When a company fails, a credit card chargeback can save the day

When French America Line cancels Frank Magarowicz’ second scheduled cruise, his story becomes one of an increasing number of refund complaints against the company and its sister company, Uncommon Journeys.

Question: I came upon your site while looking for contact information on French America Line river cruises. We booked a river trip (Plantation Celebration, May 7 to May 13, 2017) which was canceled because of “boat problems.” The company gave us a choice of a total refund ($12,144) or an alternate trip (Plantation Pioneers, Oct. 26 to Nov. 7, 2017), which we decided to take and that was confirmed by the company.

That trip was in doubt because of ongoing problems, and we were informed that we could cancel and receive our trip funds after the sail date of the scheduled trip. We decided to cancel and called Sheri Monroe (Reservations), at French America Line and she verified the cancellation and the amount to be returned to our credit card account.

In follow up calls to Sheri, she informed me that all refund requests should go to the accounting department [and provided the department’s email and telephone number]. I have tried repeatedly to call the number [and reached voice mail], and I’ve sent e-mails, but have gotten no response. We are a retired couple who would greatly appreciate any help in getting our $12,144 back, as these funds could be used for other purposes. — Frank Magarowicz, Henderson, Colo.

Answer: I’m very sorry to hear that your vacation with French America Line never happened. Even more frustrating than your missed vacation must be the continued delay of your promised refund.

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Asking for a refund after the second cruise cancellation was the best choice you could have made. A second cruise cancellation that isn’t weather-related is probably an indication of bigger problems. In fact, yours isn’t the first story we have heard about a failed vacation that was planned through French America Line or its partner company, Uncommon Journeys.

In a recent story about French America Line, we helped a reader get a promised refund after the company’s initial check bounced. And in another story, we set our own rules aside to help a travel agent obtain a refund for her clients from Uncommon Journeys, French America Line’s partner company — but we were unable to help the agent collect her own promised refund. Cases brought to us that involve Uncommon Journeys cancellations reach back to March.

You tried contacting the accounting office multiple times, but never received your refund, and eventually contacted us. Our managing director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, handled your case personally.

She reached out to the company on your behalf and was told that only the CEO can authorize a refund. Both companies are owned by Christopher Kyte, who was initially responsive and helpful to all our advocates in resolving the earlier cases, but he has stopped communicating with us.

I visited the French America Line website and noted that the last cruise that is listed is one that ends on Jan. 6, 2018, and no sailings past that date are advertised. I also couldn’t find any future cruise dates on any of the online travel agency websites. While I couldn’t find any announcements that either company is planning to cease operations, that’s not a good sign — cruise lines typically publish their sailing dates at least a year in advance.

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Couch-Friedman told you that we have received many similar complaints about both French America Line and Uncommon Journeys, and Kyte has explained neither the missing refunds nor the fact that he stopped communicating with us.

Some travel insurance policies cover company bankruptcies and insolvency. Had you purchased a policy with that coverage, you might have been able to recover your money through the insurance company.

Fortunately, you used a credit card to pay for your cruise, so that left you with another important option: a chargeback. The protects consumers in transactions like this, and our advocate suggested you pursue that option with your credit card company.

The credit card company quickly processed your request and refunded your money. While I do not recommend that consumers start with a chargeback, once other efforts are exhausted, a credit card chargeback can often enable you to recover your money in the case of company insolvency.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

  • Lindabator

    actually – they were chartered out to assist Puerto Rico with their hurricane efforts, and will not have any new cruises till summer of 2018 at this time

  • Michelle Bell

    Do you have a link to that story? I’d love to read it. Because river vessels are not rated for coastal cruising. You can check YouTube to see what happens when a river vessel is taken out into the ocean.

  • DChamp56

    It’s right on French America’s front page Michelle: https://www.frenchamericaline.com/
    Thank you for your interest in French America Line.

    As some of you may have heard, our flagship, the Louisiane, has been chosen to assist with hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean and we are proud and gratified to play a small part in the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. While much progress has been made, a great deal remains to be done and we are gratified that we can assist, even in a small way, by chartering our riverboat to accommodate relief workers as well as those who are still homeless.

    The Louisiane will be refreshed and return to passenger service in late summer 2018, with new itineraries and new destinations including some rivers not previously offered. Look for significant on board enhancements and a stylish array of pre- and post-cruise options. To obtain special advance notice of 2018 schedules and offers, please click here to be added to our priority list.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Sounds like they’re really grasping at straws at this point. Given the track record thus far, I’d be very cautious about doing business with them going forward.

  • Michelle Bell

    I saw that on their site — it was posted only a few days ago. I’m looking for something that independently confirms. There have been many stories about help being sent but nothing about the Louisiane.

  • Annie M

    I agree. I don’t believe that story on
    their website. I believe this company is having problems. Let’s see if that shirt becomes back into service.

  • Michael__K

    “Some travel insurance policies cover company bankruptcies and insolvency. Had you purchased a policy with that coverage, you might have been able to recover your money through the insurance company.”

    Except this business hasn’t filed for bankruptcy or claimed insolvency. They are just not performing their scheduled tours and not refunding passengers or even responding to them. So how could any of their customers make and substantiate an insurance claim?

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