When Randy Scott plans a vacation to Greece, he turns to a travel agent who specializes in guided tours for help. Smart move, right? Unfortunately, not in this case. When Scott winds up canceling, this formerly friendly specialist goes MIA and takes his deposit with her.
Scott’s story is a hard lesson to learn: Not all travel agents are created equal and when you engage one that you know nothing about, you may end up regretting it.
“When I was planning my trip, I found Greece by Astro Tours online,” Scott recalled. “I sent a $2,000 deposit for this guided tour. A full deposit refund was indicated if a cancellation occurred before May 15th.”
Scott canceled the vacation 30 days before the deadline. The contract stipulated that he was entitled to a refund of the entire deposit.
In fact, the owner of the agency confirmed via email that the check would soon be on its way:
I understand that sometimes circumstances force us to cancel. I will be glad to do the full refund for the deposit. It will be done on May 15th when I finalize the number of people that are going and at that time refund the ones that are canceling.
May 15th came and went and no refund appeared in Scott’s mailbox. Throughout the summer, Scott received periodic updates on the status of his anticipated check.
At the end of August, Scott received his final email from the owner of Astro Tours:
I am in Greece and will return to Ohio on Sunday. I will contact you to let you know that your refund is being done, right away. I apologize I did not send it before I left for Greece. It was a very busy time trying to finalize this large group, I am very very sorry. I will do it as soon as I return.
Since that time, the owner has ignored all of Scott’s emails and phone calls. The pleasantries between the two are over.
When I reviewed Scott’s paper trail, I thought this case would be a simple one to resolve. After all, the contract had clear cancellation terms and the owner had already acknowledged that she owed Scott the $2,000 refund. So I contacted Astro Tours and waited for its response.
And waited. And waited.
You get the picture. No one at Astro Tours responded.
I sent another inquiry to the owner directly. I asked her what was holding up the promised refund of Scott’s deposit.
In my fourth, and last, attempt to get an explanation from the owner, I told her we would be writing an article about Scott’s experience with her company. She ignored that email as well.
It is highly unusual for a company to completely ignore a mediation attempt. Most agencies do not want to appear unreasonable, especially with the implication that a story may be published about the situation.
But Astro Tours appears to have no interest in responding to our mediation attempts or Scott’s request for his refund.
So what can he do now?
When a traveler has a dispute against a travel professional it may be possible to ask for help from The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). This agency can provide assistance in mediating problems with members of the organization.
But a check of Astro Tours (and of the owner) shows that this agency is not a member.
My next suggestion was to initiate a credit card chargeback for the deposit. That wasn’t possible either, because Scott had paid the deposit with a check.
That was a mistake.
When making a purchase with a credit card, a consumer has the protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). If Scott had paid this deposit with his credit card, he would have had the muscle of his bank behind him. This travel agent would not have had the option to ignore the requests for the return of the deposit. The credit card company would have taken it back. And Scott would have received his refund.
Unfortunately for Scott, the protections that consumers enjoy under the FCBA do not extend to purchases made with cash or checks.
The only other recourse Scott has is to file a small claims lawsuit against this agency. And he intends to do so.
I hate that this case is ending in the Case Dismissed file. Scott has a contract on his side and written proof that this agent owes him the $2,000 refund. It is disappointing that this travel “professional” has made a small claims lawsuit his only option to recoup his money.