January 28, 2021

ilpuntontc

Just Do Travel

Travel troubleshooter: COVID-19 made 2020 the year of the slow refund

5 min read

Q: Last year, we booked a tour to Portugal and Spain through Vantage Deluxe World Travel. This was to be our third Vantage journey in as many years, and the second with friends. Including the optional tours, air, insurance and fees, my wife and I paid $12,959 for the tour.

In March, Vantage canceled the tour because of COVID-19 concerns. On March 16, I asked for a refund. Vantage agreed to issue a refund in 30 days.

Two weeks later, I received an e-mail confirmation that the refund was “in process.” I have made numerous calls and three written requests since then. After 100 days, I am still awaiting the refund. Vantage is stonewalling.

Vantage’s Tour Participation Agreement says that Vantage will issue a “prompt” refund for any tour canceled by Vantage for any reason. Can you help me get my Vantage Deluxe World Travel refund?

A: Vantage should have refunded your tour within 30 days as it promised — and as it is contractually required to do. But it had no way of knowing what would happen in the next 30 days. In March, you’ll recall, travel ground to an almost complete halt. Every one of Vantage’s suppliers experienced similar delays. So the refund process slowed down considerably.

How slow? Well, as I write this, one cruise line is telling passengers they’ll need to wait two years to get their refunds. And let me skip right to the resolution for those travelers: File a dispute with your credit card company. Ask your bank to take the money back.

But with this Vantage refund, I can understand the delay. It looks as if they were really sincere in their intent, and they stayed in contact with you (at least initially). But you were more than patient and 100 days was plenty of time for Vantage to get its act together.

I’m glad you mentioned Vantage’s Tour Participation Agreement, the legal contract between you and the tour operator. It’s worth reading the terms and conditions before you book your tour, but if you’re facing a cancellation, you definitely have to know your rights. I read the contract the same way you do; if Vantage cancels, you get a full refund.

Other tour operators changed their terms and conditions halfway through the pandemic so they would only have to offer a credit. Then they applied the rules retroactively. To its credit, Vantage didn’t.

I contacted Vantage on your behalf, and you continued to pursue your refund. Finally, on Aug. 14 — five months after promising it — Vantage fully refunded your $12,959. Better late than never.

So why am I writing about a case resolved four months ago? My consumer advocacy organization has a case backlog, too.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit consumer organization. Contact him at elliott.org/help or [email protected].

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