, again due to the unusually high volume of expense claims these days.

To confirm! final! Payment!

It’s pretty much the same with my hotel. I was happy that I made the reservation several months ago, as Grand Plaza Mövenpick Media City (remember the name!) Stated that it was fully refundable if canceled at least 24 hours at the advance. But, despite multiple attempts, reaching them by email or phone turned out to be impossible, regardless of whether they were initially happy enough to harass me every day to confirm! final! Payment! Ditto for social networks, where their Twitter DMs weren’t open and I had to wait days for replies to my tweets. (They eventually sent me a link that I could use to send them a DM but, by the time I clicked, it had already expired. #Fail)

Eventually I was able to find another phone number for parent company Accor (which also took several days to respond to the request I submitted through an online form) and Hey Jude was able to reach a human at the other end of the line. line. Finally, I was assured that the cancellation was made and that I would have my refund in two to three weeks. But after more than a month, I still haven’t received anything, and the hotel was unwilling to send a PDF showing proof that they had canceled the payment on the credit card. Instead, they put me in touch with an accounting person who now told me that the request had not yet been processed, regardless of whether a colleague of his had spent the last few weeks saying that it was the opposite. Oh, and because they were on vacation I had to expect more delays.

Make it easy for yourself

Obviously, I don’t want to jump to any hasty conclusions assuming they’re doing all of this on purpose just to keep my money a little longer. But even assuming that this is just an honest mistake (and one that takes forever to resolve because, like with Kulula and Discovery, no one seems to care enough about taking individual responsibility) doesn’t inspire much. of confidence for the future. Indeed, my experience with the Mövenpick brand (and Accor as a whole) has been so marred that I will never gladly choose to make a reservation with them, unless it is on a press trip when I don’t have no choice or if they are reading this and want to apologize by offering me a free trip. (Stranger things have happened.) Instead, I’d do much better to do what millions of people have chosen to do by switching to Airbnb instead.

When I originally booked the trip I thought I would only be there for a week which is why I chose a hotel. But when I realized Expo 2020 was going to be a lot busier than I expected, I decided to extend my vacation and book an Airbnb for the rest of the stay. Dealing with them has been an absolute joy. First of all, by a strange coincidence, my host had to cancel the reservation due to a family emergency. This meant I got a full refund within two days. But even if it was me who canceled, it would have been the same. The same applies to any modification of travel dates. Instead of spending hours on the phone or in a long email conversation, Airbnb makes it easy to manage everything yourself, happy knowing they’re just a quick DM away.

Exhausting and insightful

In the end, this whole experience was quite exhausting but also quite insightful. Obviously, travel brands are struggling right now, but the only way they can survive is to improve their systems. For example, if 90% of the people who call and email do so because they want to change or cancel their reservations, doesn’t it make sense to create an online platform that allows them to do it themselves- same? Yes, you’ll have to invest a lot of time and money up front, but you’ll save a lot more in the long run.

The same goes for filing a claim and, as I have chosen to do with the hotel, to dispute a credit card transaction. I had to phone Discovery Bank (half the conversation involved waiting while the consultant struggled to find the transaction), wait for an email with multiple PDF files attached, email them back completed forms and now wait (up to 90 days!) for everything to be entered and processed manually. It sounds like such a waste of time and energy when it should be possible to do all of these things through a seamless system that captures all information online.

Either way, Discovery is launching its Vitality Travel platform in 2022, which promises to let you manage all aspects of your trip in one place. But I’m skeptical that this will provide the same kind of easy experience I had with Airbnb (although I’m also glad I’m wrong). More than that, if all the different aspects of the business (insurance, vitality, banking, etc.) can’t really communicate with each other, then what’s the point of having the full product line? And if planning a vacation is so stressful, we might be better off staying home.

Eugene Yiga was born in South Africa and has lived in this amazing country all his life. And although he studied finance, accounting and classical piano at the University of Cape Town, he now works as a copywriter, journalist and blogger with two and a half years of full-time experience in branding, communication and market research.


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