I never got a receipt for my tour. Can Sunwing keep my $536?

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By Christopher Elliott

Brandon Marsdin paid Sunwing Airlines $536 for an ATV tour in Los Cabos, Mexico. But when he tried to check in for his offroading adventure, a representative turned him away. And then Sunwing kept his money.

Can it do that?

Of course not (and if you think the answer is yes, you’re probably reading the wrong site). Marsdin is baffled that a company could pocket his money and give him nothing for it — and frankly, so is my advocacy team

But we can fix that. Marsdin’s case leaves you wondering:

  • Are tour operators required to give you an itinerary when you pay for an excursion?
  • Can a tour operator turn you away if you don’t have a receipt?
  • How do you resolve a problem with a missing itinerary from your tour operator?

We’ll answer all those questions — and more. But first, a few details about his missed ATV tour.

“My excursion was not valid”

Marsdin was on a Sunwing flight from Vancouver to San José del Cabo last fall.

“While I was onboard, I purchased an excursion through Sunwing’s onboard sales,” he says. Sunwing charged Marsdin $536 for four people to take an offroading tour in Los Cabos. It was a nice addition to his Mexican vacation, and he was looking forward to driving along the Pacific Ocean and enjoying the outdoors.

Although Sunwing had charged him for the tour, it didn’t send him an email confirmation. But Marsdin didn’t worry about that because he figured he could show them the credit card charge and everything would be fine. 

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But it wasn’t fine.

When Marsdin tried to check in for the tour, a representative told him there was a problem.

 “My excursion was not valid,” he recalls.

“He wrote down my email and room number, saying he would contact me if something changed,” he says. “He never did.”

Marsdin never went on the ATV tour. But his real disappointment was still to come.

Can Sunwing just keep his money for a missed tour?

You might be wondering: Can Sunwing just pocket Mardin’s money? 

Apparently, Sunwing thinks so. 

Marsdin sent a brief, polite email to Sunwing asking for a refund. In response, he received a series of form letters like this one:

My apologies for the delayed response, we are currently experiencing a high volume of inquiries and our response time is taking longer than usual.

Brandon, I have read your letter and I am disappointed to hear of the issues that transpired in regard to your purchased excursion.

Please allow me to explain that although our Destination Team do promote and sell the excursions, Sunwing does not operate the excursions as they are completed by a third party supplier. As such, any refund would have to be approved by the excursion supplier as it is indicated on the excursion voucher that all excursions are non refundable.

Marsdin patiently explained his situation to several people at Sunwing, both by phone and in an email. Sunwing kept going around in circles, first asking for a receipt he never received, then telling him that the tour operator would only refund the tickets if he had a valid medical reason.  Mardin kept having to explain himself, and as I read the correspondence, it seemed clear he was dealing with either a chatbot or a human agent who was relying too much on AI. (Related: Where is the refund for my upgrade that never happened?)

Although the airline promised to investigate, it never refunded his money.

“I would not have a problem paying for the excursion if I had chosen not to go on it,” he told me. “But the reason I didn’t go was through no fault of my own. I simply did what I was told, which was pay for it on board and approach a Sunwing representative at the resort to finalize a date and time.”

So is that kind of thing even allowed? 

Let’s start with a basic question. 

Are tour operators required to give you an itinerary when you pay for an excursion?

Yes. Since the Sunwing flight originated in Canada, the Canadian Consumer Protection Act would apply. It requires that businesses provide a receipt to you for any transaction involving the sale of goods or provision of services. The receipt must include the provider’s name, address, contact information, your name, a description of goods and services provided, the date of the transaction, the amount paid and any applicable taxes and fees.

In contrast, the United States has no federal laws requiring businesses to give you a receipt for a purchase.

A receipt or itinerary is particularly important when you’re dealing with a third party, which was the case with Sunwing and Marsdin. Sunwing was subcontracting with NexusTours, which ran the ATV tour. A review of his paper trail with Sunwing shows that the tour operator needed some kind of authentication — a reservation number or QR code — that verified he had paid. (Related: You’re not so special! The hidden messages of the airline industry.)

Marsdin says a Sunwing representative told him that this was a common problem, so it’s something the airline was almost certainly aware of.

It looks like Sunwing had sent Marsdin nothing. It just charged his card.

But what about the tour operator? Could it just tell him to get lost?

Can a tour operator turn you away if you don’t have a receipt?

Yes, it can.

And to understand why, you need to know something about local tour operators. Their reservation systems are often pretty rudimentary. They rely on bootlegged programs to figure out who paid and who didn’t. The smallest tour operators get emails with a list or participants. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were still using fax machines.

So you can’t assume that a tour operator with a few ATVs is going to have the sophistication to have a direct connection to an airline partner’s reservation system. The representative needs to see your ticket in order to validate it. No ticket, no tour.

That said, the tour operator could have made a call to find out what happened to Marsdin’s purchase, but the time for that is long past. He returned to Canada months ago. (Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about booking an airline ticket.)

(I suspect there was a fourth party involved. NexusTours is actually owned by Sunwing but operates as a separate company. There was probably another party that owned the ATVs and worked as a subcontractor of NexusTours, and that’s where the confusion might have happened.)

Bottom line: The ATV operator could turn him away, but it should have helped him instead of just taking his room number and then never calling him.

How do you resolve a problem with a missing itinerary from your tour operator?

When a tour operator or third party fails to provide you with a receipt and itinerary after your purchase, what are your options?

1. Check your spam folder

Most receipts are generated automatically. That means they often get sent to your software, because your email provider tags them as junk mail. (Related: “Easily the worst airline experience I’ve ever had” — but can American Airlines fix this code-share problem?)

2. Contact the tour operator immediately

If you don’t have a receipt, get in touch with the company right away and ask for one. If you didn’t get a receipt, there’s a chance your purchase didn’t go through. You need a receipt not just for peace of mind but also because you may need it for admission.

3. Check with your credit card company

If you made the purchase with your credit card, check with your bank or credit card company to make sure the purchase went through. Although tour operators sometimes accept a credit card statement as proof of purchase, you don’t want to take a chance. If you’ve been charged, you need a receipt.

4. Escalate your problem

Having a company take your money and giving you nothing for it is a serious problem. The sooner you fix it, the better. If the regular customer service channels aren’t working, try our list of executive contacts.

5. Most importantly, don’t assume everything will be fine

A lack of receipt is a serious problem and could present an insurmountable challenge when you are traveling. Do not assume this problem will fix itself. It probably won’t.

So what does that mean for Mardin’s case?

Will this guy ever get his money back from Sunwing?

So does Sunwing get to keep Marsdin’s $536 for a tour he never took? Not if our advocacy team has anything to say about it.

I contacted Sunwing on his behalf. A few days later, a representative contacted him and agreed to a full refund. 

I’m happy with that resolution and so is Marsdin, but I think the airline could have done better. A full accounting of what went wrong would have worked for me, including the other cases — and a promise to fix it. But as it stands, I expect to get a few more cases of lost Sunwing tours through this site.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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