No, this isn’t “Let’s Make a Deal” and you shouldn’t pay to reveal your itinerary!

Robert Neal’s claim that he was forced to pay for his upcoming trip to Iceland before his itinerary would be revealed to him had us wondering what kind of travel agency offers such secretive trips. And why? As you have probably already guessed, there is more to the story.

Neal first contacted us by forwarding his Guide to Iceland itinerary and a post-booking transcript of his conversation with a representative of the agency. He provided us no further explanation except “I want a refund.”

His story is certainly one of the stranger ones that our advocacy team has encountered; but as is always the case, there is a lesson to be learned. Booking vacations on the internet can be very easy, but it is critical to make sure that you know what you are purchasing before you pay — not after.

As the name would imply, Guide to Iceland is a company that books trips within Iceland. No airfare is involved.

We forwarded Neal’s vague complaint to our help forums. There he added a little more detail to his complaint.

I signed up for a four-day, three-night stopover tour in Reykjavik for next April 26. I paid to get the itinerary. The plan proved to be 2 all day tours only and was overpriced. I asked for a refund and was told I could only get 85 percent back. I am still trying to get a complete refund.

Our forum staff struggled to get Neal to explain exactly how this booking occurred. It appeared that he was suggesting that he blindly booked a four-day tour without knowing the details of what he was actually buying.

Would someone really do that? The forum staff and guests were skeptical.

In a subsequent post, he finally clarified his version of what happened:

“I still don’t think you understand my complaint. I was required to pay and accept the terms BEFORE I could find out exactly what I was paying for. Then I canceled because I was getting two days of tours instead of the implied three.”

Yes, Neal would have us believe that he handed over $2,000 to an online travel agency for a “mystery” tour.

This immediately called to mind the old Monty Hall show “Let’s Make a Deal.” In that show, the contestants were asked to trade something good for some hidden item behind a wall or in a box. Sometimes, what was revealed was a fabulous prize… but other times, what was revealed was a “zonk” of little or no value.

This format works great for a game show, but for travel, not so much.

It seems Neal was telling us that he had received a “zonk” in exchange for his $2,000.

We went to Guide to Iceland’s website to see how this travel scheme operates. Try as we might, we could not find one tour that required prepayment before the details of the tour were revealed. In fact, the website is very thorough in their explanation of all the tours that are offered; including the one that Neal booked.

Neal claims that he only saw some vague descriptions of what he might be purchasing and that he was only given access to the detailed itinerary after he made his full payment. He says that after he received the itinerary, it was not to his liking. So, he canceled and requested a refund.

Guide to Iceland referred him to its cancellation policy and confirmed an 85-percent refund. Neal claims that he never saw the cancellation policy either.

Now we were further perplexed by Neal’s complaint. How could he have been looking at the same website that we looked at and not seen the detailed description of the tour or the cancellation policy?

So, we went to Neal’s initial email to us to get some answers.

In reviewing the dialogue between the representative of Guide to Iceland and Neal, he seemed to be aware of the itinerary during the post-booking confirmation process. In fact, he had booked the entire tour himself through their website prior to speaking to anyone at Guide to Iceland.

Several days after his booking was confirmed, he sent an email to this representative and, in his usual brief writing style, wrote only “Our plans changed. I want a refund.”

So, Neal’s complaints about the itinerary began after his plans “changed.” When the agent points to the 85 percent refund policy, Neal then takes an aggressive stance saying that he will report Guide to Iceland to the tourism board and to his credit card if he does not receive a 100 percent refund.

FYI: Remember to make sure that you are on the right side of your contract’s terms and conditions before you make such threats. Otherwise, they are idle.

The agent referred Neal back to the terms of service, stating:

The cancellation policy is clearly stated under Terms and Conditions on our site, directly under the booking button listed as ‘Terms of Service.’ Upon finalizing payment, you once again pass another button stating that by continuing you adhere to the terms and conditions listed on the site.

We can’t help Neal get a 100 percent refund. Regardless of whether he read the displayed terms of his contract or not, he must comply with them. We did recommend that if he is truly unhappy with this particular tour then he should accept his refund and do a little more research. As one of our forum moderators explained to him, “It is your responsibility to do the research before you book the trip.”

When you are booking your own trip, remember that you are acting as your own travel agent. Find out exactly what you are buying and, also, find out what it will cost if it is necessary to cancel. These are two very important parts of a successful self-booking travel experience.

We hope Neal is able to find an agreeable tour of Iceland. It is a beautiful country with friendly people and certainly worth his time to do a little research to find his perfect tour.

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