My travel agent never sent my $2,000 refund

When Randy Scott plans a vacation to Greece, he turns to a travel agent who specializes in guided tours for help. Smart move, right? Unfortunately, not in this case. When Scott winds up canceling, this formerly friendly specialist goes MIA and takes his deposit with her.

Scott’s story is a hard lesson to learn: Not all travel agents are created equal and when you engage one that you know nothing about, you may end up regretting it.

“When I was planning my trip, I found Greece by Astro Tours online,” Scott recalled. “I sent a $2,000 deposit for this guided tour. A full deposit refund was indicated if a cancellation occurred before May 15th.”

Scott canceled the vacation 30 days before the deadline. The contract stipulated that he was entitled to a refund of the entire deposit.

In fact, the owner of the agency confirmed via email that the check would soon be on its way:

I understand that sometimes circumstances force us to cancel. I will be glad to do the full refund for the deposit. It will be done on May 15th when I finalize the number of people that are going and at that time refund the ones that are canceling.

May 15th came and went and no refund appeared in Scott’s mailbox. Throughout the summer, Scott received periodic updates on the status of his anticipated check.

At the end of August, Scott received his final email from the owner of Astro Tours:

I am in Greece and will return to Ohio on Sunday. I will contact you to let you know that your refund is being done, right away. I apologize I did not send it before I left for Greece. It was a very busy time trying to finalize this large group, I am very very sorry. I will do it as soon as I return.

Since that time, the owner has ignored all of Scott’s emails and phone calls. The pleasantries between the two are over.

Related story:   Get it in writing, get it in writing, get it in writing!

When I reviewed Scott’s paper trail, I thought this case would be a simple one to resolve. After all, the contract had clear cancellation terms and the owner had already acknowledged that she owed Scott the $2,000 refund. So I contacted Astro Tours and waited for its response.

And waited. And waited.

You get the picture. No one at Astro Tours responded.

I sent another inquiry to the owner directly. I asked her what was holding up the promised refund of Scott’s deposit.

No response.

In my fourth, and last, attempt to get an explanation from the owner, I told her we would be writing an article about Scott’s experience with her company. She ignored that email as well.

It is highly unusual for a company to completely ignore a mediation attempt. Most agencies do not want to appear unreasonable, especially with the implication that a story may be published about the situation.

But Astro Tours appears to have no interest in responding to our mediation attempts or Scott’s request for his refund.

So what can he do now?

When a traveler has a dispute against a travel professional it may be possible to ask for help from The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). This agency can provide assistance in mediating problems with members of the organization.

But a check of Astro Tours (and of the owner) shows that this agency is not a member.

My next suggestion was to initiate a credit card chargeback for the deposit. That wasn’t possible either, because Scott had paid the deposit with a check.

That was a mistake.

When making a purchase with a credit card, a consumer has the protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). If Scott had paid this deposit with his credit card, he would have had the muscle of his bank behind him. This travel agent would not have had the option to ignore the requests for the return of the deposit. The credit card company would have taken it back. And Scott would have received his refund.

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Unfortunately for Scott, the protections that consumers enjoy under the FCBA do not extend to purchases made with cash or checks.

The only other recourse Scott has is to file a small claims lawsuit against this agency. And he intends to do so.

I hate that this case is ending in the Case Dismissed file. Scott has a contract on his side and written proof that this agent owes him the $2,000 refund. It is disappointing that this travel “professional” has made a small claims lawsuit his only option to recoup his money.

Should there be criminal repercussions against owners of small businesses who flagrantly violate the terms of a contract in this way?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Should there be legal repercussions against owners of small businesses who flagrantly violate the terms of a contract in this way?”

    There are, it’s calling suing them. If there’s evidence that the agent never intended to honor the contract, then it could constitute fraud, and a criminal matter, but that’s not an easy hurdle to get over, particularly as this appears to be an actual agent and tour operator, not just somebody who took a bunch of deposits and made a run for it.

  • Don Spilky

    Hands down, THE silliest poll I have seen on this site. I think we should lobby congress to enact a law to allow people to recover their monies when another party doesn’t uphold their end. Oh wait, its called a “civil suit” :/

  • Kairho

    The poll seems to have just been changed from “legal repercussions” to “criminal repercussions” which is a huge difference.

  • Dan

    The poll reads as “criminal repercussions” for me. And while I vehemently disagree with what this hackjob “travel agent” is doing, it is not a criminal matter. Simply failing to perform on a contract (repay money) is not a crime. It it were, there would be millions of people in jail for not repaying credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages, etc. We outlawed debtors prisons centuries ago and I’d rather not go back to that.

    This is a matter resolved in civil court, not in criminal court. It’s really too early to bring up fraud here since it doesn’t seem there was an intent of collecting the deposit with no plan to deliver a product.

  • Dan

    It’s such a huge difference that we have two entirely separate court systems to handle the different cases.

    So what we have now is a case of bait-and-switch. If there were money involved, it would be classified as fraud and therefore criminal…

  • Michelle Friedman

    The original intention of the poll was to ask if criminal charges should apply here — I hope it’s clear now. Thank you. :)

  • BubbaJoe123

    When I responded to the poll (and quoted it) it said “legal repercussions.” It’s since been changed.

    As I said, I don’t think (absent more information) that this amounts to criminal fraud. It’s a civil matter, so my answer to the poll as now phrased is no.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Then I think you should reset the counters to zero, since a number of folks (myself included) responded to a very different question than is shown.

  • Michelle Friedman

    The word was changed 20 minutes after the story was published @disqus_iBZKeVj5wk:disqus. I am sorry that the original intention of the poll was misunderstood. :(

  • James

    If you have ever gone the small claims route, you may know how difficult it is to collect once you have a judgement.

  • Kevin Nash

    Even with the change from “legal repercussions” to “criminal repercussions” doesn’t change my vote. Anyone defrauded can always file a police report, but whether that report gets taken seriously is a matter of how busy the policy department is.

  • Bill___A

    The question asks if something that is a civil matter be changed to a criminal matter. As frustrating as things can be, there are legal remedies (such as small claims court) and changing it to a criminal matter I don’t think would help.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The OP can sue the travel agent in Small Claim Courts but it will require the OP to file the claim in Franklin County, Columbus, OH where the travel agent is located. It wasn’t disclosed in the article where the OP lives but if the OP doesn’t live in Columbus, OH or the state of Ohio…the OP could encounter travel costs in the claim. Another possible problem or a possible delay to have your day in court is that the travel agent must be served with the small claim court paperwork…if this travel agent is out of the country on tours…this could delay your day in court.

    In addition to Small Claims Court, probably the next best option is to contact all of the televisions stations in the Columbus, OH area. Most television stations will have a consumer advocate segment such as “3 On Your Side”, “CBS 5 Advocate”, “Let Joe Know…Exposing scams in Phoenix” and “Call 12 for Action”. They can expose the travel agent and force the travel agent to pay you.

    I think that Small Claims and local TV Consumer Advocate are the best ‘white hat’ ways to handle this matter. The following options could be considered ‘grey hat’ or ‘black hat’:

    1. Contact the bunco squad of the sheriff department (Franklin County) or police department (Columbus, OH) to report this situation.

    2. Contact the County Attorney or City Attorney to file a report of fraud against the business.

    3. Contact the State Attorney General to file a report of fraud against the business.

    4. Send a complaint to the BBB in Columbus, OH…BBB doesn’t have enforcement but at least there will be an incident on her business for 36 months.

    5. Post FACTUAL reviews without EMOTIONS of your experience with this travel agent on TripAdvisor, Pissed Consumer, Ripoff Report, Yelp, Google, etc.

    6. Consult with a lawyer FIRST…but there is a slight chance that you MAY be able to file a lien on her house since the address of her business is her house. Please understand that there are strict rules about filing a lien on a person’s house…the property owner can sue you if the lien is frivolous, isn’t legal and etc…again, consult with a lawyer first. By the way, you might have to file a lien if you win in small courts and the travel agent doesn’t pay you.

    If I was the OP, I will contact the local television stations and let their Consumer Advocate work on the travel agent…there is nothing like the ‘threat’ of having your business practices exposed on the local TV station to motivate the business to pay you.

  • Dan

    No disagreement on the difficulty of collecting. However, if the small claims system isn’t working, the poll should advocate fixing the system rather than imposing criminal repercussions for a civil dispute.

  • Tigger57

    I wish you would be more specific when you use the term “travel agent” or “travel agency”! I always start to get upset when I read the words “travel agency” because I immediately think someone like me has ripped a customer off! But as I read further on in the story it usually is “online”. Online travel agents/travel agencies are quite different from your local brick & mortar agencies. When will people learn that saving a buck (not always) isn’t worth dealing with people you don’t know and will never know. Support your local travel agency and you are supporting your local economy!

  • Annie M

    Apparently Randy isn’t the only one this has happened to. Maybe you should check out “Complaints about XYZ” (the name of any company you are looking to book a trip with) before handing over $2,000. This has fraud written all over it when they want a check or cash payment instead of using a credit card.

  • Kevin Nash

    This is just what I don’t understand.

    Most people will read consumer reports or reviews when they have to purchase a new washer/dryer, hire an contractor, etc., but for whatever reason, all that common sense goes out the window when it comes to travel. I am astounded that people willingly fork over thousands of dollars to companies that they have never used or heard of.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    If you check out the Greece by Astro Tours website, the address for the business is listed. If you do a Google search on the address, you will see that it is a residence.

    There are businesses that are operated out of residences and they are legit. The e-mail address for the business is g-mail (even the most basic domainwebsite package, will give you companybusiness e-mail)…it is about appearances. Doesn’t take credit cards (i.e. you can go to Costco and get a merchant account; your bank; etc.).

    When you start ending these things up…no credit card, no business e-mail, operating out of a house, etc…the red flags come out.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Other good Google searches are: XYZ complaints; XYZ reviews; XYZ scams

    There is only one BBB complaint but I am sure that there are other victims out there.

    I think that Chris & team should put together videos or .PDF files on how to select a travel agent; what to look for; etc.

  • Marc

    I’m always nervous whenever I have to pay by check for a service I won’t receive in the future. You’re provided almost no recourse. I wonder if travel insurance would have provided any protection.

  • El Dorado Hills

    I agree, before handing over $2000 in a check it might be wise to do a background check on the person/business to whom you are sending the check. Also, using a credit card is wiser than just sending the check for which there is no recourse once it is cashed.

  • James

    Lets hear some proposals, then.

    I note the poll includes the term “flagrantly violates,” which sounds like an awareness not to fulfill contract terms prior to the contract’s signing. When a civil recourse fails, then a criminal recourse ought to be a possibility, though the proof of intent would be the tripping point.

  • Maxwell Smart

    something doesn’t smell right here. Either the business is going out of business fast & doesn’t care about reputation, or when is a deposit fully refundable ?
    Whenever I’ve booked a tour, a non-refundable deposit is required. Then if had to cancel for legitimate reasons, travel insurance would cover the deposit. As international tour costs are really in a foreign currency, it’s often suggested you pay in full to avoid currency movements. Usually this balance is refundable up to a certain time & then non-refundable or maybe an airline ticket had been issued & other tour costs paid ? Maybe Scott insisted his airline ticket be issued when he paid his deposit ?
    Maybe agency terms & conditions are vague ?
    Always 2 sides to a story, always.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    You are correct…there are two sides to a story…here is the other side of the story:

    This travel agent has done this before.

  • Fishplate

    You can get a Square account and take credit cards…without ever leaving your house.

  • joycexyz

    At what point do we call this theft?

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