Send this lady the whale guarantee letter

Claude Huot/Shutterstock
Claude Huot/Shutterstock
If you’ve ever been to Vancouver in the summer, you probably know that you have to see the whales.

That’s what Susan Dryburgh wanted to do, and it seemed like a sure thing. She’d booked a zodiac tour of the bay with an operation called Prince of Whales, which offers a whale sighting guarantee.

But then — no whales!

Dryburgh, who lives in Philadelphia, decided to invoke the whale guarantee. Here’s the relevant fine print:

If you come out with us between April and the end of October, and you do not see a whale, we would like to invite you to come back and try again!

Your second trip will be on board the Ocean Magic, which is our larger covered vessel. We allow you to book confirmed seats on our 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. departures.

If you would like to join us on our 12:15 p.m. departure, you will be added to our standby list. This means that as long as the trip is confirmed, and we have room, you can join the trip free of charge.

You are welcome to use this offer more than once if need be. The bottom line is that we want you to see whales and we are willing to take you out as many times as it takes. This offer never expires and is valid throughout your lifetime.

Ah, so they’ll offer a do-over. Not a bad deal, but as they say in consumerland, some restrictions apply.

Dryburgh asked for a refund of the whale-watching portion of her trip. The company shouldn’t have been running a tour on that day, she argues.

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“Part of that trip was through five-foot waves and the captain of the boat remarked that it would be hard to see a three-foot fin in that water,” she says. “I certainly did not expect to be reimbursed for the entire trip, since we used this as transportation between Victoria and Vancouver.”

The “guarantee” is impractical for her to use, too.

“While it is nice that they offer a lifetime guarantee to see whales on another trip, this is not a viable option for us as we live in Pennsylvania and it is not likely that we will return to British Columbia for many years,” she says.

Prince of Whales’ response? A form letter saying “no”:

All wild whale watching companies here do offer the same stated guarantee. But at Prince of Whales we still go the extra distance to ensure this guarantee is rarely needed because we make the best possible effort on everyone’s first adventure by building the fastest boats in the industry, covering the greatest distance every day to have those best chances.

We are however very clear we do not offer monetary refunds for no-whale days. Our tariffs go to pay our professional staff and fuel the boats for the search for these common but still very much wild and elusive animals.

Please take solace that uniquely at Prince of Whales our trips are designed so the trip is more than whales alone, but also transportation as you noted on your particular tour of choice, and all of our tours engage with a full interpretive program with very personal service.

Dryburgh wrote a polite but firm rebuttal:

I understand your position that we got value from our trip in the form of the information from your naturalist and transportation to Vancouver, which is why I did not ask for a full refund of the trip.

I had hoped for a partial refund for each of the four passengers in our group and would be satisfied with a $50 per person refund.

I am concerned that although you offer a lifetime guarantee for your tours, your company may go out of business before we can return.

That didn’t do much good. Here’s the final “no.”

The hardest part of educating about animals in the wild for a living is keeping people happy on the days when the animals elude us.

I can only offer again that the costs for these boat based adventures are already spent whether animals are successfully located or whether they have traveled to parts unknown. As much as I wish we could operate in such a manner that everyone gets money back if wild animals are missed, it is simply impossible to do so.

I also appreciate you understanding that we are the only whale watchers who have gone the extra mile to include so much more value than just whales alone. Any other company’s boat that day simply got a whale watching trip with no whales. So you certainly made the right selection.

As for us going out of business, no one predicts the future, of course, but next year will mark our twentieth year in operation. A real milestone because we have been growing and building every year since the dawn of whale watching in BC and Washington. We have no plans to be going anywhere.

Dryburgh thinks it’s unfair and wants a refund — and she wants me to help her get it. Is the whale guarantee worth anything? Perhaps if you live close by or have extra time while you’re visiting Seattle or Vancouver. But if you’re flying back to Philly, no. Your money is gone.

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I’m not sure if I can, or should, advocate for Dryburgh. I mean, we’re talking about whales here; they don’t exactly come when they’re called. At the same time, a careless glance at the “guarantee” might lead you to believe you’ll see whales, or your money back.

Should I mediate Susan Dryburgh's case?

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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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • polexia_rogue

    heck no! the guarantee is for another trip NOT cash.

    a company cannot afford a “whales or your money back” guarantee or else what comes next?
    “we only saw part of a whale! my family was not sufficiently educated or entertained!”

    and the “re-do” is FOREVER there is no reason to offer cash. Even if it takes 10 years the OP can still use it.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I completely disagree that a “careless glance” at the guarantee could give someone the idea that they would get a refund if no whales appear. It states in unmistakable language that the guarantee is for additional trips until you see a whale. Nowhere is even the possibility of a refund mentioned.

    She’s being ridiculous. Drop this one and save your considerable advocacy skills for customers who actually deserve them.

  • Bill___A

    The terms of the guarantee are quite clear and fair. The company’s points are correct. They do not own or control the whales. Their offer is quite generous. Susan Dryburgh is being unreasonable.

  • TonyA_says

    Stay away Chris. Even the whales knew better.

  • Shayna Friedman

    You want a guaranteed whale sighting, go to Sea World. If she did not see whales and chooses not to return for a chance to see them, that is her choice.

  • sirwired

    I have no idea why she thinks she’s entitled to one thin dime. I could understand maybe one request, in the vein of “it can’t hurt to ask”, but when they said no, she should have ceased to pester them. This isn’t “fine print” in any sense of the word.

  • LadySiren

    Self-entitled, much? I don’t think a reasonable person can really expect that a company can truly guarantee whales on each and every trip. I actually like their offer: “The bottom line is that we want you to see whales and we are willing to take you out as many times as it takes. This offer never expires and is valid throughout your lifetime.”

    That’s pretty generous already. This claim smacks of greedy self-entitlement. Run Chris, run.

  • Helio

    Chris, when I visited Bratislava, the castle was closed, but my tourist guide stated that it will be open. Could you get me a partial refund of my Eastern Europe trip (not all, just the Slovakia leg)? And I also want a partial refund for the book, regarding the pages with wrong information. Maybe I can sue the publisher for loss, after all I lost two precious days vacation days, I’m in a fixed income (I receive the same wage every month), and I’m not willing to return to Slovakia soon.

    Can you help me? I believe I have a very strong case, like Susan.

  • BillCCC

    It appears to me that the whales are at fault for not appearing on schedule. You should be taking this up with them. Good luck with the mediation.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I am still shuddering after reading this case. I worked for many years as a volunteer at a local nature center. We actually had a school group that wanted their money back because they didn’t see any wild animals. Umm, no, they’re *wild*, just like the kids were. Not just “no” to this case, but “HELL, NO!” (and yes I’m shouting).

  • Helio

    Please don’t go in a Japanese vessel, the whales may be suspicious…

  • TonyA_says

    I bet you had an extra sachre-torte in Vienna instead :-)

  • TonyA_says

    I guess they must have watched too much Jack Hanna at late night shows. Join the parade.

  • Rob S.

    I say NO. She also received transportation between Victoria Island and Vancouver and should have booked the trip earlier in her trip if possible so she would have other days to return or just write it off. It’s only money people– how much are we talking about here — $ 50 ? Get over it…..

  • EvilEmpryss

    No, no, and triple no on mediating this one. There is nothing, not even in a “careless glance” of the guarantee, that says anything about cash being given out if there were no whales. I think their guarantee is more than generous, with a number of different alternate trips they could take that would accommodate most travelers’ plans, and if they provided transportation and entertainment in the form of educational guides during the voyage the OP has no reason to ask for a refund. Not even a partial one.

    Personally, I like the Prince of Whales’ response: it was polite, informative, and reassuring and addressed her issue, explaining their side of things without being rude. They’re even offering *multiple* retries for the passengers, not just a single re-do, to ensure that their customers get to see whales. They can’t make everyone happy, but I think they’ve done everything they reasonably can to try.

  • Helio

    I found it in the fine print:

    No whale watching company can enjoy a perfect sightings success rate unfortunately, but with Prince of Whales, you can be sure of future additional opportunities to get out on the water and take part in another adventure. Regardless of whether or not you see whales, every Prince of Whales tour will focus on showing you as much wildlife as possible, and will include visits to interesting local historical sites

    “Oh, I didn’t pay attention to it, it is in the end of a 5 paragraphs text. Too long. Anyway, I want my money back.”

  • Helio

    No, but I enjoyed the view from the New Bridge observatory ;-)

  • Kairho

    I had a similar problem, Chris. We were in Moscow last year for 2 days but they had closed the Kremlin for tours (and nobody could figure out the reason). Would you please call Vlad for us and get compensation for the whole trip. TIA!

    (seriously, the company’s guarantee is clear and generous…she has no case)

  • Alan Gore

    There’s no way to ‘guarantee’ a sighting of animals that have minds of their own. The offer of unlimited do-overs in this case is generous.

  • Miami510

    The only guarantee to see whales which is 100%, is to come to Florida and attend a show at Sea World. The unanimity of opinion of the comments should tell the complainant how poor the validity of her complaint is.

  • She and her group must have known what they would and possibly would not get from the trip before boarding the vessel. No, you can’t call whales, so there is the chance you may miss them; any grownup should realize that this just may occur. It’s rather considerate for the Prince of Whales to offer as many trips as it takes for each passenger to spot some whales, for which this lady has no appreciation. They obviously want nothing more than their customers to get what they paid for, and such an offer of “satisfaction ultimately guaranteed” is hard to find these days. Add to the equation that transportation between two points was an added benefit, and that they couldn’t take the company up on a second attempt for whale-watching, they just can’t say they lost out and deserve a partial refund. Simply put, this woman is just plain cheap. Go back to BC sometime and take them up on another trip– I’ll be surprised if they’re out of business with that guarantee.

  • Would have to think the only way this guarantee could be misconstrued is to not read it at all. This is a fairly short, sweet and to the point document. The “no” above for this situation is so obvious, hardly worth commenting on.

  • Mel65


  • John Baker

    Chris… If you’ll consider taking this case, would you prefer that the company not offer a redo? No wildlife watching company would stay in business offering refunds so … is it better that they offer infinite redos until you see one instead of nothing?

  • Cybrsk8r

    I generally try to sympathize with a customer, but in this situation, the “guarantee” was plainly spelled out, so, no refund.

    Maybe a reasonable compromise, for someone who would be unable to re-take the tour at a later date, would be for the company to issue a voucher to re-take the tour and to allow a customer to re-sell said voucher, thru e-bay perhaps.

    If used by the original purchaser, it would be valid for the full cost of any future tour. But if it’s re-sold, it would only be worth a percentage of the original tour cost, and would not cover any increase in the tour price over time.

  • bodega3

    I would hope you will be writing her back and pointing that the policy is extremely clear and she is asking you to waste your time on her request.

  • LeeAnneClark

    HA! Good one. ;-)

    I venture to guess there are a lot of eyes rolling at Prince of Whales. (Great name, btw!)

  • LeeAnneClark

    I highly doubt Christopher ever had any intention of taking this case. This was a softball he lobbed to us so he could sit back and have fun watching the frenzy ensue. ;)

  • $16635417

    I went to San Francisco and could not see the Golden Gate Bridge because of the fog. The next time I went, the fog San Francisco is famous for was nowhere to be found. I think I have a case for a refund on both trips.

  • Sam Petersen

    Nope. Prince of Whales is rather expensive. Their round trip Zodiac tour out of Victoria was like $120 CA last time I went. Been out with them three times since 2000, they’re a wonderful company, the captains of the boats are extremely knowledgeable and go above and beyond on the tours to make sure everyone has a good time. Even the one (me) ready to lean over and feed the whales on my last trip out. The trip, the scenery, and the education alone is worth the price to ride.

  • Sam Petersen

    I’ve been out three times since 2000 with this company and had a wonderful experience each time. the rules for how the tour companies can interact with the whales changed each time too. The first year they heard where the pods were going and zoomed ahead, turned off their engines and the whales came to us as we sat there floating. I forget honestly what they had to do the next year but it was different. Went again in 2008 and then the captains weren’t allowed to get near the whales, they had to stay off in the distance and you watched them from afar. We got lucky, our captain saw another Zodiac out there, and new the person on board, a researcher who was allowed to get up and personal. He allowed us to float along side him for over an hour as we had two whales hunting and playing all around us. He dropped a mic in the water so that we could hear the clicks they made while hunting. Granted playing bobber for that long left me a little green around the gills, but it was a blast.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Not only should you not mediate, you shouldn’t even have wasted the time and effort to put it up for a vote. I really feel for businesses in cases like this. Somebody is going to just skim the article and come away thinking the business is being unfair when in reality it’s the OP being unreasonable. They have a crystal clear policy that would allow the OP to do another tour at any future time of her choosing. What she is asking for was never part of the guarantee.

  • Jeanne_in_NE


  • EvilEmpryss

    Chris trolled us?!? O.O


  • Travelnut

    Obviously this is a ridiculous claim. This is just a bit of curiosity… The regular ferry from Vancouver to Victoria is $16.25 Canadian. I wonder what drives the cost differential to $120 (price from a poster below)? The whales part is free (although if I were one of the whales I would be discussing my compensation package – may be why they didn’t bother to show up). Other factors… economies of scale (huge ferry vs. small whalewatching boat would be cheaper overall), expertise of the crew (even if they had degrees in marine biology, I doubt this kind of job pays super well), some additional fuel costs to go to areas where the whales might be, customers invoking their lifetime guarantee (can’t imagine it would be too many people that could do this). Would this justify the higher price? That’s $100 extra to, maybe, see whales. I went on a whale watching trip once. Saw a couple of tails and a couple of backs of the whales above the water, all in the distance. You pays your money and you takes your chances, and you have to be prepared that what you get for your money is a lovely boat trip and maybe some whale parts, or no whales at all.

    I absolutely loved Vancouver and Victoria, and I only got to see Victoria as a day trip so I definitely want to return some day. The lady is in PA, why doesn’t she just keep her documentation and decide to return some day; it’s very similar to going to Seattle. If I were her I’d just go back as soon as I could!

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    OMG, no, no, NO. She’s completely unreasonable … and anyone who concludes a letter of complaint with a snide comment about the longevity of the company deserves nothing. Love Shayna’s comment about guaranteed whale sightings at Sea World.

  • EvilEmpryss

    According to another poster earlier, apparently it’s more of a sightseeing tour and nature lesson in conjunction with the whale watching, as well as being a ferry. Considering the cost of whale watching could get really expensive if you have to keep buying new tickets to go out again and again if you *don’t* see them the first time, it might wind up being worth the extra cash if you have the time.

  • Annie M

    There are other whale watching tours that offer money back if no whales are sighted. That’s what she should have booked. The terms were clear, no refund deserved. Another one who thinks the rules don’t apply.

  • sunshipballoons

    Chris SHOULD mediate the case. He should do so by advocating on behalf of the tour company to the consumer, because the tour company is totally right here.

  • Annie M

    I have also done these type of trips and saw “whales” (minke) that looked like and were no bigger than dolphins. Also did a whale watching trip on a cruise and saw a tail. If you think you see whales jumping out of the water like you see on tv, it doesn’t happen that way. We didn’t ask for our money back. And we ended up seeing more whales off the balcony of our cruise ship than the tour we paid for and again- mostly tales and the tell tale spout.

    I am curious as to whether she brought this up while going back on the boat right after the trip.

  • Mark Carrara

    I think the tour operator should double charge her for her stupidity.

  • Carchar

    Like regular performers everywhere else these days, the wildlife just doesn’t get paid enough to show up on cue!

  • TonyA_says

    woohoo nice! Did you have dinner on that beauty? It looks like a revolving restaurant.

  • Helio

    I just visit the observatory on the top of the restaurant. I don’t recall if it was revolving or not. I believe it wasn’t.

  • Helio

    And she can voluntary herself to feed Tilikum…

  • jpp42

    The ferry is government subsidised, whereas the whale watching tour is a fully commercial venture. The ferry most likely costs more than $16.25 per person to operate – plus the economies of scale make a big difference when it comes to boats/ships. Also, the ferry probably makes a lot more money off vehicles, particularly commercial vehicles with freight, than individual passengers. So comparing passenger fares isn’t the full picture.

    Per their 2011 annual report which I found online ( ), BC ferries received about C$180 million in subsidy in 2011, with a total revenue of $739 million. They operate dozens of routes and the report doesn’t detail the subsidy by route, but the total passengers across the system was about 21 million, meaning an average subsidy of $8.50 per passenger, if you set aside the vehicle traffic.

    Obviously BC ferries being a huge company compared to Prince of Whales, will have many other advantages in cost basis.

  • jpp42

    Here in Sydney, Australia, you can see humpback whales breaching, just like “you see on TV.” It’s not as frequent as seeing their tails or the water spout, but it does happen regularly and it’s pretty impressive! So pick your whale watching cruises carefully.

  • Richard Smith

    Five foot seas? That’s not enough to deter a whale. My best whale photography was in twelve foot seas in Monterrey Bay

  • Raven_Altosk

    Dryburgh needs to put on her big girl panties and grow up.
    Seriously, the offer to return “any time during your lifetime” is amazing.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I think he does it to keep us on our toes…

  • Raven_Altosk

    I award this comment The Raven Award of Snark.

    (Award is meaningless, non-refundable, and full of airline speak!)

  • Annie M

    I need to travel to Australia!

  • Bruce Burger

    Not only should you not spend a second even thinking about helping this whiner, but you should give Price of Whales an award for most patient, articulate responses to a ridiculous request.

  • Sylvia Mason

    We did a cruise to Alaska and had booked a tour with a company not associated with the cruise line. It was a very small group of people, approximately 30 on a small boat. Our Captain, who looked very much the part, had lived in Alaska for his entire life and he was in his late 50s, early 60s and he explained what would happen during the tour. We were also fortunate that we had an individual on board who was associated with the cruise line and had been giving talks about the wildlife in Alaska and that he would travel to Alaska to see the whales leave on there journey south and would then go down to Hawaii to see them again. We were given binoculars and the Captain indicated that if any of us saw anything, we should use the front of the boat as 12 o’clock. So, if we saw something on the port side of the boat, we would yell 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock. That way everyone could then train their binoculars on that area. He did take us to some inner inlets and we saw the baby eagles in their nest with the binoculars – that alone was worth the price of the tour. We also, saw seals, etc. During the tour, he was on the radio with a larger cruise tour captain and he informed us that we would be going to a place where a pod of whales had been seen. We went to this area, and 2 other large boats which carried at least a couple of hundred people each were just leaving, but our Captain said that from the information he had received, they should be breeching out of the water in this area within 10 to 15 minutes. He said they would also breech on the starboard side of the boat and that we should have our binoculars ready.

    Well, no binoculars were required – they breeched approximately 5 feet from the side of our small boat. There were 5 of them and it was the most majestic sight I have ever seen. They stayed for a while, and when it was time for them to move on, they dove down and provided a tail wave – absolutely chilling.

    We had never expected to see them so close in that we could have almost touched them, and if we hadn’t of seen them, there would have been nothing we could have done – but we were all so happy because we saw the Eagles and their babies, and a great deal of other wildlife and did see an Ocra from a distance, and the naturalist on board, indicated that he was a robber who stayed behind and would feed off the other wildlife, as this was the end of August and the Ocras should have already left the Alaskan waters.

    This group of people took their chance, as most people have indicated, you can’t guarantee “wild life” to miraculously appear!

    I will never forget my “whale watching” trip and I have the pictures to remind myself of that absolutely wonderful day.

  • commentfromme

    oh good whatever. stuff this crazy person.

  • commentfromme

    who were the 63 votes who thought Chris should get involved? Shame…shame…

  • Cheri Head

    I’m with the company on this. Read the fine print, people. What the company offers as a guarantee is more than fair.

  • Cam

    Oh please. The company is holding up its end. She can take the trip again, or not. But please don’t try and use it as an excuse to scam money.

  • ORguest

    Maybe Chris felt our “no refund” posts will help the OP understand the ridiculousness of her request? Plus, some are pretty entertaining.

  • omgstfualready

    Kudos to this company firmly saying no to this request.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I believe in a company treating their customers well but sometimes people can simply be unreasonable. The company is right and shouldn’t be embarrassed to say so outright.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    This brings back a funny fish story. I took my wife on a fishing boat. My wife was so excited, she brought a big cooler to store all the fish she was going to catch. Then she asked the ticketing staff that if she didn’t catch any fish, would she get her money back?

    They laughed and laughed.

    Fishermen know why this is funny. The whole point of fishing is to go expecting to NOT catch anything. If you catch something, then you’re lucky.

  • omgstfualready

    I did a deep sea fishing day as a day excursion while cruising. I am not into fishing but ‘he’ (the now ex) was so I went along since I love boating. We expected nothing but we wound up catching a lot. Since we let the guides keep the fish to sell to local restaurants it reduced our out of pocket cash tip we paid them. Win/win/lose (the fish lost).

    Side note – my little teeny travel purse fell out of my ex’s backback while on the ship, I think while I was rooting around for sunscreen or something. I carry just a few things in there but my ID and a credit card and some cash were inside. When I realized it back on the ship they called the guys and they had it and brought it back, everything intact and would not take a dime from me for a thank you.

  • Mel65

    I 100% agree with the sentiment, but can we PLEASE relegate the phrase “big girl panties” to the dustbin for the rest of eternity???

  • whatexit

    Not siding with this customer.
    My reasons. One, she knew there would be little chance of her return in several years.
    Two, according to the piece, the company while guaranteeing a whale siting, offers no ‘money back’ guarantee. Only a free trip in the future. And the company also states in a roundabout way “as many times as it takes”…In my opinion, this is going overboard( oops pun) to please its customers.
    End of story.

  • Freehiker

    Oh look, another entitled person that thinks the rules don’t apply to them.

  • HawaiiShoeGirlie


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