Struggling to get a Refund From Vail Resorts
Dear stumbling block,
I live in Massachusetts and I was hoping to ski as much as possible at Okemo Mountain Resort this year. However, in November Vermont announced a series of new state travel policies that include a mandatory quarantine that makes it nearly impossible to travel regularly throughout the winter. Vail Resorts, Okemo’s parent company, is refusing to provide passport refunds to anyone under state quarantine requirements. The silence says: where is the corporate responsibility? rob
Your travel issue – regarding a socially distant outdoor activity, the quarantine issue, and the inability to get a refund – is about as “2020” (whoops, 2021) as it gets.
Ski resorts across the country are open this year, but despite a number of new security measures, including increased cleaning, capacity restrictions, timed tickets, and unapproved indoor restaurants, they are not doing well. In a call to earnings in December, Vail Resorts announced a 51 percent decline in net sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2021 (the three months ended October 31, 2020).
Vail Resorts, one of the largest providers in the ski industry, has more than 30 resorts in 15 states. Eight of these states, including Vermont, currently have quarantine or trial mandates – and sometimes a combination of both – for travelers outside of the state.
Ted Brady, assistant secretary of the Vermont Agency Commerce and Community Development, said Vermont’s new travel restrictions, which require a 14-day quarantine or a seven-day quarantine and negative PCR test, completed either at home or in Vermont, have reduced the number of the skiers and snowboarders who came to the state this year. He said the resorts reported a 50 to 70 percent drop in bookings during the holiday season.
“The state of Vermont has some of the strictest ski resort guidelines in the country,” Brady said in a statement emailed. “Above all, all guests following these instructions must confirm that they meet the quarantine requirements and understand that this can lead to the loss of their skiing and driving authorization.”
The individual, date-specific lift tickets, rentals and ski courses from Vail Resorts can be refunded without any problems. Back in April, the company announced that its historic non-refundable Epic Pass, a seasonal pass program, would automatically come with free Epic Coverage, a refund policy that provides protection for a set list of qualified incidents.
Epic Coverage provides full or partial pass refunds in situations such as resort closure and personal events such as job loss or injury. Mandatory home stay orders in the county, state, or country of residence of the passport holder are also covered. However, there is no government travel advice.
With the Regional Epic Passes, skiers and snowboarders can reach several mountains during the season. For example the Northeast Midweek Pass – which you bought, The cost was around $ 450 when they went on sale last year. They grant 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 of Massachusetts.
In a statement, a Vail Resorts spokeswoman said: “While Vermont’s quarantine requirements can be challenging for some passport holders, they do not prohibit passport holders from accessing our mountains. State and local regulations are very fluid. These requirements could be changed or even eliminated as early as next month. “
She added, “We definitely apologize for the confusion but we purposely wanted to place ‘mandatory stay at home orders’ versus ‘travel restrictions’ on our website and when communicating with guests.”
If you feel this is an unfair determination, you are not alone. Tim Morse, a New York based Epic Pass holder, was hoping to get back and forth to Mount Snow in Vermont this winter. As a firefighter and the parent of two children who attend personal school five days a week, he cannot quarantine before each ski weekend.
With infection rates soaring, he doubts Vermont’s travel restrictions will be lifted anytime soon and fears that by the time this happens (if it does) the ski season is actually over.
“I could very easily go to Mount Snow and just say I was quarantined,” said Mr. Morse when I called him this week. “But that doesn’t help solve this problem. That’s why the numbers are as bad as they are. “He feels like Vail Resorts is punishing pass holders for trying to do the right thing, he added.
While Epic Coverage is technically a refund policy, not an insurance, Vail Resorts’ stance that complying with government travel advice is an intentional decision that consumers must make for themselves is consistent with the belief of the insurance industry.
“In general, government quarantine requirements, while impractical, do not prevent a trip from taking place because the traveler is still technically able to get to their destination,” Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer at Squaremouth, told a comparison website of travel insurance.
Mr Morse said he was open to pushing his Epic Pass forward to the next ski season – a popular middle ground for tour operators during the pandemic. Although Vail Resorts offered credits of at least 20 percent and up to 80 percent to last season’s pass holders when the pandemic canceled the season in March, it’s not currently an option for this season’s pass holders.
“We have not announced a loan program for the 2020/21 season, but we will review the season as a whole and examine how the loyalty of passport holders can be maintained in light of the special circumstances of this season,” said the spokeswoman.
Mr Brady, of the Commerce and Community Development Agency, said he found that most pass shifts or refunds in general do not come from resorts with multi-state pass products for multiple mountains. A notable exception is the Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass, which grants access to 44 ski areas, including Vermont’s Sugarbush Resort. The program’s Adventure Assurance policy allows unused passes to be carried over to the next season.
Dealing with the changing government travel restrictions is not a specific problem for ski resorts, however. When California banned unnecessary travel outside of the state last month, some Airbnb guests battled unsuccessfully for refunds.
After Michelle Ai booked a three-day stay on the East Coast for the President’s inauguration in Moxy Washington, DC downtown, she learned that she could not attend the inauguration: taking into account the warning from the Presidential Committee of a trip to Washington, the office her senator does not issue tickets.
Ms. Ai struggled with the hotel for several weeks, which largely adhered to its guidelines on non-refundable prepaid rates, until she finally accepted a five-night stay voucher to be used during the first half of the year.
At the St. Regis Washington, DC, which like Moxy is a Marriott hotel, guests can cancel up to seven days prior to arrival without a cancellation fee.
But back to these slopes. The Facebook ski groups I’ve lurked in are full of reports of impossible-to-crack customer service lines from Vail Resorts and refund requests that seemingly go nowhere. There is also a palpable sense of confusion and outrage. A New Hampshire-based nurse told me on the phone this week, “This is an active cause that is happening across the United States. Who of us doesn’t know what’s going on? “
In an email, the Vail Resorts spokeswoman said, “The challenges everyone is facing in this pandemic, including our resorts, are enormous – and we sincerely understand the frustrations. Since this is an all season product and travel restrictions are constantly changing, we will take all of this into account and examine how the rest of the season plays out as we think about how we rate the loyalty of guests like the ones you describe preserve. “
To date, Vail Resorts has not issued refunds to pass holders – including you, Rob – due to government travel restrictions.
Which makes me think about something you wrote in an email, “Aside from my own refund, it’s a bit heartbreaking for those on the front lines trying to keep their heads above water, despite so many public policies disregard. “
Sarah Firshein is a Brooklyn based writer. If you need advice on an optimal itinerary that went wrong, Send an email to [email protected].
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