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Ticket holders seek refunds as coronavirus prompts mass cancellations
The Majestic Theater in New York, where “The Phantom of the Opera” has been playing for over three decades, March 12, 2020. All Broadway theaters have been shut down to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Vincent Tullo/The New York Times.

by Aimee Ortiz and Julia Jacobs

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- With governments and health officials trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus by discouraging or banning large gatherings, the highly contagious virus has had a palpable impact on the plans of would-be vacationers, theatergoers, sports fans and others.

The Boston Marathon is postponed, Broadway shows are canceled, Coachella is on hold. And the abrupt cancellation of, well, just about everything has forced people to engage in an activity undesired even in the best of times: the scramble for refunds.

In light of the situation, many agencies and companies have updated refund practices or introduced new policies, such as eliminating change fees and offering coupons. But customer service departments around the nation are currently slammed as they handle the fallout of the epidemic. Some refund requesters have found it easy to get a refund or rebook their tickets, while others have waited for hours on the phone, receiving confusing and inconsistent information.

Concerts, sports and other ticket events: Expect coupons, new dates and more.
When it comes to ticket events like concerts and sports games, several organizations have indicated that customers will receive refunds, or have offered details on new dates for their events.

However, some of the refunds could take weeks to get to you and might not include service fees.

The NCAA canceled the “March Madness” basketball tournaments Thursday and said refunds, except applicable fees, “should be received within 30 days after the date of cancellation.”

“If you ordered tickets from an official NCAA Championship vendor online or over the phone, you will be refunded,” the association said. “No additional action is needed.”

Hours after the announcement Thursday that Broadway would go dark through April 12, employees stood outside the theaters and behind the windows of the box offices to break the news to patrons and explain how refunds would work. Some refund policies were posted on theater doors.

For many Broadway attendees, the refund system was painless. Kristina Aquilina, who had two tickets to “Come From Away” for Thursday evening, walked into the box office of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater that evening and was told that Telecharge, the vendor from which she had bought the tickets, had already granted her a refund.

According to notices posted by the Shubert Organization, the largest landlord on Broadway, most purchases would be refunded automatically to the buyer’s credit card. If the ticket holders purchased through a source separate from Telecharge, the box office, the discount TKTS booth or the nonprofit Theater Development Fund, that person would have to go directly to the vendor.

StubHub, a marketplace for third-party ticket sellers, sent an email Thursday offering customers that purchased tickets to now-canceled events a “coupon worth 120% of your original order to go to the live event of your choosing within the next 12 months.”

“Alternatively, you can choose to receive a full refund for the original order amount (including service and delivery fees) to the original payment method,” the company said.

If your event is postponed, StubHub said, it will “send you an email once the details are confirmed with next steps to get you to the event.”

Music festivals that are reeling after being shut down or postponed have tended to be more resistant to immediately promising refunds.

South by Southwest, the sprawling festival of music, technology and film in Austin, Texas, was canceled by city officials last week, plunging the organization into financial hardship that required reducing staff, the group said.

In a statement issued Thursday, South by Southwest said that it was sticking to its strict no-refund policy on its badges, which grant attendees access to the festival and can cost up to $1,725. But the organization said that it would offer a deferral of the badge until next year or the two years after that.

Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, has said that ticket holders will be refunded — but only if they purchased passes from the festival’s ticketing vendor, Front Gate.

Some organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach. After Major League Baseball announced a two-week delay to the start of the 2020 season, the New York Yankees sent an email thanking fans and asking them to essentially sit tight.

“Given the unprecedented nature and fluidity of what is taking place, we appreciate your patience as we diligently work through the many aspects and details of this continually evolving situation,” the statement read.

Travel reservations and bookings: Expect a long wait time.
With airlines cutting trans-Atlantic flights and cruise lines canceling sailings, travel conditions and refund policies are changing daily.

On Friday, Airbnb updated its “Extenuating Circumstances” policy, which “allows guests to cancel eligible reservations without charge.” The policy applies to bookings in the United States, mainland China, South Korea and Italy.

“Most refunds arrive within 10 days, but for some payment methods and regions, it might take longer,” the company said.

A representative for Airbnb said customers would see a full refund, including any service fees.

Disney, which closed every theme park worldwide until the end of March, said that people with theme park tickets meant to be used in March could use them at a later date. Universal Studios Hollywood, also closed until the end of the month, has “flexible programs for guests who have purchased tickets.”

Traveling? Or trying to bow out of an already-booked trip? Keep an eye on social media and official communications from your airline, hotel, cruise or wherever you booked to stay up-to-date with any changes to refund policies. And expect long wait times if you do need to contact a company.

Eileen McNamara Lash, of Fredonia, New York, said she spent days on the phone trying to get refunds for an upcoming trip to Mexico, a celebration for her mother’s 89th birthday.

“I just put the phone down on speaker and just let it go for a couple of hours,” she said. “At one point, it actually died on me and that’s why I had to disconnect and then start over the next night.”

Organizers beware: Refusing refunds might provoke a backlash.
When the Ultra Music Festival in Miami and South by Southwest told ticket holders that there would be no refunds for their canceled festivals, the complaints started flying.

Audience members at smaller venues had similar reactions when the no-refund decision dropped into their inboxes.

The Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami had held off on shutting its doors and canceling the closing weekend of the popular musical “Hamilton.” “Refunds are not being offered,” patrons were told, which resulted in a series of irritated comments online, some of them questioning whether the arts center was putting its bottom line over the health of audience members.

By Friday afternoon, the Miami-Dade County government had announced that the Arsht Center — and two other venues — would in fact be closing. The Arsht Center reversed its stance on refunds, saying that patrons could exchange their tickets for another show, receive a gift certificate, donate their tickets or simply get a refund.

The decision was a relief for Tracy Davis, who had two tickets to a Sunday performance — the package totaled more than $250 — but planned not to go because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We didn’t feel comfortable sitting in the theater for that number of hours on top of so many people,” Davis said.

But some ask: Do you need that refund?
Some companies and social media users have been calling on people to forgo asking for refund, with the hope of lessening the impact on small businesses, the arts and the service industry.

If an event that you’re going to is canceled, don’t ask for a refund, one person suggested on Twitter. “The places you love will need all the help they can get.”

In New York, the Metropolitan Opera, which is closed through at least the end of the month, likely faces a loss of at least $8 million in box office revenue. Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, told The New York Times that he hoped people with tickets to canceled performances would donate the money to the Met instead of seeking refunds.

“We have an obligation to the world of opera, and to our public, to survive,” he said.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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