Vantage Travel shortchanged me. Now it’s giving me the silent treatment

When Geri Harris learned that it would again be possible for American civilians to travel to Cuba as tourists, she purchased a package from Vantage Travel called Cuba 360 Degrees, an 11-night journey around Cuba, beginning and ending in Miami, with stops at many ports.

Harris got a cruise from Vantage — but not what she paid for. And Vantage is giving her complaint the silent treatment, dredging up questions about cruise line contracts and passengers’ rights when the line makes substitutions.

Ten days before Harris was scheduled to leave home, Vantage notified Harris that the ship intended for the Cuba 360 Degrees package, the MS St. Laurent, would not be available for the cruise.

The reason for the St. Laurent’s unavailability for the Cuba 360 Degrees cruise is an interesting story in itself. The ship was leased by Haimark, a “white-label” company that provided and ran a fleet of river ships for cruises run by a number of tour operators, including Vantage Travel. Haimark decided to branch out into coastal travel and acquired the rights to sell and operate the St. Laurent, then owned by Clipper Cruises and operated on the Great Lakes, from a management company called Fleetpro. Haimark then refurbished the ship for coastal cruises. But on one of the St. Laurent’s first voyages under Haimark’s aegis, it ran into the wall of a lock in upstate New York, necessitating the evacuation of the passengers, some of whom were injured, and dry-docking the ship for repairs. Because of disagreements between Haimark and Clipper Cruises over financial responsibility for the accident and repairs to the ship, Haimark declared Chapter 11 and ultimately ceased operations.

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Vantage said that it would be substituting a smaller ship, the MS Panorama. The Panorama would not be sailing around Cuba, but the passengers “should not notice much difference.” Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case.

The Panorama has fewer amenities available to its passengers than the St. Laurent. And the cruise was shortened by two days. Harris and the other passengers were then expected to embark in Havana, rather than Miami, forcing Harris to cancel and rebook her flights and hotel reservations. Vantage told Harris that it would provide an after-cruise day to the passengers as compensation and provided one free night at a hotel. But Vantage left the passengers to pay for their own expenses for the second day it eliminated from the rescheduled cruise.

According to Harris, Vantage claimed that it was not at fault for substituting the ship at the last minute and doing so “cost them more than the original tour.” But as Harris puts it, “This should not be a problem that can be passed on to the customer. They needed to provide us with a trip that was close to the one that we paid for.” Since she didn’t get it, Harris contacted our advocates to ask for reimbursement from Vantage for the cost of the second night at the hotel, meals for the two days she had to stay in Miami before embarking in Havana and cab fares and airport transportation.

Vantage’s terms and conditions provide that

Vantage may, for any reason, without prior notice, cancel a cruise; deviate from the scheduled ports of call, route and timetable; call or omit to call at any port or place or cancel or modify any activity on or off the vessel; comply with all governmental laws and orders given by governmental authorities; … change the date or time of sailing or arrival, change the port of embarkation or disembarkation, shorten the cruise or substitute a vessel or other transportation or lodging. Vantage is not responsible for any losses you may incur as a result of such cancellations or deviations.

Vantage, at its option, may substitute accommodations of an equal or superior class or provide a full refund of the fare actually paid by you for such cruise, or substitute accommodations of a lower class and provide a refund of the difference, if any, between the booked class and the substitute class for such cruise … Any partial refunds shall be calculated in accordance with Vantage’s typical business practices …

Vantage reserves the right to change the itinerary of the tour without prior notice.

These disclaimers of liability and responsibility notwithstanding, our advocates reached out to Vantage, because they believe that Harris is correct: as Vantage controls the ships, itineraries and routes of all of its cruises, and is the only party in a position to foresee when it might substitute a ship or alter its itinerary or route, it should not pass on the costs of substituting a smaller ship on to its passengers, who have no control over which ship is assigned to the cruise or where it goes. Had the ship missed a port of call because of unexpected weather, Harris and her fellow passengers wouldn’t be justified in seeking a refund or compensation, but the port of embarkation and the itinerary were significantly changed by Vantage.

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Our advocates didn’t receive any response from Vantage Travel. Harris believes that other passengers are considering legal action against Vantage. That might be her only option in getting compensation from Vantage for the costs she incurred as a result of Vantage’s last-minute cruise ship and itinerary changes.

After several months of trying to advocate for Harris without hearing back from Vantage, we are forced to classify her case as a “Case Dismissed!”

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • Goodwill trumps what in our industry is called “the cost of doing business”. Vantage should be ashamed. Nothing left to add.

  • John Baker

    Yea… I’m not sure that Vontage is covered on this one even with that contract. They substantially changed the cruise in both the end points and length. You can’t sell an 11 day cruise and decide its just 9 without refunding money. Giving someone a hotel without D,B&B doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t matter that it cost them more to run the cruise than planned. Their cost isn’t part of the contract.

  • MarkKelling

    I understand that a cruise can be interrupted by multiple things such as weather and mechanical issues and the cruise lines do need some sort of protection for those situations, but the language currently in their contracts which basically says “you give us your money and if we feel like it we might put you on a boat and go somewhere but it we don’t too bad” is simply way overboard (no pun intended).

    I don’t see how this contract would stand up in court, or even not allow you a successful chargeback on your credit card, if they failed to provide what you paid for.

  • Daddydo

    Vantage is a definite “do not sell” for most travel agencies. They have 0 integrity

  • Annie M

    Wow. Wow. That’s all I can say. In the future. book with well known travel suppliers. Haimark has also filed for bankruptcy and since gone out of business. Did she try doing a credit card dispute? I would find a credit card company hard pressed to say she got when she was told she would get regardless of what their contract says.

    Cuba is not a place to travel to unless you are using a well known travel supplier that has the contracts in place with the Cuban government. The Cuban government is not welcoming at all of cruise ships and some of the suppliers that do these cruises are located out of the U.S. since other countries have been able to do business with Cuba all along. But the service and experience is not what you would expect.

    Daddydo is also correct – many travel insurers will not cover Vantage clients.

  • lvswhippets

    OMG. I am truly flabbergasted by this critique & poor customer service by Vantage. I have only been on one river cruise trip with them (on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar) & enjoyed it all so much wanted to turn around & go back. The service & care was top notch as were the rooms. Maybe a lot of the joy was due to our fabulous guide, Robin, the wonderful people we met & places we saw. So sorry to hear this about Vantage Cuba trip.

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