Difficulty getting a refund from Vail Resorts

I live in Massachusetts and had hoped to ski at Okemo hill station as much as possible this year. However, in November, Vermont announced a new round of interstate travel guidelines, which include a mandatory quarantine which makes it almost impossible to visit regularly throughout the winter. Despite a blitz of risk-free pre-season reservation guarantees on seasonal ski passes, Vail Resorts, Okemo’s parent company, refuses to issue pass refunds for people facing state quarantine requirements. The silence is revealing: where is the corporate responsibility? Rob

Your travel situation – regarding an outdoor and socially distant activity, the quarantine issue and the inability to get a refund – is about as “2020” (oops, 2021) as it is.

Ski resorts across the country are open this year, but despite a slew of new security measures including increased cleaning, capacity limits, timed tickets and banned indoor meals, they are not doing well. In one call for earnings in December, Vail Resorts reported a 51% drop in net revenue for its first quarter of fiscal 2021 (the three months ending October 31, 2020).

Vail Resorts, one of the biggest players in the ski industry, has over 30 stations in 15 states. Eight of those states, including Vermont, currently have quarantine or testing warrants – and sometimes a combination of both – for out-of-state travelers.

According to Ted Brady, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency Business and Community DevelopmentVermont’s new travel restrictions – which require a 14-day quarantine or a seven-day quarantine plus a negative PCR test, performed at home or in Vermont – have reduced the number of skiers and snowboarders entering the Status this year. He said resorts have reported a 50-70% drop in bookings during the holiday season.

“The state of Vermont has published some of the toughest ski resort guidelines in the country,” Brady said in an emailed statement. “Specifically, these tips require that all guests certify that they meet the quarantine requirements and understand that failure to do so could result in the loss of their skiing and riding privileges.”

Vail Resorts lift tickets, rentals and individual ski-and-ride lessons are easily refundable. As early as April, the company also announced that its Epic pass, a seasonal pass program, would automatically come with Epic cover, a refund policy that provides protection for a fixed list of eligible incidents.

Epic Coverage provides full or pro-rated pass refunds in situations such as a resort closure and personal events such as job loss or injury. Mandatory stay-at-home orders in the county, state or country of residence of the pass holder are also covered. Yet travel advisories are not.

Regional Epic Passes allow skiers and snowboarders to access multiple mountains during the season. For example, the Northeast midweek pass – the one you bought, which cost around $ 450 when it went on sale last year – provides access to 17 resorts in New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Vermont. All of these states currently have travel restrictions, as does your home state, Massachusetts.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Vail Resorts said, “While Vermont’s quarantine requirements may present challenges for some pass holders, they do not. to prohibit holders of access passes to our mountains. State and local orders are very fluid. These requirements could be changed again, or even removed, as early as next month. “

She added, “We certainly apologize for any confusion, but we have been intentional in specifying ‘mandatory stay-at-home orders’ versus ‘travel restrictions’ on our website and in communications with guests. “

You are not the only one who feels that this is an unfair stipulation. Tim Morse, New York-based Epic Pass holder, had hoped to travel back and forth to Mount Snow in Vermont this winter. A firefighter and parent of two who attend school in person five days a week, he is unable to quarantine before each ski weekend.

Given rising infection rates, he doubts Vermont’s travel restrictions will be lifted anytime soon and worries that the ski season will end by the time that happens (if it does).

“I could very easily go to Mount Snow and just say I’m in quarantine,” Morse said when I called him this week. “But that doesn’t help solve this problem. This is why the numbers are as bad as they are. He believes Vail Resorts is punishing pass holders who try to do the right thing, he added.

While Epic Coverage is technically a refund policy, not insurance, Vail Resorts’ position – that adhering to state travel advisories is a deliberate decision consumers must make on their own – follows the point. from the point of view of the insurance industry.

“In general, state quarantine requirements, while impractical, do not prevent a trip from taking place because technically the traveler is still able to reach their destination,” said Megan Moncrief, director marketing of Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison website.

Mr Morse said he was ready to postpone his Epic Pass until the next ski season – a popular middle ground for travel companies during the pandemic. While Vail Resorts offered last season pass holders at least 20% and up to 80% credits when the pandemic cut the season short in March, this is currently not an option for them. season pass holders.

“We have not announced any credit schedule for the 2020/21 season, but we will be reviewing the season in total and assessing how to retain pass holders, given the unique circumstances of this season,” said the door. word.

Mr Brady, of the Trade and Community Development Agency, said he had noticed that most pass deferrals or refunds generally did not come from resorts offering multi-state and multi-pass products. -mountains. A notable exception is that of Alterra Mountain Company Ikon Pass, which gives access to 44 ski resorts, including Sugarbush Resort in Vermont. The programs Adventure insurance The policy allows for carry-over of unused passes to next season.

But how to deal with the changing nature of state travel restrictions is not a ski resort-specific issue. When California banned non-essential out-of-state travel last month, some potential Airbnb customers battled unsuccessfully for refunds.

On the East Coast, after booking a three-night stay for the presidential inauguration at Moxy Washington, DC Downtown, Michelle Ai learned she could not attend the inauguration: out of respect for the inaugural presidential committee warning against travel to Washington, his senator’s office does not distribute tickets.

Ms Ai spent several weeks wrestling with the hotel, which largely sticks to its policies regarding prepaid non-refundable rates, until she finally accepts a voucher for a five-night stay at use during the first semester of the year.

Meanwhile, at The St. Regis Washington, DC, which, like Moxy, is a Marriott hotel, guests can cancel without penalty up to seven days before arrival.

But back to these slopes. The Facebook ski groups I’m hiding in are abuzz with reports of impossible-to-crack Vail Resorts customer service lines and refund requests seemingly going nowhere. There is also a palpable feeling of bewilderment and indignation. As a nurse from New Hampshire told me on the phone this week, “It’s an active thing happening all over the United States. Who among us does not know what is going on? “

In an email, the spokesperson for Vail Resorts said: “The challenges facing everyone in the midst of this pandemic, our resorts included, are enormous – and we sincerely understand the frustrations. As this is a season-long product and travel restrictions are constantly changing, we’ll take all of this into consideration and look at how the rest of the season unfolds as we reflect on how we retain customers such as than those you describe. “

To date, Vail Resorts has not provided refunds to pass holders – including you, Rob – due to interstate travel restrictions.

Which makes me think of something you wrote in an email: “Beyond my own refund, it’s a little heartbreaking for those on the front lines trying to keep their heads out of it. water, even though so many people do not follow public guidelines. “

Sarah firshein is a Brooklyn-based writer. If you need advice on the best travel plan gone wrong, send an email to [email protected].


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