Case dismissed: A vacation headed down the wrong track

Lynn Prater missed her train.

It’s worse than that, actually. There never was a train to miss, and she thinks her travel agent is to blame.

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Here’s the setup: Prater had booked a cruise with American Cruise Lines from Jacksonville to Charleston, with a brief stay in Orlando first.

My agent indicated that traveling between Orlando and Jacksonville would be no problem because an Amtrak train leaving around midday could get me to Jacksonville in time for my sailing.

After booking the air, she then found that she had read the train tables incorrectly. The train did not begin to run between Orlando and Jacksonville at the specified time until early April.

Furthermore, she found that the cruise was leaving earlier than she had thought, at 3 p.m., which would not make it possible to do what I had originally intended in Orlando.

Prater wants her agent to fix the problem by refunding $200 in agency fees and paying for a $180 price increase in her ticket to fix the scheduling error.

I contacted her agent at Advantage Cruise Travel to get her side of the story. Here’s what she told me:

I had never told her any train times since I hadn’t looked at any. I had just told her that Amtrak goes between Orlando and Jacksonville, which it does (but not early enough to make the mid-afternoon boarding time of American Cruise Line).

There’s also a Greyhound bus which only makes one or two stops and would leave the morning of the cruise and get her there on time.

Frankly, I feel that she changed her mind about Orlando, after telling me to issue the air ticket, and then fixated on the train times in order to not have to pay the change fee.

What a mess!

Prater was correct to use a travel agent for this kind of multi-stop trip, and it’s clear her agent tried to offer several options for travel. So I’m not sure if refunding $200 in fees is appropriate. Rather, it’s a question of whether the agent should cover the fare difference.

Prater could make a strong case for that if her agent sent her a confirmation — something akin to, “I have booked you on the 11 o’clock train from Orlando to Jacksonville.” But absent that smoking gun, this case isn’t leaving the station.

As a sad postscript, her agent reveals in a final email to Prater that she is thinking of leaving the business altogether. I guess problems like this can be demoralizing. I have a similar reaction when I get hate mail or when someone threatens to sue me.

What’s the takeaway from this? When you’re dealing with a travel agent — or any agent — be sure you have a good idea of what you want and can articulate it clearly. You don’t need to do it with lawyer-like precision, but don’t be vague, either.

Also, make sure you put everything in writing. Prater’s correspondence wasn’t complete, and I’m not sure if it’s because some conversations took place by phone, or that the client and agent were filling in the blanks by making assumptions.

31 thoughts on “Case dismissed: A vacation headed down the wrong track

  1. I feel that the agent maybe should cover the fare difference, but the agent has no reason to refund the fee. If OP wanted to be sure of her plans, she should have talked to confirm and buy the tickets at the time she bought the rest of her vacation. The problem would have come up right away and been fixed. Also, she did have options (greyhound) so it isn’t like the travel agent sold her some impossible connection or anything. (What if the train was sold out? That couldn’t be the travel agent’s fault but it would have the same result)
    Having a travel agent can be very helpful, but cannot make up for indecisiveness of the OP. 

  2. What a strange story.  If the agent didn’t offer to actually book the train, I would interpret this as saying: “Hey, there are a bunch of ways to get from Orlando to Jacksonville, and I think the train is one of them.  Good luck!”

    I’m not seeing any obligation on the TA’s part to line all this up exactly.

  3. The agent said “there is a train” but it doesn’t start until after the cruise? Then there is no train.
    The agent perhaps did not earn their fee.

    It has been awhile since the “use a professional travel agent” comments were common.  As a profession, I cannot think of a similar group that has so many incompetents they need to cull from the herd.  Yes, there are some good travel agents out there, but there’s a lot that are not.

    Itineraries should be worked out start to finish each time, with every little twist and turn.

    She can take the bus.

  4. What kind of a travel agent leaves you vague travel plans like that?  Take the bus or a the train–oh wait there is no train, oh well, I didn’t actually look at the times anyway?  If I go to a travel agent, I expect everything to be taken care of, finalized, and that she knows what she’s doing, otherwise I can do it myself on the computer.  Yeah, good thing this women left the business, she never did her job!

  5. It appears that the TA booked the air before confirming the train schedule. If the TA was also going to book the train then she should definitely pay the change fee. This looks like a case of she said/she said.

  6. I’ve re-read this article and still can’t piece it together. Without any written proof, its a classic version of she said/she said situation. Before anyone throws the TA under the bus, there isn’t factual data to support that statement.

    Taking the train on the morning of your cruise departure date seems extremely risky. What if there was a delay? Did the OP account for the time it takes to get from the train station to the cruise terminal? Even if the cruise departed at 8PM, don’t you need to check in at least a few hours before then?

    Assuming the TA’s side of the story is correct, the TA erred in not getting written acknowledgement by the OP that she was on her own getting from Orlando to Jacksonville on the day of the cruise. Is this worth $380? no, but the fair thing to have the TA return 50% of the change fee.

  7. If the two had a long-standing relationship, I can see why the customer might expect the agent to meet her half-way with the changes, but I wouldn’t expect both fees to be refunded.  PS If this is all it takes for someone to get out of the TA business, I wouldn’t think they were very invested in it.  When you are working with people’s money AND vacations, two fairly sacred things, you can expect when things go bad that there would be strong repercussions. 

  8. Wow.  It took me all of 5 minutes to check Amtrak and Greyhound schedules online.  Neither option gets Ms. Prater to Jacksonville before 3:35 p.m.  One must factor in possible delays, baggage collection and then transit time from the station to the dock and check in processes there. 

    For $200 in fees, this agent could have done what I just did and laid out the options a little more clearly.  She *was* paid to arrange for the cruise and airfare, so should have known the time the cruise was departing.  That would have affected the arrival time/date in Orlando to allow timely transit from Orlando to Jacksonville.

    The agent did not do her job. 

  9. This one’s a mess, to be sure.  It sounds to me, more than anything, that they both had some mis-communication going on with regard to getting to the cruise on time.

    I don’t know what the best resolution is because it’s not 100% clear who was more at fault, the OP for not pinning down her transportation to the cruise, or the TA for not doing a better job of getting her charge to the cruise.

  10. I manage travel for three small businesses and a good travel agent/manager would not have recommended that the client travel the day of the cruise using any mode of transportation.  I would have recommended she arrive for her cruise the day before. It does not appear that the agent was thorough in her research and recommendations.

  11. As a proffesional guide who has orginized many tours I do believe the agent was at fault. She is Piaf to organize peoples trips and did not do her job. If I pay someone I expect not to have to do the work myself. Details seem not important to this agent and she should refundthe money . If this easy trip was too much perhaps this is not the business for her?

  12. The moral of the story here, and actually every story is to get it all in writing. If the OP had an e-mail from the agent that claimed the train would be available and then it was not, then the agent should cover the fees. Absent any paper trail, the OP needs to suck it up and pay the change fees or just take the bus instead.

  13. It certainly sounds like the agent didn’t do all they could. They admit to not looking at the times the train would travel, yet told the client that would be an option? Oh boy.

  14. This isn’t a case that I could vote on either way.  We can’t be sure if the OP ignored the TAs advice and heard what she wanted or the TA gave the OP bad advice.
     
    The two statements are just so inconsistent and Chris edits down pages of correspondence to a single paragraph so I’m not sure what really occurred. 
     
    This could very well be a case where the TA recommended that the OP not spend the night prior to the cruise in Orlando and was told “but that’s what I’m going to do. You just need to figure it out.”  If the OP, then asked her” how do I get from Orlando to Jacksonville?” she might have said something like “there’s a train we could check in to” but the OP didn’t want to book anything right then or look into it.  If the OP is now not accepting any of the responsibility for the poor decisions she made against the TA’s advice and stating that the TA should pay for those poor decisions, I could understand the TA saying something like … “It’s clients like these that make me want to get out of the business.”
     
    You could also have a case where the TA suggested that the OP combine the trip she’s always wanted to take to Orlando with the cruise and didn’t bother check any schedules prior to making the suggestion. Now the TA doesn’t want to accept responsibility for her poor advice and isn’t sure if she wants to continue on.
     
    Both scenarios fit what is presented but would result in different votes.

  15. I would never, never fly, ride a train or a bus, into a cruise departure city on the day of, much less the afternoon of, boarding time. Too many variables and too big a chance, in this day and age, of missing that sailing. I always go in at least one day early. Leaves a bit more margin for error. That said, the agent should pay for the change, but not lose the fee.

    1. It’s not just the traveling into the cruise departure city the day of cruise here that’s the problem.  It sounds like the OP planned to do something in Orlando the morning of the cruise before heading to Jacksonville (if I’m reading the information provided correctly).  I could see going from Orlando to Jacksonville day of cruise – if you planned to leave first thing in the morning to do so, but if the change in bus/train schedules ruins her plans for Orlando it sounds like she planned to do stuff in Orlando that morning before heading to Jacksonville.

  16. Both parties made mistakes.  I didn’t vote as you’re asking two different questions.  No the additional fee transportation fee should not be covered.  The agency fee, (Is that a reasonable fee?) should be refunded as if the OP is telling the truth then the agent didn’t do her job.  Mistake of the OP was planning to do as much travelling before the cruise, on the day of the cruise.  The TA should have pointed this out. With the I’m going to quit attitude I get the impression that this TA is out of her league

    Sounds like a classic case of two different versions to the story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  17. The travel agent just assumed the train went there?? What an idiot! She was asked a question, didn’t bother to check, didn’t say she didn’t know, and made up what she thought the customer wanted to hear.  The customer trusted her, so she didn’t look as closely as she would if she’d known she was on her own. Once again, I’m glad I don’t use travel agents! Let the agent cough up the money; her admission to Chris should be enough, if necessary, for small claims court. It’s a good thing she’s leaving the business, but the OP shouldn’t suffer for her incompetence.

  18. Let me make sure I understand what was *supposed* to happen. OP wants a flight to Orlando. From there, she was going to catch a train (or bus) to Jacksonville, hop on a cruise to Charleston, then fly home?

    I’d like to believe that the OP told the TA that “I want to go here, here, and here, make it happen.” The TA should have been handling all aspects of the travel arrangements. That means if the TA screwed up and didn’t check for a valid itinerary first, that’s the TA’s problem. However, it sounds like the OP had the air booked before confirming the train tickets.

    Personally, I’d want to know exact times of all my travel arrangements before paying for them, whihc is what sounds like happened. The OP got her plane tickets, then went looking for train tickets. If the OP didn’t get solid train schedules, she shouldn’t have gone ahead with the booking.

    1. This is a she said, she said post and to difficult to tell what is the truth. 

      Why would the traveler buy a ticket before knowing all the parts to her travel?  Can’t she take the bus or train the day or evening prior and still get to her cruise?  She may also have other options, such as renting a car or hiring a car and driver.

  19. As a travel agent (21 years experience) I would just like to know what the $200.00 service fee got the OP.  Booking airline tickets and a cruise is not that time consuming.  Making sure that the transportation options, times and cost should be part of that service whether the TA books the additional component or not.  I feel that the TA should take the $200.00 fee and cover the cost to change the ticket.  The fact that the TA is considering leaving the industry after this experience leads me to believe that this isn’t her 1st mistake and she may not be cut out for it.   Lisa   

    1. Perhaps she wants to leave the industry so she won’t have to deal with stupid customers that piss her off…

    2. It is unclear if these travel arrangements were just for one person, but my guess she was charged a $100 per person plan to go fee.

      Again, there is conflicting views on what happened, but if there was an error on either one’s part, this certainly is/was savageable.  I found very reasonable rates for transportation online to get from Orlando to Jacksonville which could be done the day of departure, which concerns me as to why the traveler would not get to the point of departure a day prior.  Boarding can be done a 9am for a 3pm departure which can take place even earlier if everyone booked is aboard. 

      [email protected] you should not bad mouth a fellow agent since you do not have all the facts. 

      1. Thank you bodega for pointing out that I really shouldn’t bad mouth a fellow agent.  I should have phrased it in a different way.  It just seems to me that if you can charge $200.00 in service fees above the commission paid by the cruise line then you should make sure that the client gets all the facts relevant to making her trip a success. I’m just at a loss as to what the additional $200.00 got the client. 

  20. I find the whole exchange unclear – it sounds as though the travel agent was merely asked for info about how she could be from A to B rather than asked to arrange the travel.

    I find the OP’s use if certain words to be a bit suspect – the travel agent ‘indicated’ that there was a train. Did she indicate it, or say it? Why wouldn’t the agent make sure the connections would work before buying the air tickets?

    It just sounds to me like the OP asked the agent to book her airline tickets and her cruise, and then tried to figure out how she could get herself to the dock because she had other things she wanted to do in the interim.

  21. Not sure about the refund…..but the assumption within the industry if you are going through a travel agent is that they will arrange the transportation for you to get from Orlando to Jacksonville.  Doesnt matter if that is a train, bus or one way rental.  The assumption is the TA would arange her transportation between orlando and jacksonville.

    What Im not sure is if the woman told the TA that there was a train and gave her the impression she already booked that train so she didnt need the TA to do it (then what is the point of a TA)

  22. With the he said/she said this story is a little weird.  But I do find it odd that the Travel Agent would book the flights and not the train, or at least have given the train and bus schedule and directions for how to book (assuming for some reason Prater was going to book those themselves.)

    So I think covering the change fee would be appropriate because of the miscommunication.  But without more proof I wouldn’t also give back the TA’s booking fee.  

  23. The agent had nothing what-so-ever to do with the transportation between Orland and Jaxsonville. I know that clients think that they can do somethings better than I. Most of the time they are the subject of complete laughter and ridicule as they leave the office. My favorite is when they purchase a passport card instead of a passport book. Guess who is not going to Europe tomorrow. But they saved my 30.00 service fee to get their ticket from Orbitz. The agent was totally correct!

  24. Although I voted No, I think the TA was careless in mentioning Amtrack to the OP if she knew it wasn’t an valid option. I can understand how the OP might have construed the TA’s comments to meaning that a train would be viable for her itinerary. I think covering the fare difference would be reasonable, but not the fee.

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