Unexpected costs for Kutrubes tour

By Mr. Z
This item appears on page 24 of the August 2013 issue.
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The following is ITN’s summary of a more-than-a-year-long investigation. — Editor

A subscriber, “Mr. Z,” wrote to ITN on Dec. 26, 2011, regarding a Caucasus-region tour that he took to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia with Kutrubes Travel (328 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02116), Sept. 14-28, 2011.

Mr. Z explained that he had paid for the tour (this amount included $185 for a visa for Azerbaijan) and that on Aug. 10 he sent his passport to the tour company so that his Azerbaijani visa could be procured along with those of the other two members of the tour.

On Sept. 12, one day before his passport was returned to him and two days before departure, he was surprised when Kathy Kutrubes, the tour company owner, informed him by email that, due to circumstances, she had not been able to get the group’s Azerbaijani visas in time and, for the trip to proceed, the group would have to first fly to Tbilisi, Georgia, instead of Baku, Azerbaijan, rearranging and changing the itinerary. (The Azerbaijani visas could be gotten in Tbilisi after the group’s arrival.)

Also that day, Mr. Z was told by one of the other two tour members, Jennie Rose of Southern Pines, North Carolina, that nearly a month earlier, her visa photos had been lost by Kutrubes Travel. By the time her replacement photos were received, it was not possible for Kutrubes to get all the Azerbaijani visas processed.

Ms. Kutrubes told Mr. Z that the tour members each would have to pay an additional $285 to cover the fee charged by the airline to change each ticket for the international flight. Mr. Z paid that amount to Kutrubes Travel using a credit card.

The flight change also made it necessary for the three tour members to make changes in their domestic flights to the departure point, New York. Each did that on their own, incurring another ticket-change fee, Mr. Z’s fee amounting to $200.

Upon the tour members’ arrival in Tbilisi, the local guide asked each of them for $170 to cover the cost of an Azerbaijani visa. They pointed out that they had already provided the money for their visas, having paid Kutrubes Travel months earlier, but they had to put up the money again in order to continue.

Upon returning home after the tour, Mr. Z wrote to Kutrubes Travel asking for a refund of his ticket-change fees and his second full payment for his Azerbaijani visa. As he reasoned in his letter to ITN, “I do not agree that I should be penalized due to Kutrubes Travel’s losing the passport photos of another traveler, requiring replacement photos and resulting in there not being sufficient time to acquire my Azerbaijani visa from the proper authorities.”

Kutrubes Travel refused to give Mr. Z a refund, and that’s when he wrote to ITN. ITN gathered more information from Mr. Z, then wrote to Kutrubes Travel on Jan. 12, 2012.

On Jan. 16, Mr. Z informed ITN that an unauthorized charge of $268 had been made to the credit card accounts of each of the three tour members by Picasso Travel (20 Park Plaza, Ste. 605, Boston, MA 02116). Not having heard of that company, each disputed the charge with their respective credit card companies and the charges eventually were reversed. 

Picasso Travel was the agency that Kutrubes Travel had employed to make the last-minute flight changes. After the charges were reversed, Picasso billed and collected the amounts from Kutrubes.

In several e-mails to ITN from Feb. 8 to May 20, 2012, Ms. Kutrubes wrote the following:

“Regarding what they’re calling a fraudulent credit card charge, all three consented to this charge. It was to cover the change in the itinerary.

“I did receive the first set of photos from Ms. Rose and, yes, they got lost. I believe they were accidentally thrown out by my summer intern… . Beginning Aug. 18, approximately the day after I discovered that her photos were missing, I left Ms. Rose a few phone messages… . When I did not hear from her, I also contacted (one of the other tour members) to see if she knew how to reach Ms. Rose, but she had no idea. . . . 

“My notes show I spoke with Ms. Rose toward the end of the week of Aug. 22. I asked her to get the photos to me as fast as possible. When I called again Sept. 1, she told me she had just sent the photos to me. I didn’t realize she had sent them regular mail. I received her photos at 6 p.m. on Sept. 6.

“I assumed, since they were all traveling as a group, that I would process the visas for all three tour members at once. Unfortunately, the failure in getting the required Azerbaijani visas made it impossible to keep to the original itinerary and necessitated changes to the clients’ tickets.”

ITN asked Ms. Rose on what date Ms. Kutrubes first informed her about the missing photos, and she wrote, “To the best of my recollection, she contacted me around Aug. 29 or 30… . As I recall, I received three or four messages on my phone that day from Ms. Kutrubes, each more frantic and demanding than the one before, and emails as well. I called Kathy immediately. 

“Within two hours of talking with her, I went to the shipping place and mailed a new set of photos at around 6 p.m., just before they closed… . Kathy did not tell me to mail them overnight or I would have done so.”

Ms. Rose’s second set of pictures arrived at Kutrubes Travel on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day (no mail delivery). Ms. Kutrubes then FedExed the visas to a visa service in Washington, which took them to the Azerbaijani Embassy, which was open only a half day on Thursday.

On April 20, 2012, after seeing that ITN was still carrying an advertisement for Kutrubes Travel, Mr. Z wrote, “I am pulling from publication the information sent by me to ITN pertaining to Kutrubes Travel… . I must no longer have my name associated in any way with Kutrubes Travel in the pages of ITN.”

Mr. Z was sent an email by ITN explaining the magazine’s policies* and he was left a voice-mail asking him to call back. Mr. Z cordially emailed, “If ITN wishes to publish something entirely on its own, I cannot dictate what is published, just as long as none of our names are used.”

Jennie Rose informed ITN that she was happy to help in the magazine’s continuing investigation and wrote, “It’s fine with me to use my name.”

Ms. Rose provided copies of two of her credit card statements. One showed a charge of $285 made on Sept. 12, 2011, to Kutrubes Travel, which was the ticket-change fee for the altered international flight. Another statement showed a charge of $268 made on Dec. 9 to Picasso Travel.

ITN sent copies to Ms. Kutrubes and asked about the two billings. On July 13 she replied, “I am rather perplexed about the charges from Picasso Travel. I paid for those. Does this mean Picasso double-billed us?”

She went to Picasso Travel’s office and later told ITN that that company had erroneously charged each of the tour members a second time for the ticket-change fee for the international flight. 

She explained that because of a recent change in Picasso’s bookkeeping system, the first billing showed up on the tour members’ credit card statements under the name Kutrubes Travel (they each paid Kutrubes $285, which included a “small markup” on what Kutrubes paid Picasso to make the ticket changes) and the second billing showed up under the name Picasso Travel ($268, billed directly to each tour member and subsequently challenged and reversed).

Having been shown the proof of their double billing of Ms. Rose, Picasso Travel refunded Ms. Kutrubes $268.

ITN wrote to Picasso Travel on Nov. 15, 2012, and again on Feb. 9, 2013, sending a summary of all that had transpired plus copies of documents. Picasso Travel did not reply.

Not mentioning the flight-change fees, Ms. Rose (now an ITN subscriber) on May 20 repeated a request: “I am interested in what Ms. Kutrubes’ explanation is for not refunding the money she collected from each of us for the Azerbaijani visas that didn’t happen. We paid an additional $170 each for rush visas to the representative company in Tbilisi, Georgia, who jumped through hoops to obtain them upon our return from Armenia.”

ITN passed that question on to Ms. Kutrubes, who referred to her previous emails to ITN, best summed up in her May 4 reply: “Even though they did not receive their visas (due to Jennie Rose ignoring my requests for her photos), the Azerbaijani Embassy in DC retained the processing fees… . If I had not repeatedly requested that Ms. Rose resend her photos to me, I would have felt responsible. Since I repeatedly called her, and even tried reaching her through (another tour member), I felt like she did not grasp the importance of the situation.”

Following further meetings with Picasso Travel, in two emails in February Ms. Kutrubes summed up her findings as follows: “Picasso found no charge to the credit cards of either (Mr. Z or the third tour member)… . I had given Picasso the credit card info over the phone, but I have been told that the transaction was processed as a check payment instead… . Because Picasso found that they had not made any charges to either of these accounts, I will not be receiving an additional refund, though I did personally pay Picasso for these clients’ ticket changes.”

On Feb. 18, Ms. Kutrubes informed ITN that she planned to send each tour member $170, the amount that each paid twice for their Azerbaijani visas. On March 17, Mr. Z informed ITN that he had received a check for $170 from Kutrubes Travel. It was dated Feb. 28. Ms. Rose and the third tour member subsequently each reported receiving a check for $170. — DT

*For a related discussion, see the “Boarding Pass” column in this issue.

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

The following is ITN’s summary of a more-than-a-year-long investigation. — Editor

A subscriber, “Mr. Z,” wrote to ITN on Dec. 26, 2011, regarding a Caucasus-region tour that he took to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia with Kutrubes Travel (328 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02116), Sept. 14-28, 2011.

Mr. Z explained that he had paid for the tour (this amount included $185 for a visa for Azerbaijan) and that on Aug. 10 he sent his passport to the tour company so that his Azerbaijani visa could be procured along with those of the other two members of the tour.

On Sept. 12, one day before his passport was returned to him and two days before departure, he was surprised when Kathy Kutrubes, the tour company owner, informed him by email that, due to circumstances, she had not been able to get the group’s Azerbaijani visas in time and, for the trip to proceed, the group would have to first fly to Tbilisi, Georgia, instead of Baku, Azerbaijan, rearranging and changing the itinerary. (The Azerbaijani visas could be gotten in Tbilisi after the group’s arrival.)

Also that day, Mr. Z was told by one of the other two tour members, Jennie Rose of Southern Pines, North Carolina, that nearly a month earlier, her visa photos had been lost by Kutrubes Travel. By the time her replacement photos were received, it was not possible for Kutrubes to get all the Azerbaijani visas processed.

Ms. Kutrubes told Mr. Z that the tour members each would have to pay an additional $285 to cover the fee charged by the airline to change each ticket for the international flight. Mr. Z paid that amount to Kutrubes Travel using a credit card.

The flight change also made it necessary for the three tour members to make changes in their domestic flights to the departure point, New York. Each did that on their own, incurring another ticket-change fee, Mr. Z’s fee amounting to $200.

Upon the tour members’ arrival in Tbilisi, the local guide asked each of them for $170 to cover the cost of an Azerbaijani visa. They pointed out that they had already provided the money for their visas, having paid Kutrubes Travel months earlier, but they had to put up the money again in order to continue.

Upon returning home after the tour, Mr. Z wrote to Kutrubes Travel asking for a refund of his ticket-change fees and his second full payment for his Azerbaijani visa. As he reasoned in his letter to ITN, “I do not agree that I should be penalized due to Kutrubes Travel’s losing the passport photos of another traveler, requiring replacement photos and resulting in there not being sufficient time to acquire my Azerbaijani visa from the proper authorities.”

Kutrubes Travel refused to give Mr. Z a refund, and that’s when he wrote to ITN. ITN gathered more information from Mr. Z, then wrote to Kutrubes Travel on Jan. 12, 2012.

On Jan. 16, Mr. Z informed ITN that an unauthorized charge of $268 had been made to the credit card accounts of each of the three tour members by Picasso Travel (20 Park Plaza, Ste. 605, Boston, MA 02116). Not having heard of that company, each disputed the charge with their respective credit card companies and the charges eventually were reversed. 

Picasso Travel was the agency that Kutrubes Travel had employed to make the last-minute flight changes. After the charges were reversed, Picasso billed and collected the amounts from Kutrubes.

In several e-mails to ITN from Feb. 8 to May 20, 2012, Ms. Kutrubes wrote the following:

“Regarding what they’re calling a fraudulent credit card charge, all three consented to this charge. It was to cover the change in the itinerary.

“I did receive the first set of photos from Ms. Rose and, yes, they got lost. I believe they were accidentally thrown out by my summer intern… . Beginning Aug. 18, approximately the day after I discovered that her photos were missing, I left Ms. Rose a few phone messages… . When I did not hear from her, I also contacted (one of the other tour members) to see if she knew how to reach Ms. Rose, but she had no idea. . . . 

“My notes show I spoke with Ms. Rose toward the end of the week of Aug. 22. I asked her to get the photos to me as fast as possible. When I called again Sept. 1, she told me she had just sent the photos to me. I didn’t realize she had sent them regular mail. I received her photos at 6 p.m. on Sept. 6.

“I assumed, since they were all traveling as a group, that I would process the visas for all three tour members at once. Unfortunately, the failure in getting the required Azerbaijani visas made it impossible to keep to the original itinerary and necessitated changes to the clients’ tickets.”

ITN asked Ms. Rose on what date Ms. Kutrubes first informed her about the missing photos, and she wrote, “To the best of my recollection, she contacted me around Aug. 29 or 30… . As I recall, I received three or four messages on my phone that day from Ms. Kutrubes, each more frantic and demanding than the one before, and emails as well. I called Kathy immediately. 

“Within two hours of talking with her, I went to the shipping place and mailed a new set of photos at around 6 p.m., just before they closed… . Kathy did not tell me to mail them overnight or I would have done so.”

Ms. Rose’s second set of pictures arrived at Kutrubes Travel on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day (no mail delivery). Ms. Kutrubes then FedExed the visas to a visa service in Washington, which took them to the Azerbaijani Embassy, which was open only a half day on Thursday.

On April 20, 2012, after seeing that ITN was still carrying an advertisement for Kutrubes Travel, Mr. Z wrote, “I am pulling from publication the information sent by me to ITN pertaining to Kutrubes Travel… . I must no longer have my name associated in any way with Kutrubes Travel in the pages of ITN.”

Mr. Z was sent an email by ITN explaining the magazine’s policies* and he was left a voice-mail asking him to call back. Mr. Z cordially emailed, “If ITN wishes to publish something entirely on its own, I cannot dictate what is published, just as long as none of our names are used.”

Jennie Rose informed ITN that she was happy to help in the magazine’s continuing investigation and wrote, “It’s fine with me to use my name.”

Ms. Rose provided copies of two of her credit card statements. One showed a charge of $285 made on Sept. 12, 2011, to Kutrubes Travel, which was the ticket-change fee for the altered international flight. Another statement showed a charge of $268 made on Dec. 9 to Picasso Travel.

ITN sent copies to Ms. Kutrubes and asked about the two billings. On July 13 she replied, “I am rather perplexed about the charges from Picasso Travel. I paid for those. Does this mean Picasso double-billed us?”

She went to Picasso Travel’s office and later told ITN that that company had erroneously charged each of the tour members a second time for the ticket-change fee for the international flight. 

She explained that because of a recent change in Picasso’s bookkeeping system, the first billing showed up on the tour members’ credit card statements under the name Kutrubes Travel (they each paid Kutrubes $285, which included a “small markup” on what Kutrubes paid Picasso to make the ticket changes) and the second billing showed up under the name Picasso Travel ($268, billed directly to each tour member and subsequently challenged and reversed).

Having been shown the proof of their double billing of Ms. Rose, Picasso Travel refunded Ms. Kutrubes $268.

ITN wrote to Picasso Travel on Nov. 15, 2012, and again on Feb. 9, 2013, sending a summary of all that had transpired plus copies of documents. Picasso Travel did not reply.

Not mentioning the flight-change fees, Ms. Rose (now an ITN subscriber) on May 20 repeated a request: “I am interested in what Ms. Kutrubes’ explanation is for not refunding the money she collected from each of us for the Azerbaijani visas that didn’t happen. We paid an additional $170 each for rush visas to the representative company in Tbilisi, Georgia, who jumped through hoops to obtain them upon our return from Armenia.”

ITN passed that question on to Ms. Kutrubes, who referred to her previous emails to ITN, best summed up in her May 4 reply: “Even though they did not receive their visas (due to Jennie Rose ignoring my requests for her photos), the Azerbaijani Embassy in DC retained the processing fees… . If I had not repeatedly requested that Ms. Rose resend her photos to me, I would have felt responsible. Since I repeatedly called her, and even tried reaching her through (another tour member), I felt like she did not grasp the importance of the situation.”

Following further meetings with Picasso Travel, in two emails in February Ms. Kutrubes summed up her findings as follows: “Picasso found no charge to the credit cards of either (Mr. Z or the third tour member)… . I had given Picasso the credit card info over the phone, but I have been told that the transaction was processed as a check payment instead… . Because Picasso found that they had not made any charges to either of these accounts, I will not be receiving an additional refund, though I did personally pay Picasso for these clients’ ticket changes.”

On Feb. 18, Ms. Kutrubes informed ITN that she planned to send each tour member $170, the amount that each paid twice for their Azerbaijani visas. On March 17, Mr. Z informed ITN that he had received a check for $170 from Kutrubes Travel. It was dated Feb. 28. Ms. Rose and the third tour member subsequently each reported receiving a check for $170. — DT

*For a related discussion, see the “Boarding Pass” column in this issue.