Without trip insurance, even a tragedy may not lead to a refund

Ethelynne Bates-Huffman had to cancel her trip to Norway, booked through Vantage Travel, for one of the most terrible of reasons: the sudden death of her husband. But her desperate plea to Vantage Travel for a refund of their trip fares did not result in compassionate treatment.

Bates-Huffman and her husband chose not to purchase travel insurance “since we were very firm on the travel and he was also only 66 years old and without any medical condition.” Had they done so, Bates-Huffman could have filed a claim on the policy to recover the cost of her trip.

But without it, she’s bereft of not only a spouse but also $8,200 in travel costs.

The Norway trip was a surprise birthday gift from Bates-Huffman to her husband, whose lifelong dream had been to see the aurora borealis. But 53 days before they were scheduled to depart on the trip, her husband drowned while snorkeling in Kauai, Hawaii.

Bates-Huffman wrote to Henry Lewis, CEO of Vantage Travel, asking for a refund of the trip fares. Here are excerpts from her letter:

Dear Mr. Henry Lewis,

Please help me. You are the only person who can as the leader/CEO of your organization.

Way back in September 2016, I booked a Norwegian trip for me and my spouse, Lindsay Huffman. The trip was fully paid for.

Sadly, my husband died by drowning in the island of Hawaii [sic].

I called to cancel the trip and was shocked to find out that only 35 percent of the fee will be refunded, because he died within 53 days from the departure. I was expecting to receive a full refund given the extenuating circumstances of his death, which had resulted in the cancellation of our trip. The cancellation was not a flimsy excuse to back out from our commitment, but just to give us the time needed to grieve, attend to funeral arrangements, coroner’s legal issues, flying back and forth to Hawaii to take care of Lindsay’s death/legal paperwork with my son…hence the cancellation of the trip. I don’t have any doubt that these spots will be filled given the popularity of the aurora borealis of Norway.

Please know that I have always had high regards to your commitment to your customers and I am appealing to your sympathy and kindness and look at this with your heart and do the right thing.

I plan to continue traveling with your company going forward if I am treated fairly in this matter.

My sincerest gratitude for your favorable response.

Ethelynne Bates-Huffman

The letter also included a list of Vantage trips previously taken by Bates-Huffman and her husband and a newspaper clipping about his drowning.

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Unfortunately for Bates-Huffman, the letter did not elicit what she considered a “compassionate” response. Bates-Huffman’s request for a refund was denied because she had canceled her trip only 53 days prior to its scheduled start date.

It’s possible that had Bates-Huffman made her initial request for a refund to a lower-ranking executive of Vantage Travel and allowed him or her sufficient time to respond before escalating her request through the hierarchy, and also kept her letter concise and refrained from suggesting that Vantage Travel could easily resell her travel package, she might have received a more favorable response.

Bates-Huffman then turned to our advocacy team for assistance. (Executive contact information for Vantage Travel appears in our website.)

However, Vantage Travel’s terms and conditions provide with regard to cancellations that

Vantage realizes that most people who cancel their reservations do so out of necessity. Nevertheless, cancellations are costly to administer and involve dedicated staff time and communications costs. Therefore, all cancellations made later than 24 hours after booking are subject to a nonrefundable administrative fee of $300 per person. Cancellations made within 24 hours of booking will be subject to the same fee, unless your reason for canceling given at the time of cancellation is your rejection of these terms and conditions. This fee does not include airline cancellation fees or the cost of nonrefundable travel protection plans. There may be additional cancellation fees associated with certain excursions or extensions. Please note, however, that reservations made after the final payment date are immediately subject to cancellation charges.

Vantage’s site also encourages the purchase of its Travel Protection Plan, which includes “cancel for any reason” and trip cancellation coverage, or other travel insurance.

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Before contacting Vantage Travel, our advocate asked Bates-Huffman if she had travel insurance coverage. But she responded aggressively to our inquiry. Here are excerpts:

Does this have to involve insurance to receive a full refund?
I find this absurd and inhumane on the part of Vantage or the carrier considering the circumstances around the demise of my husband that ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the Norway trip.

Please let me know if you are able to help me resolve this given the fact that you seem to be leaning towards travel insurance that I think is irrelevant. I don’t see why they have to be so greedy considering the situation. Is this what you call “Corporations do not have a heart?”

Please advise and be frank if you are able to help me resolve this matter since I don’t want to waste your time nor do I want my time wasted when I can pursue other recourse. Thank you.

P.S. If you read my email to the CEO in its entirety, you will realize that my husband and I have given them them tons of business and as a gesture of compassion, they should be able to set aside their profit mindset and consider using their human side instead.

Bates-Huffman also asked if she should take legal action against Vantage Travel. And that’s the last we heard from her. Although our response team advocates contacted Vantage Travel several times on her behalf, nobody at Vantage Travel ever responded to our inquiries, either.

We would have liked to help Bates-Huffman, but unfortunately, her lack of insurance coverage, aggressive tone, playing the victim card and contacting the wrong executive at Vantage Travel have apparently sunk her quest for a refund.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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