USA 3000 Airlines meets grounded passenger “halfway” after hurricane cancellation

When Greg Caravelli’s flight to Cancun, Mexico, was cancelled in October because of Hurricane Rina, his tour operator, Apple Vacations, offered a full refund. United Airlines, which was supposed to fly him back home, returned his money. But the airline on which he was flying to Mexico, USA 3000 Airlines, did not.

“They refused, giving us until Oct. 31 to rebook with no fee, or take a refund less rebooking fees,” he says. “Since our payment to USA 3000 for the outbound leg of our trip was approximately $190 per person, and the rebooking fee was $125 per person, I said we would prefer to rebook, but that it would take beyond Oct. 31 to settle on other travel plans. I asked for a year in which to rebook without penalty. USA 3000 refused.”

With good reason. USA 3000 will shut down in January.

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Caravelli tried to use the credits in time, but he couldn’t.

“I think a USA 3000 refund is not unreasonable,” he says, adding, “Am I out of line?”

That depends. When a flight doesn’t operate as scheduled, a full refund is routinely given. After all, you paid the airline for a service it was unable to offer.

Indeed, section J of its contract of carriage (PDF) seems to call for nothing less than a full refund of the fare.

Involuntary Refunds

1) In the event the refund is required because of USA 3000 Airlines failure to operate or refusal to transport, the following refund options will be made available to the passenger:

a) The total fare paid for each unused segment will be refunded to the original form of payment; or
b) A credit will be established for the total fare paid for each unused segment; or
c) The passenger will be rebooked on another flight.

But it appears Caravelli’s outbound flight to Cancun wasn’t canceled. The hurricane was bearing in on Mexico, but hadn’t yet arrived.

I asked Apple Vacations, which owns USA 3000 Airlines, to take another look at Caravelli’s case. It had already issued a refund to his credit card, minus a change fee.

Here’s its response.

As a gesture of goodwill, and in an effort to earn back your trust, Apple Vacations (on behalf of USA 3000) would be happy to meet you in the middle. We are willing to issue Apple Vacations travel vouchers in the amounts of $62.50 for each person in the Caravelli party.

These amounts represent 50% of the penalties you each paid, and it is our hope you would accept these vouchers in the spirit intended and book another Apple Vacations trip in the near future.

Is that enough?

If Caravelli plans to take another Apple Vacation, then it’s a meaningful gesture. But if he can’t use the credit within the next year, he may not be happy with the latest offer. He’d really prefer a full refund of his fare.

I’m on the fence. Had USA 3000 Airlines canceled his outbound flight, then this would be an open-and-shut case. Yes, he’d be owed a full refund on his air fare.

It’s complicated by the fact that USA 3000 is shutting down in a few weeks. Even if he had tried to use his credit by Oct. 31, he probably wouldn’t have been able to. And the fact that USA 3000’s parent company, Apple Vacations, is offering Caravelli a full refund on his resort stay only confuses the issue, at least for him.

(Photo: Fox Insane/Flickr)

20 thoughts on “USA 3000 Airlines meets grounded passenger “halfway” after hurricane cancellation

  1. I’ve never even heard of the airline, and after looking at their history I don’t think that’s all that unusual.  It sounds like they’re practically a charter flight operation for Apple Vacations, rather than an actual airline.

    Now I’ve personally flown into a city with a hurricane bearing down, so I know how that can go.  My flight actually left, but if it were one or two days later the flight would have been cancelled.  I did find two nights at separate hotels and a boat tour automatically cancelled as a result of the storm.

    1. The actual name of the company is “Brendan Airways, LLC” and they are owned by Apple Vacations.  I think it’s odd that in this article Apple is pretending that Brendan Airways, d/b/a USA 3000, is a separate organization when it isn’t really. However that kind of obfuscation is typical in the charter airline business, which is sort of at the bottom of the jet airline industry.  (Technically Brendan is a scheduled carrier, as you can book seats without an associated Apple vacation, but they don’t really market themselves separately which is why no one has heard of them.)

      1. Actually, it is owned by the same people who own Apple Vacations, but is operated as a separate entity.  The same people also own AM Resorts and AMSTAR tours (ground handlers), and although Apple also uses these, other companies do as well.  And just for the record, this was a small airline, but over 75% of their flights were scheduled ones, and not chartered to Apple for their tours.

        1. I understood that they had actual schedules and could theoretically be booked by someone who wasn’t a direct customer of Apple Vacations.  However, it appears that the vast bulk of their customer base was booked through Apple Vacations, which is where I inserted the “practically” comment.

          I remember the days when Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays used to charter flights, although I understand they never owned any aircraft.

          1. PHH had a special contract with ATA.  When ATA folded they got a special contract with UA but so far for 2012, no special contract.  Apple is a pain, as the OP has found out.

  2. I wonder if Apple Vacations would have gone to greater lengths on behalf of their client if it had been an airline they didn’t have a stake in. Seems like a conflict of interest for them to try and represent both themselves and the traveler.

  3. He deserved it ALL back, in real cash, not airline funny money!

    Also, what is with Apple Vacations? It seems every tour operator complaint on this site involves them. Are they the Carnival of tour operators or what?!?!

  4. I voted no, I don’t think they refunded him enough, I really do think he should be fully refunded.  I also think there are a lot of problems which could have been avoided by not choosing a “Fly-by-night” carrier.
    The COC states:  “In the event the refund is required because of USA 3000 Airlines failure to operate or refusal to transport.”  I don’t think lawyers even wrote that, it doesn’t even define the “event.”  Failure to operate sounds to me like it’s a problem within the airlines control.  Most airlines clearly outline a refund will only be given if the situation is within the airlines control, such as a mechanical. Weather, typically does not result in a refund.  I am actually surprised United gave a refund rather than a full credit with 1 year to use without a change fee.
    Also, not only did the OP choose one of those ultra-cheap micro charter appear-and-disappear carriers, but $190 per person is pretty cheap to begin with for a ticket to Mexico, so I am assuming the ticket was non-refundable.  Again, it is atypical for a non-refundable ticket to be refunded when weather causes a flight to cancel, even with a major airline.  I typically see the airline let the passenger rebook at no fee for up to a year.  But the risk of a fly-by-night carrier is that they will go out of business.
    As for the hotel, that’s comparing apples to oranges (No pun intended).  In my experience, most hotels are fully refundable.  I do occasionally see offers to save a few bucks for a non-refundable rate, but I never choose those just in case.  So I would assume the OPs hotel was refundable, and the airline ticket was not, unless more information is provided.
    This reminds me of the time I showed up in Indianapolis for an ATA flight and the airline employees were packing up and told me they went out of business.  That was a $90 ticket to FL.  I never did get my money back.  But then again, I chose a $90 ticket over $300+ on other carries.  It seems the cheep always comes out expensive.

  5. I don’t see why this is so complicated. This seems a clear-cut case to me.

    The narrative is not clear how exactly the flights were booked. If they were booked as a part of the vacation package from Apple, he’s entitled to a full refund, of course. That’s a no-brainer.

    If he booked the round-trip flight on one reservation, and the return flight was canceled, this effectively cancels the entire booking, and he’s also entitled to a full refund.

    If he booked the flights separately, he’s on the hook. He’s not entitled to anything.

  6.  Next time I’m asked to pay an airline fee at the airport, I’ll offer to pay in “ChrisBucks” instead of cash or a credit card.  They’re good everywhere and anytime I say they’re good. 

  7. What is complicated? The only situation where the Caravelli should be on the hook, is if he booked the flight to Cancun on USA 3000 on his own, independently of the “package” Apple as the “travel agent” and “tour operator” should stand by its product. Frankly, Apple Vacation’s “gesture of goodwill” is an insult.

    Technically speaking, USA 3000 is correct. According to its COC, it doesn’t owe Caravelli anything. However, common sense dictates that in this situation, Caravelli could not take the flight due to the tour operator aka Apple Vacations offering to cancel. An honest, ethical company (heck even United airlines refunded without questions asked), would have refunded the flight without a blink of an eye.

    No wonder USA 3000 is shutting down. If this is the way it does business, it does not deserve to be in operation. If this is the way Apple Vacations as the “travel agent” and “tour operator” does business, it also should not be in operation.

  8. If this was sold as a package tour, then the whole package should be refunded completely.
    Makes me wonder if this is another case where travel insurance is a must have.

  9. If the package was booked through Apple Vacations, they should be responsible for the entire package, not just whatever they choose. Same as if I book an American Eagle flight, American is responsible for their performance, not a company DBA American Eagle. 

  10. I’m a bit confused.  His trip was cancelled due to an upcoming hurricane and the airline is refusing to refund him?  They cancelled his vacation and then wanted him to reschedule it within a month? 

    He is owed a refund, no question.  I’d be contacting my credit card if I were him.  Why isn’t Apple, who is his travel company AND his travel agent working on this for him?   

    As a side note I had no idea USA 3000 was owned by Apple.  I flew them to Cancun (I booked the flight myself online) a few years ago and was wondering how it was that I was the ONLY person on the flight who wasn’t on an Apple vacation.  Now it makes sense. 

    1. The flight wasn’t cancelled.  Apparently Apple Vacations treated it as if they were dealing with a carrier with its own rules, when in reality they were taking the money from the customer and just paying another division of the same company.

      I mentioned that I flew into town with a hurricane bearing down.  It was Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ernesto back in 2006 coming into Miami.  I’m not sure what would have happened had I bailed on the trip.  I had the option of cancelling my main hotel reservation without penalty, but I booked a nonrefundable airfare on American because the alternative was to pay more than four times as much for full fare.  My single night stays in Islamorada and Key West were automatically cancelled because of a mandatory evacuation of the Florida Keys.  I flew in taking my chances.  I was hoping that the storm would take a different direction.  When it didn’t, I showed up early at a hotel where I reserved for 5 days, and they gave me the same rate for a full 7 days, where I holed up for a couple of days as a rather weak storm passed through south Florida.

  11. Apple doesn’t take direct bookings, or so they say (wink, wink).  So how did the OP book this as there is no mention of a travel consultant being involved in this.  Apple has low prices on this charter because they own it but when you book with Apple in their terms and conditions will state how they handle refunds, which is usually with vouchers, not cash.  If you don’t like what you read, don’t book with them.  I do not and will not sell Apple packages.

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