COVID consequences (Part 10)

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More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans worldwide, some travelers are still experiencing fallout in their interactions with tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., including ITN subscribers. They have shared their accounts.


My wife, Arlene, and I booked the trip entitled “India North & South” with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com) on Jan. 3, 2018, paying the full amount of $16,024 on that date. The trip was supposed to depart in February 2019.

Unfortunately, in January 2019 we received a call from Vantage informing us that a group on that tour had canceled, leaving us as the only other individuals on that trip, and the company could not run a tour with only two travelers.

We were understanding and arranged to roll over our booking to the same trip in 2020, for Feb. 16-March 5. We were informed that we would not be subject to any price increase that might occur.

In January 2020, we received a call from Vantage telling us that our rebooked trip had also been canceled because, again, an entire group had canceled. There was one trip left in 2020, departing March 22, and we agreed to be put on that trip.

In March, however, shortly before that trip was due to depart, India closed its borders due to COVID-19, forcing Vantage to cancel the tour.

I called Vantage and explored the possibility of rebooking the trip for 2021. I was told that the tour had been scheduled for Feb. 7-25, 2021. I said that since we had had two trips canceled because large groups had canceled, we didn’t want to book another trip where we were at the mercy of such an occurrence. The representative agreed to make a note about this and asked us to give the company some time to update our invoice, as there had been other unanticipated cancellations caused by the pandemic.

I have an online account with Vantage. By May 22, 2020, our invoice had not been updated to show a trip with the new dates (although it did list our canceled March 22, 2020, trip as a “past journey” that had been taken).

My Vantage account did not even show a credit for the $16,024 we had paid for the trip, although I had been told verbally that this credit existed in their system, so I called Vantage again.

I spoke to Patrick, who informed me that the reason our invoice had not been updated was because there was no confirmed trip for “India North & South” on the dates we were given; it was only listed as “pending.”

On hearing that, I said that, since no trip had been confirmed, we wanted our money back. I said that we had NEVER intended to book a pending trip. It was suggested I email customercare@vantagetravel.com and explain why we canceled, because it was management that had to make the decision for a refund.

I did this and received a reply saying I would have to call. On March 24 I spoke to David, who told me that a manager would call us back in one to two weeks. After receiving no call, on June 9 I called Vantage again and spoke to Suzanne, who said that a manager would call in one to two weeks. On June 29 I called Vantage again and spoke to Jordan, who told me that a manager would call in six to eight weeks. No manager returned a call to us.

I called again on July 7 and, fortunately, spoke to Patrick, who remembered speaking to me previously. After reviewing the chronology and listening to me vent my frustration, he put me on hold, then told me I would receive a call from a Ms. Garcia, a manager, the following week.

Not hearing from Ms. Garcia, I called on July 24 and spoke to Jordan, telling him we wanted our money back now. After putting me on hold, he told me that our request for a refund had been denied.

What we understand Vantage’s position to be is that in March 2020 we did not request a refund and had agreed to a future booking, which is true, but we later learned that no trip existed to be booked. Had I been told in March that no dates were confirmed for 2021, I would have requested our money back at that time.

I then sent a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General via certified mail, and it was received there on July 28, 2020. When my claim had not been posted to the Attorney General’s (AG’s) database as of the end of August, I called their office and was told that they were overwhelmed and my claim might still be in the mail room.

Inquiring again on Sept. 14, I was told to not expect a response for at least a month. Calling on Nov. 3, I was told that my complaint had been submitted to Vantage Travel but that the company had not replied. I was to let the AG’s office know when I received a refund or if I had not received one within a month.

The first week of January 2021, I called the AG and was told that Vantage Travel still had not replied to them.

I called Vantage on Jan. 20, and they were still intransigent about not returning my money. At that point, I decided they had worn me down. I booked another trip with them, the small-ship cruise “East Asia: Malaysia, Sri Lanka & Beyond – 2022,” scheduled for March 28-April 4. The trip goes to some places we would like to visit though not necessarily as a package.

In addition to using our credit of $16,024, we paid $8,152 for the updated 2022 prices, including an optional extension to Agra (to see the Taj Mahal) that was included in the cost of the trip Vantage canceled. This is a whole lot more than what we would have spent to visit the couple of places this new cruise goes to that were included in the trip Vantage canceled, although it does include a visit to Sri Lanka that we are interested in.

Rather than lose our money, it was cost-effective to book another trip with Vantage. However, this will be our last trip with them. To place this in perspective, we had taken three previous trips with this company.

Alan R. Lichtenstein
Commack, NY

 

 

In March 2020, I was on a 6-day pre-tour for the “Cruising the Adriatic” cruise of Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (Boston, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com).

After I arrived in Slovenia, President Trump closed the US borders. Though, at that time, OAT offered to make air travel arrangements for anyone who wanted to return home, the entire group decided to continue with the trip.

Two days later, however, OAT canceled the cruise and made arrangements for us to return home after the pre-tour was complete. Within six weeks, I had been refunded for the entire cost of the regular trip.

I feel OAT handled this very well.

• I had booked the “Gaelic Adventure: Ireland’s Cultural Capitals & Northwest Counties” tour with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (www.vantagetravel.com). Including a 5-day post-trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, the trip dates were Sept. 19-Oct. 7, 2020.

The total cost, including $1,349 in airfare and $799 for Vantage’s Travel Protection Plan insurance, was $7,312. I paid in full when I booked the trip with them on Nov. 16, 2019.

Since it did not look like the pandemic was going to be over anytime soon, on May 11, 2020, I decided to cancel my trip.

When I called, I was told that I could have a future travel credit valued at 125% toward a future trip, which I declined. I was told that if I canceled, I would have to forfeit $300 as a cancellation fee as well as the cost of the trip insurance. They requested that I send them an email about my intention to cancel, which I immediately did.

I was sent an email on June 9 and another on July 14. The July 14 email said that Vantage was backlogged 90 to 120 days. Each email offered a travel credit of 125% for a future trip in 2020 or 2021 and noted that I could, instead, move my departure date to 2021. I declined both offers both times.

Since my first call to Vantage, I have contacted them six times about my refund request.

When I called on Sept. 29, I was told they were still so far behind in refund requests that they had no idea when I could expect mine.

On Dec. 1, I was told by the agent that I would do well to send their customer service department an email, which I did. I received an email that same day stating that I should not expect to hear from management in the next eight weeks.

On Feb. 1, 2021, the agent I talked to said she had no idea when a manager would call me or when to expect the refund.

When I called on April 8, the agent just kept saying that I had applied for a refund, that it would be credited to my checking account, and I had been told I would hear from a supervisor at some later date, but they could not give me a time frame.

I feel Vantage Travel has not dealt with this matter effectively.

Sandra Yon
Virginia Beach, VA

ITN emailed a copy of Alan R. Lichtenstein’s and Sandra Yon’s letters to Vantage Deluxe World Travel on April 13, 2021, and received an acknowledgement of receipt but no formal response.

 

 

My wife, Cynthia, and I were in Morocco anticipating joining the tour “Morocco: Sahara & Beyond” with G Adventures (Toronto, ON, Canada; 888/800-4100, www.gadventures.com), scheduled for March 16-30, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

We had arrived in Madrid before the tour was to start in order to spend some time in Spain, go to Tenerife on the Canary Islands and then visit some Moroccan cities not included on the tour. On March 13, however, we were notified that the Morocco tour had been canceled and that we should return to the US as quickly as possible.

We had made our original reservations for some flights for this trip over the phone on Jan. 19, 2020, with ASAP Tickets (888/585-2727, www.asaptickets.com), a company with which we had had some dealings in the past.

We had specifically made reservations to depart Marrakech, Morocco, for Zürich, Switzerland, on March 30 on SWISS, spend two days in Zürich and then fly home on April 1 on United Airlines to Louisville, Kentucky, via Washington-Dulles. These flights cost us $1,994, which I paid with my Visa card.

As the pandemic worsened, we found ourselves stranded in Marrakesh Menara Airport. I continued to try to book flights to get us home, but, as was expected, flights were being canceled one after the other. We finally managed to board a RyanAir flight from Marrakech to London Stansted Airport. From there, after two anxious days, we were able to board a United Airlines flight to Newark and, finally, Louisville.

For several weeks, I was in communication with ASAP Tickets in an attempt to recover the money I had spent on my original bookings with them ($1,994). I called ASAP Tickets on several occasions and was passed around to various agents, who each said they would promise to look into my case, yet they were of no help.

These flights were all canceled by the airlines due to the pandemic. I have emails from the airlines stating that the full refunds were, indeed, paid to ASAP Tickets, so there is no doubt that ASAP Tickets has the total amount.

After I contacted ASAP Tickets (they never initiated contact with me), they credited my Visa account in the amount of $1,034 and informed me that they had kept $960 ($480 from each of us) as a “recalled penalty.” That equals 48.1% of the total price I paid for the tickets.

The flights I purchased were canceled by the airlines due to the pandemic. Any penalty fee would apply, I would think, only to refunds and/or exchanges initiated by the passenger.

I have no recourse through Visa, since SWISS and United both refunded the money to ASAP Tickets, as they were required to do.

I had other flights and hotel reservations canceled due to the pandemic, and all were refunded without a problem. Only ASAP Tickets kept any money.

John Norton
Louisville, KY

ITN emailed a copy of the above letter to ASAP Tickets (customerservice@asaptickets.com) on March 11, 2021. The following is part of an email sent to Mr. Norton and cc’d to ITN by ASAP Tickets on March 17:

We apologize sincerely for the delay.

The virus outbreak has affected the work flow in most industries, and that resulted in a volume of cancellation and exchange requests that we did not anticipate. This created a big queue on our side, and we are doing our best to clear it as soon as possible. Our team is fully committed to assist every customer in these difficult times.

A refund of the remaining balance has been processed today. The amount of $960 will be credited to the original form of payment within 5 business days.

This case has been thoroughly investigated, and necessary measures will be taken in order to adjust our independent agents’ work flow….

ELLA, Dispute Resolution Department, ASAP Tickets, 1000 N. West St., Ste. 1200, Wilmington, DE 19801

On March 19, Mr. Norton confirmed that he had received the balance of his refund from ASAP Tickets.

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

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans worldwide, some travelers are still experiencing fallout in their interactions with tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., including ITN subscribers. They have shared their accounts.


My wife, Arlene, and I booked the trip entitled “India North & South” with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com) on Jan. 3, 2018, paying the full amount of $16,024 on that date. The trip was supposed to depart in February 2019.

Unfortunately, in January 2019 we received a call from Vantage informing us that a group on that tour had canceled, leaving us as the only other individuals on that trip, and the company could not run a tour with only two travelers.

We were understanding and arranged to roll over our booking to the same trip in 2020, for Feb. 16-March 5. We were informed that we would not be subject to any price increase that might occur.

In January 2020, we received a call from Vantage telling us that our rebooked trip had also been canceled because, again, an entire group had canceled. There was one trip left in 2020, departing March 22, and we agreed to be put on that trip.

In March, however, shortly before that trip was due to depart, India closed its borders due to COVID-19, forcing Vantage to cancel the tour.

I called Vantage and explored the possibility of rebooking the trip for 2021. I was told that the tour had been scheduled for Feb. 7-25, 2021. I said that since we had had two trips canceled because large groups had canceled, we didn’t want to book another trip where we were at the mercy of such an occurrence. The representative agreed to make a note about this and asked us to give the company some time to update our invoice, as there had been other unanticipated cancellations caused by the pandemic.

I have an online account with Vantage. By May 22, 2020, our invoice had not been updated to show a trip with the new dates (although it did list our canceled March 22, 2020, trip as a “past journey” that had been taken).

My Vantage account did not even show a credit for the $16,024 we had paid for the trip, although I had been told verbally that this credit existed in their system, so I called Vantage again.

I spoke to Patrick, who informed me that the reason our invoice had not been updated was because there was no confirmed trip for “India North & South” on the dates we were given; it was only listed as “pending.”

On hearing that, I said that, since no trip had been confirmed, we wanted our money back. I said that we had NEVER intended to book a pending trip. It was suggested I email customercare@vantagetravel.com and explain why we canceled, because it was management that had to make the decision for a refund.

I did this and received a reply saying I would have to call. On March 24 I spoke to David, who told me that a manager would call us back in one to two weeks. After receiving no call, on June 9 I called Vantage again and spoke to Suzanne, who said that a manager would call in one to two weeks. On June 29 I called Vantage again and spoke to Jordan, who told me that a manager would call in six to eight weeks. No manager returned a call to us.

I called again on July 7 and, fortunately, spoke to Patrick, who remembered speaking to me previously. After reviewing the chronology and listening to me vent my frustration, he put me on hold, then told me I would receive a call from a Ms. Garcia, a manager, the following week.

Not hearing from Ms. Garcia, I called on July 24 and spoke to Jordan, telling him we wanted our money back now. After putting me on hold, he told me that our request for a refund had been denied.

What we understand Vantage’s position to be is that in March 2020 we did not request a refund and had agreed to a future booking, which is true, but we later learned that no trip existed to be booked. Had I been told in March that no dates were confirmed for 2021, I would have requested our money back at that time.

I then sent a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General via certified mail, and it was received there on July 28, 2020. When my claim had not been posted to the Attorney General’s (AG’s) database as of the end of August, I called their office and was told that they were overwhelmed and my claim might still be in the mail room.

Inquiring again on Sept. 14, I was told to not expect a response for at least a month. Calling on Nov. 3, I was told that my complaint had been submitted to Vantage Travel but that the company had not replied. I was to let the AG’s office know when I received a refund or if I had not received one within a month.

The first week of January 2021, I called the AG and was told that Vantage Travel still had not replied to them.

I called Vantage on Jan. 20, and they were still intransigent about not returning my money. At that point, I decided they had worn me down. I booked another trip with them, the small-ship cruise “East Asia: Malaysia, Sri Lanka & Beyond – 2022,” scheduled for March 28-April 4. The trip goes to some places we would like to visit though not necessarily as a package.

In addition to using our credit of $16,024, we paid $8,152 for the updated 2022 prices, including an optional extension to Agra (to see the Taj Mahal) that was included in the cost of the trip Vantage canceled. This is a whole lot more than what we would have spent to visit the couple of places this new cruise goes to that were included in the trip Vantage canceled, although it does include a visit to Sri Lanka that we are interested in.

Rather than lose our money, it was cost-effective to book another trip with Vantage. However, this will be our last trip with them. To place this in perspective, we had taken three previous trips with this company.

Alan R. Lichtenstein
Commack, NY

 

 

In March 2020, I was on a 6-day pre-tour for the “Cruising the Adriatic” cruise of Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (Boston, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com).

After I arrived in Slovenia, President Trump closed the US borders. Though, at that time, OAT offered to make air travel arrangements for anyone who wanted to return home, the entire group decided to continue with the trip.

Two days later, however, OAT canceled the cruise and made arrangements for us to return home after the pre-tour was complete. Within six weeks, I had been refunded for the entire cost of the regular trip.

I feel OAT handled this very well.

• I had booked the “Gaelic Adventure: Ireland’s Cultural Capitals & Northwest Counties” tour with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (www.vantagetravel.com). Including a 5-day post-trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, the trip dates were Sept. 19-Oct. 7, 2020.

The total cost, including $1,349 in airfare and $799 for Vantage’s Travel Protection Plan insurance, was $7,312. I paid in full when I booked the trip with them on Nov. 16, 2019.

Since it did not look like the pandemic was going to be over anytime soon, on May 11, 2020, I decided to cancel my trip.

When I called, I was told that I could have a future travel credit valued at 125% toward a future trip, which I declined. I was told that if I canceled, I would have to forfeit $300 as a cancellation fee as well as the cost of the trip insurance. They requested that I send them an email about my intention to cancel, which I immediately did.

I was sent an email on June 9 and another on July 14. The July 14 email said that Vantage was backlogged 90 to 120 days. Each email offered a travel credit of 125% for a future trip in 2020 or 2021 and noted that I could, instead, move my departure date to 2021. I declined both offers both times.

Since my first call to Vantage, I have contacted them six times about my refund request.

When I called on Sept. 29, I was told they were still so far behind in refund requests that they had no idea when I could expect mine.

On Dec. 1, I was told by the agent that I would do well to send their customer service department an email, which I did. I received an email that same day stating that I should not expect to hear from management in the next eight weeks.

On Feb. 1, 2021, the agent I talked to said she had no idea when a manager would call me or when to expect the refund.

When I called on April 8, the agent just kept saying that I had applied for a refund, that it would be credited to my checking account, and I had been told I would hear from a supervisor at some later date, but they could not give me a time frame.

I feel Vantage Travel has not dealt with this matter effectively.

Sandra Yon
Virginia Beach, VA

ITN emailed a copy of Alan R. Lichtenstein’s and Sandra Yon’s letters to Vantage Deluxe World Travel on April 13, 2021, and received an acknowledgement of receipt but no formal response.

 

 

My wife, Cynthia, and I were in Morocco anticipating joining the tour “Morocco: Sahara & Beyond” with G Adventures (Toronto, ON, Canada; 888/800-4100, www.gadventures.com), scheduled for March 16-30, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

We had arrived in Madrid before the tour was to start in order to spend some time in Spain, go to Tenerife on the Canary Islands and then visit some Moroccan cities not included on the tour. On March 13, however, we were notified that the Morocco tour had been canceled and that we should return to the US as quickly as possible.

We had made our original reservations for some flights for this trip over the phone on Jan. 19, 2020, with ASAP Tickets (888/585-2727, www.asaptickets.com), a company with which we had had some dealings in the past.

We had specifically made reservations to depart Marrakech, Morocco, for Zürich, Switzerland, on March 30 on SWISS, spend two days in Zürich and then fly home on April 1 on United Airlines to Louisville, Kentucky, via Washington-Dulles. These flights cost us $1,994, which I paid with my Visa card.

As the pandemic worsened, we found ourselves stranded in Marrakesh Menara Airport. I continued to try to book flights to get us home, but, as was expected, flights were being canceled one after the other. We finally managed to board a RyanAir flight from Marrakech to London Stansted Airport. From there, after two anxious days, we were able to board a United Airlines flight to Newark and, finally, Louisville.

For several weeks, I was in communication with ASAP Tickets in an attempt to recover the money I had spent on my original bookings with them ($1,994). I called ASAP Tickets on several occasions and was passed around to various agents, who each said they would promise to look into my case, yet they were of no help.

These flights were all canceled by the airlines due to the pandemic. I have emails from the airlines stating that the full refunds were, indeed, paid to ASAP Tickets, so there is no doubt that ASAP Tickets has the total amount.

After I contacted ASAP Tickets (they never initiated contact with me), they credited my Visa account in the amount of $1,034 and informed me that they had kept $960 ($480 from each of us) as a “recalled penalty.” That equals 48.1% of the total price I paid for the tickets.

The flights I purchased were canceled by the airlines due to the pandemic. Any penalty fee would apply, I would think, only to refunds and/or exchanges initiated by the passenger.

I have no recourse through Visa, since SWISS and United both refunded the money to ASAP Tickets, as they were required to do.

I had other flights and hotel reservations canceled due to the pandemic, and all were refunded without a problem. Only ASAP Tickets kept any money.

John Norton
Louisville, KY

ITN emailed a copy of the above letter to ASAP Tickets (customerservice@asaptickets.com) on March 11, 2021. The following is part of an email sent to Mr. Norton and cc’d to ITN by ASAP Tickets on March 17:

We apologize sincerely for the delay.

The virus outbreak has affected the work flow in most industries, and that resulted in a volume of cancellation and exchange requests that we did not anticipate. This created a big queue on our side, and we are doing our best to clear it as soon as possible. Our team is fully committed to assist every customer in these difficult times.

A refund of the remaining balance has been processed today. The amount of $960 will be credited to the original form of payment within 5 business days.

This case has been thoroughly investigated, and necessary measures will be taken in order to adjust our independent agents’ work flow….

ELLA, Dispute Resolution Department, ASAP Tickets, 1000 N. West St., Ste. 1200, Wilmington, DE 19801

On March 19, Mr. Norton confirmed that he had received the balance of his refund from ASAP Tickets.