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The Best List: Partners Who Shined During the Worst of Times

Wanderlust With Us - Issue XXXVII

May 13, 2021

While we think the worst of this is behind us in regard to borders opening and options to travel, every day we get a new list of travel companies that are no longer covered for financial default by insurance companies. Meaning if they cease operations or go bankrupt, you are not covered by insurance. And, there are some big names on that list. Sadly, for some, the worst (from a financial perspective) is still ahead and we have to be mindful of who we trust with your money. This is a list of some of the outstanding partners who stood with us to make our clients whole, and we ask you to support moving forward because their actions have shown solid financial backing. Whether it's volcanos erupting, testing for COVID, really any natural disaster that awaits in the future, we want to make sure you are in good hands based on past behavior.

Belmond - Luxury Hotels, Trains, River Cruises, and Safaris

You may not recognize the name, but you certainly know their assets from the iconic Orient Express to the Cipriani in Venice, this was a company quick to refund even when countries suggested "no refunds as a government policy" (i.e. Italy). So, whether you're at the Splendido Mare in Portofino or El Encanto in Santa Barbara, we recommend them enough not only for having best in class properties in their destinations, but in some cases the only properties in a destination like Macchu Pichu. You know with the backing of LVMH, they have your best interest at heart. They also stand with only a few with an extremely flexible refund policy moving forward.

Yep, they chartered a jet to transport clients home after airports shut down to incoming travelers disembarking from international cruise destinations. Number of calls to Silversea begging for refunds = 0. Number of calls to other cruise lines begging for refunds = we lost count a long time ago. Thus far, Silversea has stood by everything they have promised, and we have far more confidence moving forward with them when cruising resumes. With beautiful new ships like the Silver Moon and Silver Origen in the Galapagos and a commitment to service they are the real deal. Thanks to parent company RCL, whose stock price has remained the most steady since the pandemic, Silversea is well poised to come out of this on top, in every way.

The end of middle seat blocking? How about no middle seat at all....on a commercial plane....that operates like private aviation, FBO to FBO. Meet JSX, linking commuter markets all over California for some years now, Arizona to California and Las Vegas, and now even markets around Texas. Dallas to Vegas anyone? SoCal to Monterrey for a round at Pebble Beach. Skip the airport terminal, skip arriving hours early (20 minutes is what they ask), bring on a beverage, and you're wheels up.

I remember sitting in the AMA Waterways head office the first week of March 2020 when the head of the company said to me, "we are fully prepared if we can't sail for a year." At the time the statement seemed shocking and unthinkable. Now 14-months later, I realize how sage those words were, and, unlike most cruise companies, AMA Waterways carried zero debt on their ships. Where most ocean and river lines were heavily leveraged pre-pandemic, AMA Waterways was well poised to refund early and often and were quick to say 'yes' anytime we have asked to take care of a client.

We don't have to sell you on the concept and quality of the Four Seasons brand. While we didn't love their tendency to offer future travel credit in the case of close-in cancellation they do deserve a bravo, because they were quick to say 'yes' to us when we needed more flexible terms and conditions. In fact, they never said 'no' to us and we wrote custom terms for specific client needs. We appreciate their willingness to work with us on a case by case basis to create terms that are more comfortable for our clients.

Wholesalers - Sun, Sand, & Ski Vacations

You may have questioned why the deposit for your hotel booking came through as third party you'd never heard of. We quickly learned that some wholesalers were much quicker to offer refunds and late changes since they are US based. Wholesalers are specialist in just a hand full of destinations, so they are able to leverage better rates in some cases and often times more flexible cancellation policies. Again, going back to Italy where many hotels sheltered behind a government policy against refunds, we were able to get full refunds with clients we had booked in Italy, but with a US wholesaler. Likewise, when we had ski clients ready to hit the slopes before the snow did, we were able to switch them to a different destination without penalty. We also look at the hotel directly and a wholesaler to see where the best benefit for the client is, but having US funds with US based companies is a benefit in times like these.

Maybe you know the name. You see it on our email signatures and our website. It gets you a free breakfast and a hotel credit. As much value as Virtuoso has brought our clients to the table over the years in amenities and perks, we found out the intangible value during the pandemic. Defined as a travel consortia, they stood behind us and some BIG numbers when suppliers refused refunds. They used their weight to sway some big players into doing the right thing. While other consumers who booked with a credit card or online were left with half hours of hold times or no service at all, Virtuoso came to our rescue when we needed more muscle. Only through a Virtuoso member like Camelback Odyssey Travel, there's a backing on your booking that has clout in case you ever need it. They are the best partners in the business.

Le Sirenuse, Positano

Not to bang on Italy so hard, but given the amount of business we had going into 2020, it remained one of the biggest challenges. However, not all properties chose to cloak themselves in government regulation, and this is a great example: with a 30% nonrefundable deposit paid by our clients, instead of holding it for a future travel credit, they promptly refunded our guests. And, financials aside, Le Sirenuse is also one of the finest hotels in world, with their former private home now starring as a villa in Positano. It's great for families or a few couples who don't mind a little privacy away from the stunning resort.

Viewer Discretion Advised

This family owned hotel group has some of the best of the best properties in South Africa: Royal Malewane in Kruger National Park, The Silo Hotel Cape Town, La Residence in Franschhoek, and the Birkenhead House in Hermanus. When other like-minded, top shelf safari lodges rolled back flexible COVID policies, Royal Portfolio stood by very flexible terms to help our clients feel more comfortable. Kudos to them for taking the flexible approach when direct competitors were digging their heels in on non-refundable deposits, basically with the attitude of "if you're clients don't want it, someone else will." The Royal Portfolio group is a breath of fresh air.

A client favorite, getting authentic experiences by bike or by foot, Backroads also took the future travel credit, zero refund approach. But not for us. I'm not even sure I am supposed to be sharing this, but let's just say they did the right thing multiple times and gave us the opportunity to take care of our clients. Partnership and history has its privileges and we applaud them. However, clients that booked direct with Backroads, we were not able to obtain this special service. These special considerations were only on bookings we originated.

Honorable Mention: Delta Airlines

We felt like we had to include a traditional commercial airline. It's no surprise since their customer service is always ahead of the other domestic carriers. They were the first to block seats and the last to hold out, only just recently going back to selling a full cabin. While we've heard rumors of hours long hold times, we delight in being able to easily make changes and bookings. They tend to do it right more times than they don't.


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