An “Uncommon Journey” to a refund


After Cathy Elliott’s repeated attempts to extract her client’s sizeable refund from Uncommon Journeys are rebuffed, she turns to our advocacy team for assistance. Why do we decide to bend our policy and assist this travel agent?

Question: I am a travel agent who is trying to get a refund owed to my client who had to cancel a trip. She paid a deposit last November and I asked for her refund in June. Per the contract, she would need to pay a cancellation penalty of $750 and this would leave a balance of $2,626 to be refunded.

Uncommon Journeys has refused to send her the refund. The representative that I have been speaking to tells me that the accounting department is taking care of it. When I tried to reach out to the accounting department, I was told that the owner is the accounting department. He doesn’t respond to my emails.

My client is 90 years old and just moved to flooded Houston to care for her daughter who is suffering from pancreatic cancer. I cannot ask her to contact you on top of everything else she is handling right now. Is there a way I can just operate as her surrogate, please? I have everything in writing.

I want to get this handled for her. Can you help? — Cathy Elliott, Deerfield, Ill.

Answer: When I first read your request for help, I reminded you that our advocacy team does not typically take cases that involve travel agents.

Why? As a travel agent you should be the advocate for your client.

The reason consumers use a travel agent is for the support and expertise that one can provide — especially in situations such as the one your client, Jeane West, found herself in.

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But you were persistent and assured me that you had tried every route possible to get your client’s money returned. You also tugged at my heartstrings, explaining that West had too many troubles in her life right now and couldn’t also fight this battle.

Ok, you convinced me.

The paper trail that you provided showed that over the course of four months, you had made numerous inquiries to Uncommon Journeys. The representative that you had been working with had sent you a cancellation confirmation on June 21 that showed West’s refund would be processed in the amount of $2,626.

With that confirmation in hand, you felt confident that West would soon receive her money.

It never materialized.

Two months later you were still emailing back and forth with that same representative. He now said that the refund was beyond his control — the accounting department needed to process the refund.

When you asked for a contact in the accounting department, you were told that there were none available. In fact, the representative explained that the entire accounting department consists of only the owner of the company, Christopher Kyte.

You tried emailing Kyte and received no response. Hitting that wall is what led you to reach out to our advocacy team.


Having had prior cases involving this company and its sister company French American Line, I reached out to Kyte and asked for his assistance in obtaining West’s refund. He was apologetic and told me that he would investigate and straighten out the situation. It seemed that the problem would be easily resolved.

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It wouldn’t be. And that’s an understatement.

Over the course of a month and eight additional emails, Kyte said he finally had figured out the problem.

I believe I have figured this out. The July refund went to a credit card with an expiration date of July 2017 which cannot be correct. I will ask our reservations people to ascertain if this expiration date can be correct.

When I offered that I had a copy of West’s credit card and that Kyte could process the refund immediately, he stopped responding to me — permanently.

And then something else unusual started happening. In one week, we received two additional complaints of canceled Uncommon Journeys tours and missing refunds totaling close to $20,000. I forwarded these emails to Kyte as well.

No response.

The good news for West was that she had used her credit card to book this tour. So she had the protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the strength of her credit card company behind her.

Since Kyte did not contest that the refund was owed, I recommended that West initiate a chargeback.

West’s bank was able to quickly retrieve her funds. Problem solved.

But there was one more twist to this story.

It turns out that you are also a customer of Uncommon Journeys. A few days after West received her funds, you emailed me again in search of help — this time for yourself.

You had received notice that your upcoming Uncommon Journeys tour of the Midwest was suddenly canceled. You realized immediately that the $9,000 that you had pre-paid for this trip was in peril.

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Unfortunately, because of the method of payment that you chose for this trip, initiating a chargeback is not available to you. You explained:

I wish I was as clever as my client. I paid the deposit last October with a credit card but the final payment of $5,395, I paid with a personal check. Do you have any advice for me how to get my money back from them? Since they canceled the trip themselves, ordinarily it would not be a problem but I do NOT know how I will get back my $9,171 that I paid to them.

This is a nightmare that just never ends!

As we have pointed out in prior articles, when you use cash, debit or check to make large purchases, you are not protecting your investment. The protections that you automatically receive under the FCBA when you make a credit card purchase are not extended to other forms of payment.

I have sent Uncommon Journeys/Kyte repeated requests for clarification and have received no further response. I hope that there will be a successful resolution to your case and in the other cases concerning this company. But the situation remains unclear and a small claims lawsuit may be in your future.

(Note: Cathy Elliott is not related to Christopher Elliott — at least, not that we’re aware of.)


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 Elliott.org.

  • Alan Gore

    “Slow pay” to numbers of creditors is a red flag that a company is in financial trouble.

  • JVillegirl541

    Yiks! Red flags all over this situation!

  • Annie M

    This is a travel agent – who did not know to use a credit card for her own trip? Are you kidding?

    https://www.yelp.com/biz/uncommon-journeys-alameda

    And their website is no longer working:

    https://www.uncommonjourneys.com/

  • Lindabator

    oftentimes, we can send a check for the net amount, and not have to pay the full gross, so can keep the commission upfront. Sounds like this is what this agent did. Unfortunately, this company went bust – but she should have had a annual insurance plan in place to cover a situation like this

  • Lindabator

    they have not been a problem until this last year, so no red flags at time of booking

  • SirWIred

    It’s clear that the are on a one-way trip to bankruptcy. I suppose she might as well get first in line in small-claims, though I doubt there will be much recovery.

  • BubbaJoe123

    This isn’t exactly great PR for Cathy Elliott, or her employer, Ridgebrook Travel (http://www.ridgebrooktravel.com/).

  • Annie M

    I know you can do that – look where she is now. Checking an E & O policy is a good idea to see if she can get any help but that might only protect her from someone suing her..
    This whole thing had read flags – I’ve been in business 18 years and have never heard of this company.

  • Lindabator

    they have been in business for many years – but they do more rail/cruise trips, and if you do not book those, you might not b familiar with them. If she had an annual travl insuranc policy, would have been of help here. Sad.

  • finance_tony

    Thank you for the valuable lesson on which travel agent to avoid for my next trip.

  • Noah Kimmel

    not that I would use her, but isn’t it better that she kept fighting for her client and seeking alternatives vs. just stopping and saying she has done all she could? Admittedly, the check payment isn’t in great form, but we don’t know if she was offered a cash discount or a net/gross arrangement of some kind for her booking which make it more attractive.

  • BubbaJoe123

    No, it’s not great. She’s the agent. If there’s a problem getting reimbursement from the tour provider, she should reimburse her client, and then work on being made whole by the tour provider.

  • Annie M

    If that is who she works for – why hasn’t the owner gotten involved? I see the name of a manager on the website of Ridgebrook that is not Cathy. And on the ASTA website there is someone named Gayle listed for this agency – if it is the same agency. If this is the agency Cathy works for – why aren’t they helping her?

  • Annie M

    Apparently someone here may have uncovered the agency she works for. If this is in fact the agency – there are other principals listed on their website and on ASTA.org where the agency website says they are members. Why hasn’t her agency assisted her with this?

    If this is in fact her agency, it opens up even more questions but it also might answer why she booked with the company in the first place..

  • greg watson

    isn’t fraud a criminal offence ??

  • BubbaJoe123
  • Annie M

    You can still pay net using a credit card.

  • Michael__K

    “this company went bust – she should have had a annual insurance plan in place to cover a situation like this”

    Has the company filed for bankruptcy? I don’t see that it has. If it hasn’t, then which insurance policy would cover this?

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