A $500 voucher for a missed riverboat cruise? You’ve gotta be kidding!

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By Christopher Elliott

Some cases are resolved quickly. Some aren’t.

Sheila Drezner Freedman’s problem with Tauck dates back to February 2010, and although the high-end tour operator thinks it is closed, she’s still fighting.

When life throws you a curveball

Back in February of that year, she paid her Virtuoso travel agent a $600 deposit on a European riverboat cruise. She made a final payment of $9,606 through her credit card in July.

“I opted out of travel insurance, since I considered myself indestructible, having traveled for over forty years and never had a problem and foolishly, never expected one now,” she says.

Big mistake.

“At the beginning of June, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and after surgery, was told I would now face six weeks of radiation,” she says. “No problem — it left me with an extra week to recoup and still be able to go on that planned vacation. However, six days into the 59 day, 50 percent penalty period, I was given the dreaded news that I would need three months of chemotherapy before the radiation treatment.”

In other words, she’d miss the riverboat cruise she’d already paid for.

Her agent tried to negotiate a credit, which could be used for a riverboat cruise in 2011. Tauck refused. So Freedman called Tauck herself.

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Unfortunately, I was connected to a manager who lacked any feeling.

I told her I was planning to put the final payment shown on this month’s Visa statement in dispute. At that point in our conversation, she said, that if I do that, she would not allow me to ever travel with Tauck again.

Not what I would call good customer service and if that threat were possible, she would also hurt my travel agent. Her rudeness was unnecessary.

Tauck has a reputation as one of the most customer-focused tour operators in America, so it was difficult to imagine such a conversation taking place.

When a customer’s health crisis meets company policy

My advocacy team and I contacted Tauck on Freedman’s behalf twice in 2010. She sent several additional letters to the company, and finally, a few weeks ago, received the company’s “final” answer: an apology and a $500 voucher toward a future trip.

Her reaction?

Tsk, tsk. They should be ashamed to treat a once-loyal customer in such a cheap way.

It will be difficult for me and my travel companion to ever book another vacation with them.

Although we’re only two people, it shouldn’t matter. A reputable business should care about every customer and do their best to keep them satisfied.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve received complaints about Tauck. Tauck’s cancellation terms are clearly disclosed on its site.

I can’t argue with them. Tauck recommends travel insurance and spells out its cancellation policy in black and white. (Here’s our guide to finding the best travel insurance.)

Would travel insurance have covered Freedman? I’m not entirely sure. A vigilant claims adjuster might determine that her breast cancer was a pre-existing condition (I’ve seen it before).

My real problem is the interaction between Freedman and the manager by phone. I can’t imagine anyone threatening a customer like that. Unfortunately, Tauck never addressed that issue, at least not with me.

Tauck ended up keeping about $5,000 of Freedman’s money, since some of the components of her vacation were refundable. So the tour operator is offering her 10 percent of the value of her lost vacation as a voucher.

Is that enough?

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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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