Overbooking is standard practice

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I am writing with reference to the letter titled “Confirmed on Tour, Then Bumped to Another,” from ITN readers Clair and John Kohler, and the response of Grand Circle Travel (Feb. ’05, pg. 30). Frankly, I was astonished and actually angered by what happened to the Kohlers, particularly because it involved a large and, I thought, reputable tour company.

I regularly receive brochures from Grand Circle, and after reading the Kohlers’ letter I checked the terms and conditions in a recent brochure and found the following: “Grand Circle reserves the right to change the departure date of any trip. . .” This appears to be the same language that was relied upon by Grand Circle for bumping the Kohlers from their confirmed departure date to a date one week later. Nothing is disclosed anywhere in the brochure that Grand Circle engages in deliberate overbooking.

Since Grand Circle is offering group trips, the only reasonable interpretation of “the right to change the departure date of any trip” is that the departure date for the entire group tour can be changed. No reasonable reader of this provision could be expected to understand that it includes the bumping of any one or more passengers, because of overbooking, from a trip that is not itself rescheduled — particularly when the practice of overbooking is not even disclosed.

The reliance on this provision by Grand Circle to support an undisclosed overbooking practice, without refund to the client, seems to be stretching the language beyond its original intention and is totally unbefitting a reputable organization.

In its response to the Kohlers, Grand Circle states that it plans to change the language in its terms and conditions to address this matter. Hopefully, the practice of deliberate overbooking will be disclosed. But if Grand Circle continues to take the position that confirmed clients can be shifted to another departure date without the right to cancel with full refund, I find this to be arrogant and greedy.

I can understand that a tour company may want to deliberately overbook in order to protect against vacant slots caused by cancellations. However, to refuse to permit bumped clients to cancel with full refund effectively means that Grand Circle will be reaping a windfall at the expense of the unfortunate client: if the client cancels, Grand Circle not only operates the tour at capacity but retains the client’s forfeited payment; if the client is forced to accept an alternate departure, Grand Circle operates the original tour at capacity and has a windfall involuntary incremental booking on the alternate departure.

Unless future brochures that I receive from Grand Circle disclose their deliberate overbooking practice and provide that any confirmed client who is bumped from a trip that is not itself rescheduled would be entitled to a full refund, I would never consider booking any Grand Circle offering.

BRUCE BERGER
Palo Alto, CA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Grand Circle Travel and received the following reply.

Thank you for your letter regarding the Kohlers’ letter. We regret how the Kohlers’ move was handled when our “Great Rivers of Europe” river cruise was overbooked last August. However, thanks to their bringing it to our attention, our “Terms & Conditions” have been updated to include our overbooking policy.

Although Grand Circle does overbook its vacations, I would like to assure you that when a trip is overbooked, we begin contacting passengers to identify volunteers who can move their departure date without any inconvenience. Because we overbook by a small number, these volunteers usually free up the needed space. In the rare instance when a traveler cannot change her vacation departure date and we cannot accommodate her on that date or any other preferred date or trip, we offer a full refund and compensation.

We understand that changing a vacation departure date can not only inconvenience but also disappoint our passengers. Therefore, we have attempted to minimize the impact of overbooking as much as possible.

I am proud to write that 150,000 people traveled with us in 2004, and, when surveyed, 96% have told us they will travel with us again. We work hard every day to deliver a high-quality experience at a great value to our passengers, and we appreciate it when our passengers let us know when we fall short. It’s how we continue to improve.

Again, thank you for your letter.

STEPHANIE M. NICHOLS, Manager, Public Relations, Grand Circle Corporation, 347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210

Grand Circle’s website, www.gct.com, now carries the following disclaimer under the heading “General Terms and Conditions: “GCC, like most tour operators overbooks its vacations. we do this because historically, few people cancel their trips when they book with us. Overbooking is done in the best interest of our customers and Grand Circle Corporation. With the revenue produced by filling spots on our trips that would otherwise go empty, we maintain exceptional value on our trips. This allows us to accept more reservations than decline them when customers call to make a booking. This does not necessarily mean that if you have a reservation you will not be accommodated on your trip.

“If between 60 and 14 days or more prior to your departure, more customers are confirmed than can be accommodated, a Grand Circle representative will contact volunteers who are willing to give up their seats in exchange for compensation and a confirmed spot on a future departure date. On rare occasions, customers may be involuntarily moved to another departure date if a sufficient number of volunteers are not obtained. We may take into consideration at that time factors such as Inner Circle status, fare paid and severe hardships. With few exceptions, passengers denied their trips involuntarily are entitled to compensation.”

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I am writing with reference to the letter titled “Confirmed on Tour, Then Bumped to Another,” from ITN readers Clair and John Kohler, and the response of Grand Circle Travel (Feb. ’05, pg. 30). Frankly, I was astonished and actually angered by what happened to the Kohlers, particularly because it involved a large and, I thought, reputable tour company.

I regularly receive brochures from Grand Circle, and after reading the Kohlers’ letter I checked the terms and conditions in a recent brochure and found the following: “Grand Circle reserves the right to change the departure date of any trip. . .” This appears to be the same language that was relied upon by Grand Circle for bumping the Kohlers from their confirmed departure date to a date one week later. Nothing is disclosed anywhere in the brochure that Grand Circle engages in deliberate overbooking.

Since Grand Circle is offering group trips, the only reasonable interpretation of “the right to change the departure date of any trip” is that the departure date for the entire group tour can be changed. No reasonable reader of this provision could be expected to understand that it includes the bumping of any one or more passengers, because of overbooking, from a trip that is not itself rescheduled — particularly when the practice of overbooking is not even disclosed.

The reliance on this provision by Grand Circle to support an undisclosed overbooking practice, without refund to the client, seems to be stretching the language beyond its original intention and is totally unbefitting a reputable organization.

In its response to the Kohlers, Grand Circle states that it plans to change the language in its terms and conditions to address this matter. Hopefully, the practice of deliberate overbooking will be disclosed. But if Grand Circle continues to take the position that confirmed clients can be shifted to another departure date without the right to cancel with full refund, I find this to be arrogant and greedy.

I can understand that a tour company may want to deliberately overbook in order to protect against vacant slots caused by cancellations. However, to refuse to permit bumped clients to cancel with full refund effectively means that Grand Circle will be reaping a windfall at the expense of the unfortunate client: if the client cancels, Grand Circle not only operates the tour at capacity but retains the client’s forfeited payment; if the client is forced to accept an alternate departure, Grand Circle operates the original tour at capacity and has a windfall involuntary incremental booking on the alternate departure.

Unless future brochures that I receive from Grand Circle disclose their deliberate overbooking practice and provide that any confirmed client who is bumped from a trip that is not itself rescheduled would be entitled to a full refund, I would never consider booking any Grand Circle offering.

BRUCE BERGER
Palo Alto, CA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Grand Circle Travel and received the following reply.

Thank you for your letter regarding the Kohlers’ letter. We regret how the Kohlers’ move was handled when our “Great Rivers of Europe” river cruise was overbooked last August. However, thanks to their bringing it to our attention, our “Terms & Conditions” have been updated to include our overbooking policy.

Although Grand Circle does overbook its vacations, I would like to assure you that when a trip is overbooked, we begin contacting passengers to identify volunteers who can move their departure date without any inconvenience. Because we overbook by a small number, these volunteers usually free up the needed space. In the rare instance when a traveler cannot change her vacation departure date and we cannot accommodate her on that date or any other preferred date or trip, we offer a full refund and compensation.

We understand that changing a vacation departure date can not only inconvenience but also disappoint our passengers. Therefore, we have attempted to minimize the impact of overbooking as much as possible.

I am proud to write that 150,000 people traveled with us in 2004, and, when surveyed, 96% have told us they will travel with us again. We work hard every day to deliver a high-quality experience at a great value to our passengers, and we appreciate it when our passengers let us know when we fall short. It’s how we continue to improve.

Again, thank you for your letter.

STEPHANIE M. NICHOLS, Manager, Public Relations, Grand Circle Corporation, 347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210

Grand Circle’s website, www.gct.com, now carries the following disclaimer under the heading “General Terms and Conditions: “GCC, like most tour operators overbooks its vacations. we do this because historically, few people cancel their trips when they book with us. Overbooking is done in the best interest of our customers and Grand Circle Corporation. With the revenue produced by filling spots on our trips that would otherwise go empty, we maintain exceptional value on our trips. This allows us to accept more reservations than decline them when customers call to make a booking. This does not necessarily mean that if you have a reservation you will not be accommodated on your trip.

“If between 60 and 14 days or more prior to your departure, more customers are confirmed than can be accommodated, a Grand Circle representative will contact volunteers who are willing to give up their seats in exchange for compensation and a confirmed spot on a future departure date. On rare occasions, customers may be involuntarily moved to another departure date if a sufficient number of volunteers are not obtained. We may take into consideration at that time factors such as Inner Circle status, fare paid and severe hardships. With few exceptions, passengers denied their trips involuntarily are entitled to compensation.”