I need to cancel my Groupon Getaway. Can I get a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

Joan Johnson-Roegner needs to cancel her Groupon Getaway. Her tour operator, Reward Travel China, suggests the terms of her vacation are flexible. So why is she stuck with an unusable tour — and is there anything my fearless crew of advocates can do to help her?

Johnson-Roegner’s case is a sad reminder that talk is cheap and that the fine print overrides any verbal promises a representative makes. It also underscores the highly restrictive nature of some Groupon Getaways, as well as the importance of a reliable travel insurance policy.

Why she needed to cancel her Groupon Getaway

Here’s what happened: Johnson-Roegner and her husband paid $2,498 for a trip to China through a company called Rewards Travel China. The 10-day tour looks almost too good to be true.

(By the way, pardon the verbal infelicities.)

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See the exquisite architecture and pleasant surroundings at the Summer Palace.

Explore Shanghai’s Bund Waterfront, the fascinating Shanghai Museum, and walk on the pedestrian-friendly Nanjing road.

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End your tour off with a visit to an ancient water-town to see traditional architecture, stone bridges & meandering river ways, and then have some time to explore Shanghai at your leisure.

All your China dreams, packed in 10 days.

Wow, all my China dreams in 10 days. Where do I sign up?

Why, on Groupon, of course! (Read here about Groupon flash sales gone awry.)

Mind the fine print on your Groupon Getaway

Ah, but there’s a catch. Once you’ve pushed the “buy” button, you can’t change anything. Ever. Don’t even think about it.

Once you purchase a Groupon Getaway, you're stuck with it.

And, of course, Johnson-Roegner’s problem was: She thought about it.

“My husband had an operation on his spine twice and is not able to walk,” she told me. “He will not be able to go on the trip.”

Johnson-Roegner didn’t have travel insurance, which would have reimbursed her for canceling her trip. So she phoned Rewards Travel China to see if his part of the trip could be transferred to another person.

“I am 74 years old and would like a person with me for safety,” she says.

A Rewards Travel China representative told her she could transfer her husband’s ticket for just $150. But when she tried to change the reservation, a Groupon representative told her she couldn’t make any changes to the itinerary. Either her husband, who couldn’t move, went to China with her, or they’d lose the entire amount they paid for the vacation.

“Now it is not possible to transfer the trip to anyone else,” she says. “Could you please help us? Time is running short.”

Can you cancel a Groupon Getaway and get a refund?

So, can you cancel a Groupon Getaway and get a refund? We’ve addressed this question before on this site.

I also answer that question in our frequently asked questions section about tours. In short, it’s complicated.

As I noted:

When an airline cancels a flight, you can get your money back. When a hotel turns you away, you’re entitled to a refund. Same thing when your cruise is canceled, or your car rental company doesn’t have the vehicle for which you prepaid.
Put it all together into a package, however, and curiously, the rules change. Your tour may not be refundable at all. Don’t believe me? Check your participation agreement and see for yourself.

In other words, tour operators impose their own restrictions on refundability, which they outline in their participation agreement. But buy through Groupon, and there’s another layer of restrictions that override the tour operator’s agreement. We receive many complaints about Groupon.

And Groupon’s restrictions were crystal-clear.

The bad news in the fine print of the Groupon Getaway deal

Toggle over to the “fine print” tab for the bad news:

Final sale: once reservation is made, it is non-refundable and non-changeable.

So can she cancel her Groupon Getaway and get a refund?

Can Johnson-Roegner cancel her Groupon getaway and get a refund? Let me tell you something about this case. My advocates pored over the fine print to find a loophole that would have allowed us to help her. We sympathize with anyone who, for reasons entirely beyond her control, can’t take a vacation.

But in the end, after consulting my advocacy team it was clear that this was a more complex problem. The individual components of the tour might have been refundable if Johnson-Roegner had purchased them separately. But bundled together in a tour, they were subject to her operator’s terms. While the operator said it could help her, there were more terms — the ones imposed by Groupon — that overrode both the terms of the travel companies and tour operator.

This is a very unfortunate problem with no solution. Johnson-Roegner should have considered a travel insurance policy, but it’s too late for that. I’m sorry we couldn’t help the Johnson-Roegners.

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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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