Gerrit Van Dijk Jr. paid Vantage Travel $18,536 for a Greek Islands cruise. Now he wants a refund.
Interestingly, everyone agrees that he deserves a refund. His wife, Joanne, does. I do. And most importantly, Vantage does.
So why has it taken almost three years?
The answer is complicated. The pandemic created massive refund delays that are still affecting passengers today. So why are cruise refunds dragging on? And can you make them go faster?
Wait, did you say three years?
Yes, three years. In 2019, Van Dijk booked a Vantage cruise to Greece, with stops in Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, Milos, Paros, Syros and Aegina for April 2020.
Of course, that cruise never happened because of COVID. In March 2020, Vantage canceled the sailing. The cruise line offered Van Dijk a refund, which he accepted.
“We received an acknowledgment and confirmation that the refund had been initiated and would take up to 30 days,” he says. “That promised refund never came.”
He followed up with Vantage multiple times over the next few months. The response was always the same: “We’re working on it.”
We have a limited number of team members, but we are working diligently through each and every request in the order in which it was received, so please be patient with us as we work hard for all our guests.
This is an extraordinary situation for everyone in the travel industry and we understand the impact this is having on our guests as well. We are working diligently and will get to every request, it is just going to take longer than normal.
But two years later, he still didn’t have his money. At that point, Van Dijk says Vantage offered him a cruise credit.
“In early 2022, still not having received our refund and fearing we would never receive it, we applied our cruise credit towards a trip to Great Britain with Vantage to depart on September 2,” he says. He paid an additional $2,853 for the sailing. Best of all, it was on the gleaming new ship, the Ocean Odyssey.
Problem solved? Not quite.
“Unfortunately, your trip was rescheduled”
On July 31 — just a month before his departure for England — he received a notification from Vantage that his Great Britain on the Ocean Odyssey was sunk.
Unfortunately, your trip was rescheduled due to COVID delays in the shipyard where the ship was built in China.
To speak with an agent, you will need to call us. We cannot make outbound calls while processing emails.
The new date for his sailing? July 29, 2024.
“I called for an explanation and to demand a refund and a representative told me Vantage postponed our trip, and therefore it was not eligible for a refund,” he says. “We should receive a full refund after being promised that, following the cancellation of the Greece trip and now following the abrupt cancellation of the Great Britain trip. I have written many emails, and mailed letters requesting a full return of our funds for the canceled trip. However, at this point, Vantage refuses to even communicate with us.”
By the time Van Dijk’s case reached my desk, he had been waiting almost three years for his money.
Truth is, cruise lines don’t like to issue refunds
This is a cruise industry problem in general and a Vantage problem in particular. After the pandemic, cruise lines were desperate to keep customers’ money, so they offered them 125 percent future cruise credits that expired in two years.
Clever move. The executives must have known that some passengers would never be able to use their cruise credits. Many of their older customers would be unable to reschedule because of declining health. Others would wait too long to decide on a new cruise, and their credit would expire. The cruise lines would never have to return that money.
But of all the cruise lines, Vantage drew the most complaints. My advocacy organization received hundreds of emails about delayed Vantage refunds. Our advocates would share these cases with Vantage, and the response we would get was the same as it gave Van Dijk: “We’re working on it.”
And for several years, we waited patiently. Vantage resolved some cases but remained the most complained-about cruise line, at least when it comes to refunds.
And then we got Van Dijk’s complaint.
He’d waited two years for a refund, rebooked a new cruise under duress, paid extra for the new cruise, and then had the replacement cruise canceled — sorry, postponed. If anyone deserved a prompt refund, he did.
I wanted answers.
Vantage: “The process must be followed”
I turned to Dave Rosen, Vantage’s vice president of sales and concierge service. And he says the cruise line is doing everything it can to process the refunds as quickly as possible.
Yeah, but three years?
Rosen says it’s taken that long for several reasons. First, the pandemic slowed the refund process down, as it did for other cruise lines. Second, each refund request goes through a committee and is then manually processed by a team of just two part-time accountants. And third, there’s the refund procedure itself, which is time-consuming. It involves several quality-control measures to ensure Vantage pays the correct amount to the right passenger.
“The process must be followed,” he says.
All told, Vantage has already refunded $10 million since the pandemic. He declined to say how many more refunds remained.
I asked Rosen why Vantage couldn’t hire more people to handle the refunds. He said he’s trying, but getting help is difficult.
Processing refunds is a high-stress job. He says after one month of training, employees will start working and then just walk away from the job.
“They ghost us,” he told me.
Some don’t even make it through training. Rosen says that one day in November, two employees from the most recent class of trainees simply didn’t show up for work. They were never seen again.
“It’s been really difficult to find people and retain them,” he says.
What happened to this refund?
By the time I interviewed Rosen, I had already run Van Dijk’s case past another employee at Vantage, and the case was under review. I learned in our call that the employee had also left the company, underscoring the gravity of Vantage’s refund crisis.
Vantage had finally agreed to return Van Dijk’s $18,536 — this time for real — and an employee had reached out to him to confirm the refund. But then things went sideways. His reservation record disappeared from his online account, and the promised refund never materialized. Talk about being ghosted.
What was going on?
Rosen told me the disappearing record is normal. You can no longer access the reservation through your online account when Vantage agrees to a refund.
“We could have done a better job explaining that,” he says.
What about the Ocean Odyssey? Rosen confirmed that two new ships, which had been ordered before the pandemic, had been delayed because of the lockdowns in China. That forced Vantage to postpone several cruises, including Van Dijk’s.
Hang on — isn’t that a cancellation?
But Vantage was using “postpone” when it really should have said “canceled.” And when you cancel a cruise, you offer customers a refund. The issue here is that Van Dijk had agreed to a future cruise credit, which would expire soon. That’s a common problem, as I note in my guide to getting a refund for your cruise credit.
Van Dijk’s case had gone to the refunds committee, and it had agreed to process a full refund. But that took him back to square one — waiting patiently for a refund. The last time he was here, he had waited two years. Worse, when he called to ask how long the refund would take, an employee erroneously informed him that he, not Vantage, had canceled the cruise.
“We are at a loss at this point,” he said in exasperation. “Vantage has lied about everything. But making up a story that I called in and canceled the trip is deeply disturbing and makes us wonder to what lengths they will go through to simply keep our money.”
How to make a cruise refund move faster
So how do you speed up the refund process?
Rosen says Vantage is trying to hire more accountants and train new customer service representatives. The cruise line has also added new call center technology that allows it to call you back instead of making you wait on hold. And, he notes, you can also log on to your Vantage account online and get information about your cruise — that is, unless Vantage has deleted it.
But my interview with Rosen was instructive. Here’s how to make your refund move faster:
Send a polite request and cite any refund policies if applicable
If you’re owed a refund, make sure you cite chapter and verse of the policy. You may not be able to avoid the refund tribunal, but once it gets there, you’ll have a strong case.
Check your refund regularly
Set a recurring calendar appointment to check your refund status every two weeks. Check your online account. If you don’t see any progress, send a brief, polite email to your contacts. Escalate to an executive if the process takes longer than a month. I publish the names on this site.
Apply steady but firm pressure
Firm but polite pressure can get you moved to the head of the line. Cruise lines will not admit it, but I’ve seen this strategy work. Keep plugging away, and keep escalating your case until someone says, “Enough!” and returns your money.
But the best piece of advice I can offer in the wake of the Vantage refund debacle is simply this: If a cruise line offers you a choice between a voucher and a cash refund, always take the cash.
Sue the cruise line in small claims court
That’s what Scott Winter did after he spent 11 months waiting for a refund on a $3,748 deposit he made with Vantage. Winter had also received endless emails promising him a refund, but nothing happened. So he filed a small claims court case in Roanoke, Va. Two months later, he reported back: “My small claims court filing got them to pay in full — before court date!”
Here’s your $18,536
I asked Rosen about Van Dijk’s refund and he said it had already been processed and should be in his account within a week.
Two days later, I received an email from Van Dijk. He’d finally received his refund.
“I’m not sure what you said or did to get Vantage Travel to finally, after all those years, to do the right thing, but it worked,” he told me. “We are very grateful to you.”