Charging tour costs

By Merle Lewis
This item appears on page 24 of the July 2012 issue.
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In the last three years, my husband and I booked tours with Adventures Abroad, smarTours, Vantage Deluxe World Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel, Odysseys Unlimited and Road Scholar. The tours were each in the range of roughly $3,000-$5,000 per person.

In each case, we paid the initial deposit by credit card, but some companies preferred that the balance of the tour cost be paid by means other than a credit card. In fact, some of these companies “penalized” you by adding a fee if you paid the balance with a credit card.

Adventures Abroad, if you used a credit card to pay your balance, charged a $250-per-couple administrative fee. SmarTours advertised two prices, which differed by $100; the lower price was advertised as a “cash price discount.” Vantage Deluxe World Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel reduced the cost by $50 per person if you paid the balance by means other than a credit card. All these amounts did not vary with the tour cost.

Odysseys and Road Scholar had no fee for using a credit card.

I am aware that there is a cost to a merchant when someone pays with a credit card. True, I accumulate air-mileage points by using my card, but, more importantly, for me, charging the balance of the trip protects me in the event the tour operator declares bankruptcy.

Some trip-cancellation insurance policies do not protect you if your tour company declares bankruptcy after you have paid for the trip, but many credit card companies protect you if you have not received a service for which you have paid.

MERLE LEWIS
Quebec, Canada

ITN wrote to each tour company mentioned for comment. Following are responses received plus, where no reply was received, information from the website.

Mrs. Lewis is correct in noting that Adventures Abroad does charge an administration fee of $250 when travelers pay their final balance. This is not a per-person fee but a one-time fee applied to the final balance owing. This fee is waived if final payment is made by check, wire transfer or online bank transfer. Please note that the admin fee does not apply to deposits paid by credit card, only to the final balance, so, regardless of whether the final balance owing is $5,000 or $12,000, the admin fee remains the same.

Our intent is not to penalize the traveler, as the option for method of final payment is theirs to make. As you are surely aware, Canadian and American merchants that accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards must pay a fee ranging between 2.5% and 5% of each purchase. This is nearly twice as much as their counterparts pay in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

Please appreciate that we place great value in the level of customer service that we offer to our travelers. Mr. And Mrs. Lewis have been traveling with us for more than 14 years, and they are scheduled to travel with us again in 2013.

MARTIN T. CHARLTON, Assistant Manager/Destination Specialist, Adventures Abroad (Richmond, BC, or Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998)

I am happy to clarify smarTours’ payment policies. At the time of reservation, clients are required to pay a small deposit of $300 per person. Final payment is due 75 or 90 days prior to departure (depending on the type of tour reserved) and can be settled by credit card, based on our published tour prices.

We also offer an additional cash discount for those opting to make their final payment by check. The cash discount amounts to $100 per person. All of our brochures and online tour listings show clearly the “regular” tour price as well as the “cash discount” price.

We are pleased to be able to give our travelers the option to save if paying by check.

ELI MILBAUR, smarTours (New York, NY; 800/337-7773)

Editor’s note: According to its website, Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 800/322-6677) offers the SmartPay Discount Plan in which you can save up to 10% when you pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer prior to the departure date. The earlier you pay in full, the more the savings. Make your final payment by check within the last 120 days and get $50 off. The discount cannot be applied to a reservation made within 90 days prior to departure.

Overseas Adventure Travel has a Good Buy Plan. You can save up to 10% when you pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer (which you can do just by telling us your checking account information over the phone) prior to your final payment due date. The earlier you pay in full, the more you save.

For example, if you pay for your $5,000 trip in full by check or electronic funds transfer 12 or more months prior to your departure, you’ll save $500, or 10% of your trip price. Pay in full eight months prior and save $200, or 4%. Making the final payment by check within 120 to 90 days prior to departure will save you $50.

The discount cannot be applied to any final payments made within 90 days prior to departure, including trips booked within 90 days.

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Vice President, Public Relations, Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/493-6824)

Odysseys Unlimited does not charge any penalty or administrative fee for payments made by credit card; both the initial deposit and the final payment (and anything in between) can be paid by credit card. We do not offer any discounts for any payments made by cash or check.

While we do, indeed, pay a fee for all credit card transactions, we believe it is in the best interest of our guests to allow them the choice of how they wish to pay for their tour.

SUE BONCHI, Vice President, Marketing, Odysseys Unlimited (Newton, MA; 888/370-6765)

Road Scholar has long been committed to offering up-front inclusive pricing. We do not charge a supplemental fee for using credit cards to pay for our educational travel programs. As a not-for-profit organization, we certainly welcome and appreciate payments by check to offset the processing costs associated with credit card payments, but we do not offer any special discounts or add-on fees.

DESPINA GAKOPOULOS, Public Relations, Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768)

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In the last three years, my husband and I booked tours with Adventures Abroad, smarTours, Vantage Deluxe World Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel, Odysseys Unlimited and Road Scholar. The tours were each in the range of roughly $3,000-$5,000 per person.

In each case, we paid the initial deposit by credit card, but some companies preferred that the balance of the tour cost be paid by means other than a credit card. In fact, some of these companies “penalized” you by adding a fee if you paid the balance with a credit card.

Adventures Abroad, if you used a credit card to pay your balance, charged a $250-per-couple administrative fee. SmarTours advertised two prices, which differed by $100; the lower price was advertised as a “cash price discount.” Vantage Deluxe World Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel reduced the cost by $50 per person if you paid the balance by means other than a credit card. All these amounts did not vary with the tour cost.

Odysseys and Road Scholar had no fee for using a credit card.

I am aware that there is a cost to a merchant when someone pays with a credit card. True, I accumulate air-mileage points by using my card, but, more importantly, for me, charging the balance of the trip protects me in the event the tour operator declares bankruptcy.

Some trip-cancellation insurance policies do not protect you if your tour company declares bankruptcy after you have paid for the trip, but many credit card companies protect you if you have not received a service for which you have paid.

MERLE LEWIS
Quebec, Canada

ITN wrote to each tour company mentioned for comment. Following are responses received plus, where no reply was received, information from the website.

Mrs. Lewis is correct in noting that Adventures Abroad does charge an administration fee of $250 when travelers pay their final balance. This is not a per-person fee but a one-time fee applied to the final balance owing. This fee is waived if final payment is made by check, wire transfer or online bank transfer. Please note that the admin fee does not apply to deposits paid by credit card, only to the final balance, so, regardless of whether the final balance owing is $5,000 or $12,000, the admin fee remains the same.

Our intent is not to penalize the traveler, as the option for method of final payment is theirs to make. As you are surely aware, Canadian and American merchants that accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards must pay a fee ranging between 2.5% and 5% of each purchase. This is nearly twice as much as their counterparts pay in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

Please appreciate that we place great value in the level of customer service that we offer to our travelers. Mr. And Mrs. Lewis have been traveling with us for more than 14 years, and they are scheduled to travel with us again in 2013.

MARTIN T. CHARLTON, Assistant Manager/Destination Specialist, Adventures Abroad (Richmond, BC, or Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998)

I am happy to clarify smarTours’ payment policies. At the time of reservation, clients are required to pay a small deposit of $300 per person. Final payment is due 75 or 90 days prior to departure (depending on the type of tour reserved) and can be settled by credit card, based on our published tour prices.

We also offer an additional cash discount for those opting to make their final payment by check. The cash discount amounts to $100 per person. All of our brochures and online tour listings show clearly the “regular” tour price as well as the “cash discount” price.

We are pleased to be able to give our travelers the option to save if paying by check.

ELI MILBAUR, smarTours (New York, NY; 800/337-7773)

Editor’s note: According to its website, Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 800/322-6677) offers the SmartPay Discount Plan in which you can save up to 10% when you pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer prior to the departure date. The earlier you pay in full, the more the savings. Make your final payment by check within the last 120 days and get $50 off. The discount cannot be applied to a reservation made within 90 days prior to departure.

Overseas Adventure Travel has a Good Buy Plan. You can save up to 10% when you pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer (which you can do just by telling us your checking account information over the phone) prior to your final payment due date. The earlier you pay in full, the more you save.

For example, if you pay for your $5,000 trip in full by check or electronic funds transfer 12 or more months prior to your departure, you’ll save $500, or 10% of your trip price. Pay in full eight months prior and save $200, or 4%. Making the final payment by check within 120 to 90 days prior to departure will save you $50.

The discount cannot be applied to any final payments made within 90 days prior to departure, including trips booked within 90 days.

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Vice President, Public Relations, Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/493-6824)

Odysseys Unlimited does not charge any penalty or administrative fee for payments made by credit card; both the initial deposit and the final payment (and anything in between) can be paid by credit card. We do not offer any discounts for any payments made by cash or check.

While we do, indeed, pay a fee for all credit card transactions, we believe it is in the best interest of our guests to allow them the choice of how they wish to pay for their tour.

SUE BONCHI, Vice President, Marketing, Odysseys Unlimited (Newton, MA; 888/370-6765)

Road Scholar has long been committed to offering up-front inclusive pricing. We do not charge a supplemental fee for using credit cards to pay for our educational travel programs. As a not-for-profit organization, we certainly welcome and appreciate payments by check to offset the processing costs associated with credit card payments, but we do not offer any special discounts or add-on fees.

DESPINA GAKOPOULOS, Public Relations, Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768)