The cherry blossoms in full bloom in Yokohama (photo taken on our 2018 trip to Japan)
March 11, 2020 update
As we all become more knowledgeable about the coronavirus, my opinion about it and its effect on us and the world has changed. I no longer believe this is ‘not that bad’ (as I wrote in my article below).
March 10, 2020 update
Sadly, we’ve decided to cancel our trip to Japan (you can read all about how we came to this decision below).
In my follow-up post, How We Maximized Our Refunds After Cancelling Our Trip to Japan, I walk through how we’re getting over 90% of our money back.
Normally, I follow the low-information diet à la Mr. Money Mustache. That means I consciously avoid ‘the news’ whenever possible.
However, this little thing called the coronavirus has kept me ridiculously distracted in recent weeks. As much as I try to ignore it, I can’t! That’s because this outbreak has directly affected us.
We’re going… no we’re not… wait, we are… maybe?
As my regular readers know, we’d long-ago planned a trip to Japan for Spring Break. But over the last few weeks, I’ve flip-flopped countless times over our decision to cancel or go.
All these thoughts have been going through my head:
- What if one or both of us get sick and need to be hospitalized in Japan?
- What would happen to the kids? Would we have to fly someone over to get them home?
- What about the language barrier? We can barely remember how to say hello and thank you in Japanese! How would we discuss tests and procedures with nurses and doctors?
- What if we were quarantined in Japan, then again in Canada? Would we and the kids be able to miss that much work/school/life?
- Could we afford the costs of a quarantine in Japan? (From what I’ve heard, we’d be on the hook for any expenses related to a quarantine.)
- What about Mika? Would M’s uncle and aunt be able to look after her for another 2–4 weeks if we were quarantined?
- What if everything’s closed when we’re in Japan? It would be a very expensive trip, just to end up stuck in our Airbnbs!
- Do we really want to go on a trip where we’ll have to be constantly vigilant?
- What about the overall vibe in Japan? The country will be in a cautious, semi-lockdowned state. Will the sombre atmosphere ruin our trip?
What happens if we cancel?
We could avoid all of the worries above if we simply cancelled the trip. But that’s not so easy of a decision! Some significant factors come into play when considering a cancellation:
- Flights from Vancouver: Thankfully, JAL will offer a full refund for our roundtrip tickets from Vancouver (this was only updated a couple of days ago). Potential loss: $0.
- Flights in Japan: Our flights to and from Okinawa through discount airline Jetstar are 100% non-refundable at this time. Potential loss: $700.
- Airbnbs: We’ll only get full refunds if Airbnb decides to add Japan and our specific booking/check-in dates to their extenuating circumstances policy. Potential loss: $2,000.
- Booking.com: For our apartment rentals through Booking.com, we’ll get free cancellations up to 14 days before check-in. Potential loss: $0.
- Hotel: We booked two nights of hotels in Yokohama using the travel credit from our CIBC Aventuras. These are free to cancel up to 48 hours before check-in. Potential loss: $0.
- Japan Rail passes: We’ll get 75% of our ticket price back if we cancel now. Our Rogers World Elite Mastercard will cover the 25% cancellation fee—but only if the Canadian government raises the travel advisory to 3 or 4 for Japan. (It’s only at 2 right now.) Potential loss: $361.
- Priority Pass lounge passes: If we don’t go to Japan, we likely won’t have any use for the 8 free lounge passes that came with our CIBC Aventura cards. At a value of $32 USD each, that’s about $340 CAD going to waste! Potential loss: $340.
If we were to cancel today, we’d lose over $3,000 in non-refundable costs and would likely have to let the $340 in lounge passes go to waste. That’s a lot of money to walk away from!
Money aside, there are other important factors influencing our decision:
- We’ve poured so much time and effort into planning this trip. Just the thought of throwing all those plans away is heart-wrenching.
- This is our last chance to pull Kid 1 out of school. Once he starts Grade 10 next year, it’ll be too disruptive and stressful for him to miss school.
- We love Japan and just really want to go!
Why not just postpone the trip?
Some of you are probably wondering why we don’t just postpone our trip. That seems like a wise and sensible decision, right? Why not just go at a different time of year or another year altogether?
Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be ideal for us. Here’s why:
- Spring is the best time for us to visit this area of Japan. (Summers are too hot and humid, and winters are too cold.)
- When we travel such a long distance, we prefer to stay for more than two weeks. This gives us more bang-for-the buck with our flights and the jet lag.
- Since we want to go for more than two weeks, we have to pull the kids out of school to extend their two-week Spring Break. Going back to my point above, this year is our last chance to do that with Kid 1.
This is a bigger deal than I thought
As I’ve learned more about the coronavirus and the ripple effects this pandemic will have on our world, my tune has changed. It is serious. While I have no concerns for my immediate family’s health (we are young and healthy) I am worried for other important reasons:
So, what are we going to do?
The situation seems to change on a daily basis and no one can say where it’s headed. But for now, we’re still planning to go. Here’s why:
It’s not that bad
- While the coronavirus is scary, it’s nothing our planet hasn’t previously dealt with. It’s also not nearly as widespread as the flu or as deadly as previous virus outbreaks.
- Mr. Money Mustache, ever-rational and scientific, lays this out beautifully in his latest post.
- It’s actually not that bad in Japan. If you look at the stats, Japan is nowhere near as bad as the top four (China, South Korea, Italy, Iran).
- Update: As of March 5, 2020, Japan has been surpassed by Germany and France in coronavirus cases, yet neither of these countries has travel advisories:
Screenshot taken on March 5, 2020 from worldometers.info
It’ll be okay
- At the moment, Japan seems to be doing the right things to control the spread of the virus. They’ve closed schools and attractions and have stepped up sanitation efforts.
- The closures are scheduled to end by the time we arrive. That means we probably won’t be faced with the problem of having nothing to do. (Ever the optimist, I’m hoping that the virus will remain under control even after schools and attractions reopen.)
- The weather will be warmer when we arrive in a couple of weeks. This could help to slow the spread of the virus.
We’ll be okay
- If we practice good hygiene, there’s a very low chance of us getting sick.
- Being young(ish) and healthy, even if we catch the virus, it’s unlikely to harm us.
- At 12 and 14, our boys can mostly be trusted to not lick all the railings or eat food off the ground. Ha ha—all kidding aside, they are more than old enough to know how to stay healthy. They’re also not in the danger zone (as toddlers and babies would be) if they were to be infected.
- We’re well-stocked with sanitizer, wipes, and masks (to remind ourselves not to touch our faces).
- We plan to spend most of our time outdoors, exploring on foot. This will help to minimize our exposure.
We’re mostly covered
- I’ve thoroughly checked the details of our travel medical insurance coverage, and we’ll be well-covered through M’s work policy.
- We also have some trip interruption insurance through our Rogers World Elite Mastercards.
- If anything isn’t covered, we have the funds to cover those costs.
We can deal with the quarantines
- The boys are doing fine at school. If we were quarantined for two to four weeks, it won’t hurt them academically. (Besides, nothing counts towards their post-secondary credits until Grade 10—so there will be no long-term repercussions.)
- M has actually been told that he is not allowed to return to work unless he self-quarantines for 14 days after we come home. Fortunately, he’s already set up to work from home. Though it won’t be ideal, he and his team will make it work.
- I’ll do my best to keep the blog and podcast running. Since it’s all online anyway, I don’t think this will be an issue. (And I’m pretty sure you’ll all understand if I need to disappear for a few weeks!)
- If M’s uncle and aunt aren’t able to keep Mika for longer, my sister said she can step in (thanks, sis)!
We’re better off waiting for now
- If we were to cancel today, we’d lose a lot of money and miss out on a (very likely) safe and wonderful trip.
- If we wait until the last-minute, there’s a chance that we’ll receive 100% refunds on all our bookings.
Wow… how did this turn into a 1,000+ word post? Clearly, I’ve been
obsessing thinking about this a lot! With a week and a half left until we leave, it’s both a long way away (because the news changes so fast) and much too close (there’s so much to do, whether we decide to go or cancel last-minute).
I don’t think we’ll get the clarity we want before we leave, so we’ll have to make our best decision based on the most current info. For now, we’re going… so keep your fingers crossed for us!
If we end up going, I plan to post photos and updates on my Instagram feed, so follow me there if you’re interested.
March 6, 2020 update
Well, we made the final call last night… we’re cancelling our trip to Japan. I’m disappointed, but also extremely relieved. After almost a month of agonizing over this decision, I look forward to being done with it and moving on.
Now, you’re probably wondering what happened, for me to have so quickly changed course. Well, as you know, I’ve been closely monitoring the situation. And I learned some new info yesterday that sealed our decision:
Even if we were to self-quarantine for two weeks after coming home, coronavirus fears are mounting. I think that others will feel uncomfortable around us if they knew we’d recently visited Japan.
While we were prepared to deal with quarantines upon our return to Canada, I am not prepared to deal with my kids possibly being ostracized or avoided at school, as some families have experienced.
Though businesses and attractions are scheduled to reopen in Japan when we would have arrived, there’s no guarantee of that. I also watched livestream recordings by two Japan travel vloggers showing empty streets and shuttered shops:
My worry is that the closures will continue and we won’t be able to do many of the things we had planned to do (eat at the local markets, explore shopping streets, visit museums, etc.)
My husband (crazy man!) would still be happy to visit Japan even if most of the country is shut down, but we both agree it’s not ideal.
Medical care worries
This was something my sister and a Japan travel vlogger brought up—if the coronavirus grows much faster in Japan than it is now, the medical system may become overwhelmed.
If we needed any kind of medical care, virus-related or not, hospitals and clinics in Japan may be too full or overrun to take us in. This happened in China and is happening in South Korea, so it’s a very real concern.
My blogging friend Kari from Money in Your Tea left this wise and helpful comment yesterday:
“It’s a tough decision, Chrissy! In Ontario, the only high school marks going to post-secondary institutions are the grade 12 marks. We pulled the eldest out of school for 1 week in grade 10. In grade 11 they might be taking a grade 12 course to work ahead, so it’s harder then. But that’s a family decision about what’s right for you. As for the money you would lose, it’s hard psychologically to face that, but it’s a sunk cost regardless of your decision.”
In one fell swoop, Kari addressed two of my biggest hangups about cancelling the trip:
- We didn’t want to cancel because I believed we wouldn’t be able to redo the trip next year. However, Kari’s right—we will be able to pull Kid 1 out of Grade 10 next year and he’ll be just fine. Knowing we can rebook the same trip next year made the decision to cancel so much easier.
- Being the frugal people we are, the high cost of cancellation fees was huge in my mind. However, Kari’s point that they’re a sunk cost was absolutely right. Just because we’d already lost some money didn’t mean we should just keep forging ahead.
Thank you, Kari, for your wise comment and for sharing your personal experience and knowledge!
We won’t lose as much as I’d thought
Kari’s comment prompted me to revisit our cancellation policies to see if there was anything more I could do. As it turns out, there was.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t take the time to figure out the exact details for cancelling our Airbnb bookings. That’s because they’re very detailed, with various deadlines and, depending on when you cancel, different refund percentages.
At first glance, it looked too complicated to figure out, so I just assumed we’d lose all our money. But, as is often the case, it pays to look into the details! It turns out that our bookings had moderate or flexible cancellation policies.
That meant one was fully refundable and the other would only cost us the Airbnb service fee of $127. As long as I cancel by March 10, we will get everything back, minus the service fee.
So I’ll wait until then to see if Airbnb changes their extenuating circumstances policy to include Japan—then I may also get the service fee refunded.
I’d booked the discount airlines flights to get us to/from Osaka through Flight Network. These flights are still 100% non-refundable. However, I remembered that I received partial refunds for these flights through the Price Drop Protection dollars I’d earned from Flight Network!
The Price Drop Protection dollars were sent to me via cheques, which were safely deposited to my account months ago. The amount I received covered about half the cost of these Jetstar flights, so we’ve really only lost about $350 for these flights.
Japan Rail Passes
There’s unfortunately nothing I can do about the 25% cancellation fee for these. Unless the Canadian government raises the travel advisory for Japan to level 3, we won’t receive a full refund.
On top of that, I have to send the vouchers to them via certified mail to get our 75% refund. Since I have three months to send in the vouchers before they expire, I will wait to see if the government raises the advisory level.
If they do, I may be able to get 100% of our money back. And if Japan Railpass Canada won’t refund the 25% cancellation fee, our Rogers World Elite Mastercard may cover that. So… more waiting for now.
The final tally
For now, the final tally for our cancellations looks like this (this may change in the coming days if more advisories are issued):
- $335 Jetstar flights
- $361 JR pass cancellation fees
- $20-ish to mail the JR passes back to get the refund
- $127 Airbnb service fee
- TOTAL: $843
Also, we likely won’t use our 8 lounge passes, which are a $340 value. While they didn’t cost us anything, I hate seeing them go to waste. I’ll try to find a way to use them before they expire.
Now that we’ve made the decision to cancel, we’ll need to decide if we want to travel somewhere else for spring break. I think we’ll avoid flying, but we may venture down to the US in my in-laws’ motorhome.
However, Vancouver’s looking nice and safe compared to other US cities along the west coast… so the best plan may be to just stick close to home. At the moment, our plans will remain TBD.
Thanks to all of you for your supportive and helpful comments. Who knew that sharing my thoughts here on my blog would play such a big part in our trip planning! Thanks again, Kari!
For those who are in the same boat, I’ve collected some resources that may be helpful:
- How We Maximized Our Refunds After Cancelling Our Trip to Japan (my follow-up post in which I walk through how we’re getting over 90% of our money back)
- Government of Canada’s travel advisories for Japan
- CDC’s travel advisories for Japan
- Japan Airlines’ coronavirus cancellation policy
- Jetstar’s coronavirus cancellation policy
- Airbnb’s coronavirus cancellation policy
- Coronavirus stats from Worldometer
- The latest coronavirus update from Japan (as of March 4, 2020) from Kyodo News
- Helpful coronavirus info and resources for visitors to Japan from JNTO
- JNTO’s guide for when you are feeling ill in Japan (to help visitors access medical care)
- Mr. Money Mustache’s reminder to stay calm and keep things in perspective
- Should You Cancel Your Japan Trip Now? (YouTube video from Only in Japan)
- Japan Coronavirus Update From Osaka (YouTube video from Rion Ishida)
What about you?
Do you have Spring Break travel plans? Are you considering changes or cancellations? Let me know what you plan to do, and if you have any other useful resources to share!
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