Offended by our request for more information? We can’t help

“These researchers for Chris Elliott respond with more legalese than the cotton-pickin’ insurance company did.”

This was the response we received from Donald Norton to a question we asked him about his case.

Our advocates often need to follow up with additional questions to determine whether we can help consumers requesting our assistance. We do this when we receive help requests with information that appears to be unclear or incomplete. Most of these consumers are happy to provide us with the answers to our questions, but some take offense. When that happens, we can’t help them.

We’d like to remind everyone who requests our help that we’re all volunteers. That includes Chris. All our advocacy efforts take place in our spare time, without compensation. We do ask, however, for basic courtesy from the consumers we try to assist. We didn’t get it from Norton, who, curiously, claims “public relations” as his occupation.

Norton contacted us to request assistance with a Viking River Cruise 15-day Grand European Tour, beginning in Amsterdam, for which he and a friend paid $16,626 and weren’t able to take. They also paid $1,438 for a travel protection plan from Trip Mate and booked flights on United Airlines from Baltimore to Amsterdam via Toronto.

Unfortunately, on the day of the flights, a bomb scare at Baltimore Washington International Airport delayed Norton’s outbound flight for 78 minutes. When he and his friend arrived in Toronto, they found that their connecting flight to Amsterdam had departed.

Here’s Norton on what happened next:

There were no Viking or Trip Mate representatives in Toronto to assist stranded travelers. Chits for food and a night in a hotel were provided. Trip Mate advised us by phone to take the next day’s Amsterdam flight and find a way to catch Viking’s cruise ship which, by then, would have embarked on its voyage.

“Finding a way” was no simple matter. The flight would put us in Amsterdam on the morning of [Day Two of the cruise]. We would have to spend $2,600 for airline tickets to an airport near Cologne where the ship would spend Day Three of the cruise. Finding transportation from the airport to the ship before it departed Cologne at midnight was also our problem.

We had already put considerable effort, expense and emotion into our “trip of a lifetime.”

We threw in the towel and paid our own way back home.

Norton and his friend then requested compensation from Viking River Cruises and filed a claim on their Trip Mate policy. They were each offered the “maximum” compensation of $3,000 for each traveler in Viking’s travel protection plan with Trip Mate for “missed connections.” Trip Mate paid $1,438 directly, and Viking covered the remainder.

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But Norton and his friend declined the offered compensation. They wanted a full refund for the total cost of their cruise. Norton called Viking and Trip Mate, but representatives of both companies told him that they could do nothing to change their offer.

Norton then adopted two strategies we don’t advise. He decided to “go right to the top” and wrote to Jason Pashko, senior vice president of Viking River Cruises, and Brad Finkle, CEO of Trip Mate. (Executive contact information for Viking and Trip Mate appears on our website.) His letter emphasized his desire for a scathing story about the treatment he received from Viking and Trip Mate. Here are excerpts from his letter:

I’m a writer working on an article about a 15-day Viking River Cruise that cost me $16,626, yet was “interrupted” after a one hour and 42-minute airplane ride. I never saw the ship. Viking has offered its maximum reimbursement of $6,000.

I seek your help. Viking and Trip Mate will want the article to be completely accurate. So will the nation’s travel publications and newspaper travel pages. I’ll let them know you have seen the details listed below. …

Please let me know any corrections or suggestions. My article will go out in a week.

It’s possible that if Norton had begun by writing a polite, concise letter to lower-ranking executives of Viking and Trip Mate without mentioning his article, and allowing each sufficient time to respond before escalating his case through the corporate hierarchies of these companies, he might have had a more favorable response. When he didn’t receive one, he asked our advocates for help. His desired resolution was either a full refund or “a column describing the issue [that] would serve as a warning to potential Viking customers.”

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Our advocates needed a paper trail from Norton to proceed with his case. We sent the following response to his help request:

As this is a named perils policy, your situation will need to fall under one of the covered events. You note that the delay was the result of a bomb threat, which may or may not fall under a covered event. Did the airline provide you any documentation as the reason for the delay? Was the airport evacuated?

To help us determine if we can assist further, please provide more details as to what transpired at the airport, and which flights (flight numbers) the airlines offered to accommodate you on to get you to Amsterdam or the next port location. Also, can you please attach a copy of your travel itinerary, insurance policy certificate, any documentation from the airline, and a copy of the settlement letter from the insurance company (if you don’t have it yet, then attach screen prints of the claim status from their website.

Norton replied with the snarky one-liner at the beginning of this story.

That ”legalese” would have told us whether Norton had a case we could help him with. And we make the same requests of all persons asking us to help resolve travel cases.

We asked him whether he wanted to close the case, and he replied: “Certainly do. Shut it down. It’s interesting that you come up with more legalese than Viking and Trip Mate combined. Keep up the great ‘advocating!'”

Which is exactly what we’re going to keep on doing — but not for Norton.

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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

  • Marc

    The OP decided to cancel a 15 day vacation after a missed connection. He then decided to cancel your offer to advocate based on the request for more information. Anyone who wants to travel needs to expect everything may not go perfectly to plan, and have the determination to find a way to get back on course. It’s part of the experience, and makes a good story at the end.

  • Tony S

    The OP also made two mistakes booking his flights: 1) Should have planned to arrive Amsterdam a day early in case their were problems 2) Too short of a connection through a City that did not have other options to get to destination if connection was missed.

    The travel insurance cost of $1,400 for a coverage limit of $3,000 each for missed connection seems high, but it may have included a lot of other coverage. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the OP would have been better off spending the money to continue the trip, even if he missed the first couple of days of cruise (assuming insurance would have paid for last minute flights to catch up with ship).

  • finance_tony

    I know this isn’t the thrust of the post, but:

    “We would have to spend $2,600 for airline tickets to an airport near Cologne”

    Given wait times for a plane, one of the dozens of 3-3.5 hour train rides between Amsterdam and Cologne (7 direct a day, many more with simple connections) is as little as $40 (same day fare).

  • Carrie Livingston

    I was thinking train as well. Although since I’ve done a little bit of traveling in Europe that’s where my mind goes. If you’ve never been there, it may not occur to the person that trains are widely used in Europe to get from point A to point B unlike in the US. Interestingly enough, I think there’s a case on the forum similar to this right now.

  • Patrica

    WOW!! I don’t have the words to cover my reaction to this. It’s a given that you need details, you need accuracy in order to advocate.

  • Marc

    Not sure of the specific insurance policy in this post, but in my experience our policies will cover for the entirety of the non-refundable costs if we miss at least 50% of our itinerary. Since the OP was only going to miss the first few days, that’s likely why he was only eligible for the missed connection maximum.

  • RichardII

    In addition to the problems noted by previous comments, I’d like to add two things.
    1) The OP appears to have contributed to this problem by (apparently) booking his flights by himself. If this was the case, the insurance would have been limited to the missed connection and Viking would have had no responsibilities related to getting them to their cruise.
    2) The OP seems to have unrealistic expectations from travel companies. He wrote “There were no Viking or Trip Mate representatives in Toronto to assist stranded travelers.” Unless there were many Viking customers on his flight, which was not noted in the article and, in any case, he appears to have purchased his flights on his own, why would Viking have anyone in the Toronto airport? And since TripMate is an insurance company, they are unlikely to have representatives anywhere, other than online or phone.

    Bottom line. If the OP booked his own transportation then he alone is responsible for getting to the boat and all he is entitled to is compensation for a missed connection, which he received.

  • Bill___A

    The OP is responsible for his financial loss and problems due to issues he created by not booking with sufficient time buffers to deal with problems. Several other statements, even involving the “trouble” getting from the airport to the ship” are indicative of someone who is more interested in not solving problems.

  • C Schwartz

    Did the “nations travel publications” ever publish the writer/ traveler’s article?

    I do not understand why someone approaches the Elliott advocate for help and then gets upset when asked for basic documentation. How can someone advocate a claim without the information?

  • Blamona

    As a travel writer myself, I would have been fired should I have used my company for special favors. Love how the article never came out! Hmmmm wonder if still Travel writing? (He never was a travel writer unless Facebook posts count)

  • Michael__K

    You note that the delay was the result of a bomb threat, which may or may not fall under a covered event

    What company sells any policy with any such a Covered Event? It this is covered at all, it would be covered as a Travel Delay/Missed Connection. A benefit which is capped at $3,000 per passenger in this case (which happens to be more generous than most third party policies).

    The OP would very likely have been better off continuing their travels and meeting the ship, but the policy would not necessarily have made them whole for additional out-of-pocket expenses or lost cruise days regardless if those costs exceeded $3,000 per passenger.

  • Michael__K

    I thought you wrote “I try to limit my comments and opinions to information that is reported in the original story. So, I cant really speculate as to what else the [..] LW might have done.”
    But as long as you are speculating, if the LW booked their air independently, and abandoned and canceled the rest of their trip on the night before their Viking itinerary’s Departure Date, shouldn’t they have been eligible to receive a Viking Vacation Travel Waiver Voucher for a future cruise?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It is my guess that the OP was a DIY travel agent. If the OP used the services of a professional brick & mortar travel agent, this probably would have been pointed out by the travel agent.

  • Altosk

    This guy sounds like a real winner. As my daddy used to say, “Son, you can’t fix stupid.”

  • DChamp56

    I’m curious as to why it’s the cruise line’s problem that his flight was delayed.
    To cancel a 15 day vacation for missing one day, seems a bit odd also.

  • cscasi

    Good information. What this tells us is that when customers purchase travel insurance, they need to know what it covers and what it does not. There is a lot to read and digest in those policies; for sure. However, most companies give a free look period and one can cancel for a refund during that period if he/she does not like what the policy covers. Also, if one has any questions, what better than to call the issuer of the policy and ask until you are satisfied or you have decided it is not what you want/need.
    In other words, the customer has some liability, too. After all, when he/she signs on the dotted line, he/she is agreeing to the terms of the policy.

  • pauletteb

    If a 78-minute delay made him miss his connecting flight, he was cutting it WAY too close.

  • El Dorado Hills

    Again and Again the advice is offered. When you are spending large sums of money and planning on a great cruise never, never schedule your flights to the departure city to arrive on the same day as departure. In face, if the departure city is new to you, allow two days and visit a place that is new to you. If your departure is early morning allow two days to insure that you can be at the ship in plenty of time before boarding. The trips are expensive and you have been looking forward to a great trip/vacation – protect your investment/plans.

  • Travelnut

    Yup, taking the train from Amsterdam to Cologne is a no-brainer unless the OP is absolutely unfamiliar with traveling in western Europe.

  • Travelnut

    Maybe in “Empty Threat Weekly”.

  • Michael__K

    They bought the cruise line’s insurance, which advertises “multi-lingual professionals available 24 hours a day/365 days a year providing medical, legal and travel assistance services.” And they should have been able to opt for a cancellation waiver voucher before the start of their itinerary with the cruise company.

  • DChamp56

    The cruise line sells the insurance, but in no way insures the trip. It’s a separate company that is behind the insurance.

  • Michael__K

    So if a company hires sub-contractors, it has no responsibility for the services it collected payment for and advertises under its brand name?

  • DChamp56

    It depends on the company. Happens all the time with appliances too. Sears may sell an appliance, but sells an extended warranty from a different company. Unless that company goes out of business, you have to deal with the warranty/insurance company. It’s not right, I agree.

  • Michael__K

    Sure, you deal with the designated party first. Which in this case is TripMate — which isn’t insuring the trip either. They are the administrators. The underwriters are Arch Insurance Company (which has no public contact for consumers) and, Viking itself for the Part A CFAR voucher. All I’m saying is that the buck stops with the merchant you paid directly and they are ultimately responsible for the services you paid for.

  • Michael__K

    Yes, that’s correct, but you imply that if one needs more, then one can find it elsewhere. Where?
    If you check the most expensive 3rd party policies from CSA, TravelGuard, Travelex, RoamRight, Allianz, and TravelSafe, none offer more than $2,000 per person for Trip Delay + Missed Connection coverage. And generally capped at $200 per day.

    You and others repeatedly make statements admonishing passengers to:

    “[remember] about purchasing travel insurance to help cover losses one cannot afford”

    Yet there is no policy which will thoroughly cover losses you cannot afford. If you cannot afford the losses, then you cannot afford the trip, with or without insurance. But travel vendors and travel agents are loathe to admit this, and advertise otherwise.

    BTW, of course if someone really called and asked questions about their policy and relied on the answers, they will be mocked for relying on “he-said, she-said” “hearsay.” Even if one get answers in writing, the policy may state that any representations outside the policy certificate are null and void regardless.

  • LonnieC

    I have a terrible problem. I need your help. I’m not going to tell you anything. Please let me know when you’ve solved my problem. Thank you.

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