“I am fearful I will lose the money we worked so hard to save”

Michele Keller was all set to take a dream vacation to the Dominican Republic through Apple Vacations last year, when her significant other fell ill. After he took an unexpected turn for the worse, she learned that the insurance on her vacation didn’t cover her the way she though it would. Now she’s holding a voucher for a vacation she’s never likely to use.

Could this insurance mix-up have been prevented? And what exceptions, if any, do tour operators offer for customers who can’t travel because of illness — or death?

I’ve covered bogus travel insurance in the past on this site. But Keller’s insurance wasn’t fake; it just didn’t cover her the way she had hoped.

She explains:

Last March, my significant other and I planned our dream trip to the Dominican Republic. Two weeks before we were suppose to leave he became ill and we had to cancel our trip. Fortunately, we had taken out insurance. I thought the insurance included a refund.

He ended up in the hospital diagnosed with terminal cancer. He passed away in August. I tried to get a refund but was told by the travel agent that all I could do was reschedule by next June. They said if they could sell my package for cash I could get some money back.

I am still trying to get over my loss and am having a hard time doing so. I do not want to take a romantic getaway by myself and cannot afford to lose the $2,500 that I paid for the trip. I have tried to contact Apple Vacations with no luck. I am fearful I will lose the money we worked so hard to save.

I’m troubled by one thing: Keller said she thought the insurance included a refund, but it didn’t. Who would have put that idea in her head, if the policy clearly said otherwise? Did she read the policy? Did her travel agent tell her something that wasn’t quite accurate?

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I contacted Apple Vacations to find out. Here’s the company’s response:

Thank you for sharing the concerns of Ms. Keller with us at Apple Vacations. We are truly sorry for her loss, and can understand how unsettling it would be to now travel alone.

As you are no doubt aware, Apple Vacations offers various levels of trip protection to our passengers through an outside insurance provider. Our passengers who purchase the AVOK product are given the option of canceling for any reason prior to travel, with reimbursement in the original form of payment (cash or credit card refund), or reimbursement in the form of future travel vouchers with Apple Vacations. Apple Vacations has been offering the more expensive “cash back” option since July of 2007.

As you can imagine, it is a precarious situation we find ourselves in when we are asked to extend benefits of a more expensive insurance policy (i.e. cash back), to a customer who purchased a voucher back only policy. It probably does not need to be said that the highly regulated insurance industry frowns on this type of benefit pay out, as some might argue it unfair to those who paid extra for the actual cash back policy receiving the same benefit as one who did not. Long story short, we would be setting ourselves up for a lot of scrutiny
and it would be a huge disservice to all of our passengers if we did this.

While Ms. Keller’s travel agent gave her correct information regarding her voucher refund, we do not show any record of Ms. Keller or her travel agent asking Apple Vacations for consideration of a cash instead of voucher refund. We have Customer Care process’s and procedures which would have allowed us the opportunity to look at this case on an individual basis and make a determination before she felt it necessary to ask you to step in. If Ms. Keller had written to us, her letter would have found it’s way to my desk, and I would certainly
have felt an exception was necessary as the death involved an elderly passenger, and as I said, I can imagine it would be quite difficult for Ms. Keller to travel alone in the future.

Apple Vacations does not set policies in this manner, nor are our policies created this way. However, in this situation, we wanted to make an exception, in hopes that it gives Ms. Keller some peace of mind. If you would, please let Ms. Keller know that we will void the vouchers she was issued and issue a check to her within the next 7-10 days. If you or Ms. Keller has any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Ah, I love a happy ending! (I just heard from Keller, and she says she received her check.)

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As I read her account and Apple Vacations’, I’m left to conclude that Keller tried to contact Apple by phone to resolve this. If she’s written the company a brief, polite email, she would have gotten her money back months ago.

Probably.

(Photo of lovely DR beach by X Ceccaldi/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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