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Water, Water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

Hurricane Harvey hits Roam

Hurricane Harvey put a literal damper on our travel plans for September. The Labor weekend bizcation to the Bay Area was cancelled as we couldn’t get out even if we wanted to. Hobby airport was closed.

The flights were automatically refunded by Southwest and hotels were well within the cancellation window. The one item that left us about $500 out of pocket was for one family trip around San Francisco that Mrs C had booked with her debit card. Even though we had notified them of our situation they said they were non-refundable in any circumstance but they would talk to the manager. We did not get a return call after this and since we had other things to worry about, we kind of forgot about it. Probably if we had used the appropriate credit card, it could have invoked travel insurance.

The flood also totaled both of our cars. I had seen the streets outside our houses start to flood so I moved them to higher ground but ‘higher’ was only relatively higher. My insurance company Progressive, took at least two weeks to get back for me after I filed a claim. One friend who had USAA got his check in 3 days. While I appreciate Progressive were busy they could at least have sent a periodic email that I was in the queue and not forgotten. People in customer service could not give any insight into when the inspector would come. In the end, they didn’t. I just had to submit photographic evidence with the Progressive App so not sure why they couldn’t tell me that earlier.

Getting a car rental was interesting. When I first checked for any rental cars, there was none available in the area. I thought it strange that AVIS were not showing up and when I checked, it didn’t show the local depot as being open on any day. I tried again a few days later and wow, not only was it open but it had a selection of cars. I went for simple regular car and put in a noon pick up time.  When I got the store, it had lines going out the door. I was dismayed to find out that it was a 2 hour queue just to get the paperwork counter and then 1 hour wait to retrieve the car. Avis Preferred counted for nothing as they had manual sign in system. When I eventually get called the front, I hand over my licence and credit card and hear the rep saying my class of car is not available. Since I’d also heard them tell someone over the phone that they were all out of cars, I piped up with “Give me anything with four wheels” as I just needed transport. This flexibility and the fact that I had been friendly to them earlier during the sign off, got me a serious upgrade. “Would a RAM 1500 be ok?”

A pick up truck was the best thing they could have said since the area was still flooded ! Not only that but it was ready outside the office so I avoided another line. Moral of this is to be yourself (unless you are naturally a dick) and be flexible in situations like this. Having a hissy fit about a wait that is clearly beyond the control of the local staff or bitching about their particular car type that they normally get, was not helping people. I had the truck for a month and was pleased to find out I was only billed the rate of a cheaper model even after I had extended the time of return twice. I got it for about 1/3rd of the price of if I had explicitly booked that vehicle class.

One thing I didn’t check was the CDW insurance. Amex covers it when I book with my card however, it excludes certain types of cars – full size SUVs, trucks and luxury cars. I wonder if it would have been covered since I did not request that type of car and AVIS gave me that truck. Anyhow, I was pleased to find out I never needed to find out that answer.

What else? The car buying experience but that is for a future post.

Russkies in a Flussky : Russian travel companies goes under and leaves thousands stranded

Matryoshka dolls upon hearing about the Russian tour firm, Labirint

Matryoshka dolls upon hearing about the Russian tour firm, Labirint

The after shocks of economic sanctions on Russia following their involvement in Ukraine, are starting to bite. From the BBC news:

As many as 27,000 Russian tourists are stranded abroad after a Russian tour firm, Labirint, suspended operations.

A company statement (in Russian) blamed the move on a deterioration in the rouble exchange rate and the “negative political and economic situation”.

There are signs that EU-US sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis are hurting the wider economy, including Western investment in Russia.

The same story is covered by IBTimes which adds that many tourists in Greece were booted out of their hotels as a result.

Greek media reports estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 Russians were stuck on Greek islands. The country’s Tourism Ministry said, in a statement: “Greece is a safe and welcoming tourist destination that respects its guests.”

However, Russia’s Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) has threatened to name hotels that had “mishandled” the situation. Some tourists were reportedly evicted from hotels, while others were apparently refused entry after Labirint’s bankruptcy was announced. ATOR would be adding hotels to a “blacklist”, it said.

Russian tourists are also thought to be stuck in Turkey, Egypt, Spain, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Labirint announced it was stopping operations on Saturday and that Turpomoshch (Tour Help) would attempt to help passengers that were stuck.

So what should you do if you find yourself in a situation where your tour company or chartered airline goes under when you are on vacation ? Continue reading..