Are you planning a trip abroad soon? If so, you might want to read this column. It could save you some hard-earned cash, some minor heartache, and a lot of hassle crossing borders during COVID.
Better yet, it could prevent the kind of wedding anniversary buzzkill that George and Grace Sellers experienced last October in upstate New York.
George, 71, is semi-retired after a management career for various national retailers. Today he drives a bus that transports people with disabilities in the valley. Grace, 54, works in customer service for a major bank. The couple married in 1991 and together they raised four children.
In October, shortly before their 30th anniversary, vendors planned a weekend in Niagara Falls to celebrate the big milestone. They were planning to go to the Canadian side and stay in a hotel room on the eighth floor with a balcony that overlooked the famous Horseshoe Falls. (The best view of these is from the Canadian side; the falls on the American side are boring by comparison.)
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Anyway, they made reservations through Booking.com for a two night stay at the Oakes Overlooking the Falls Hotel. They secured the reservation with an American Express card.
The total cost was $ 511.97. The vendors brought their American passports (since September 11, Americans need passports to enter Canada). They also had their COVID-19 vaccination registration cards bearing the United States Centers for Disease control logo. These showed that the two sellers were completely vaxxed.
On October 16, they climbed into their Mustang and drove from Roanoke to Niagara Falls. After 10 or 11 hours on the road, the couple realized that they were not going to check in. So they called the Oakes hotel and informed a reservations clerk that they were late.
âThey were like, ‘Alright, no problem,’â George told me.
But once they got to the border, the vendors discovered a big problem. Namely, Canadian border guards would not let them enter Canada.
Guards cited two issues, the vendors said. One was that neither George nor Grace could produce documentation of a negative COVID test result within 72 hours of arriving at the border. These are required for foreigners entering Canada. The couple told me they didn’t know they needed a negative test. There was no mention of this on the hotel’s website, they said.
Another problem was that the vendors had not uploaded their travel and vaccination documents to ArriveCAN. It is a digital travel document sorting and retention service that the Canadian government created, through a free app to download and use. The vendors said they also didn’t notice a mention of ArrivalCAN on the Oakes Hotel website. I checked the hotel’s website as recently as this week and cannot find any mention of negative tests or ArrivalCAN either.
(The couple said Canadian border guards referred to the requirement as a âRISE application.â But the people I spoke to at the Canadian Embassy in Washington were unaware of the term. 5. When the Canada reopened its borders to tourists from September 7, the same requirement was also placed on tourists.)
After realizing that they would not be allowed to enter Canada, the couple called the hotel again. George said a manager told them, âYou should have read the instructions, I’m sorry. “
Grace asked, âWhat about our money? The answer, she said, was, “You don’t get your money back. You should have read the requirements.
These requirements can be found on another website operated by the Government of Canada. Rules change occasionally, based on the most recent information on COVID – the most recent change noted was December 21.
But the basic requirement that all travelers to Canada upload their vaccination documents to ArriveCAN prior to arrival has been in place since July. And the Canadian website explicitly notes that the use of ArriveCAN is “mandatory”.
And because of that, the Sellers had to turn around and head back to Niagara Falls, New York.
âMy wife just broke down because we couldn’t get in,â said George. âThe hotel was not friendly.
From Niagara Falls, New York, they called their eldest daughter, Courtnay Sellers. She’s a lawyer who lives in Woodbridge. Courtnay made a reservation for them at a Marriott on the American side. Sadly, he was missing the million dollar view of Horseshoe Falls that only the Oakes Hotel offers.
âIf it hadn’t been for our daughter, we would have been in our car that night,â Grace told me.
The birthday trip wasn’t for nothing, however. The couple had a great time on the American side, although most of the tourist activity is on the Canadian side. The remainder of the trip went without incident. They returned home safe and sound in Roanoke on October 18.
And that’s when they started trying to get the $ 511.97 refund on their American Express card, for the two nights at the Oakes hotel they didn’t stay. . These efforts are continuing.
Initially, American Express suspended charges for the two nights at the Oakes Hotel that vendors did not use. But on November 23, the company that issued the credit card sent them a letter saying it was re-billing their account for that reservation.
“In accordance with the reservation made via Booking.com, the customer had 3 days before his arrival at 2 p.m. to cancel his reservation free of charge,” said the letter from American Express. He also cited Booking.com’s cancellation policy: âYou can cancel free of charge up to 3 days before arrival. You will be charged the full amount of the reservation if you cancel within 3 days of the arrival date.
The sellers have recalled American Express after receiving this letter. This time, they said, an AMEX representative said he might be able to successfully dispute the charge if he could prove he paid for another hotel on the US side for those same nights. They are therefore appealing now and awaiting a final decision.
But, it looks like all the hassle could have been avoided if the sellers realized they had to use ArriveCAN and recently had negative COVID tests before their trip. And that’s why you should read this. Because the same could easily happen to you.
Different countries have different requirements for tourist entry into the COVID era. And those requirements may change, depending on the most recent information on COVID, which health scientists are still learning.
The sellers’ unfortunate experience will cost them, at most, just over $ 500, assuming they don’t get their refund. It’s a relatively inexpensive lesson – it could have cost them a lot more if they had flown to London or Paris and been denied. And this is how you can profit from their misfortune.
If you are traveling abroad, it is a good idea to be paranoid about the entry requirements for your destination. And consult them daily, until your departure time. Because these can change with little notice.