Send this lady the whale guarantee letter

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By Christopher Elliott

If you’ve ever been to Vancouver in the summer, you probably know that you have to see the whales.

That’s what Susan Dryburgh wanted to do, and it seemed like a sure thing. She’d booked a zodiac tour of the bay with an operation called Prince of Whales, which offers a whale sighting guarantee.

But then — no whales!

Dryburgh, who lives in Philadelphia, decided to invoke the whale guarantee. Here’s the relevant fine print:

If you come out with us between April and the end of October, and you do not see a whale, we would like to invite you to come back and try again!

Your second trip will be on board the Ocean Magic, which is our larger covered vessel. We allow you to book confirmed seats on our 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. departures.

If you would like to join us on our 12:15 p.m. departure, you will be added to our standby list. This means that as long as the trip is confirmed, and we have room, you can join the trip free of charge.

You are welcome to use this offer more than once if need be. The bottom line is that we want you to see whales and we are willing to take you out as many times as it takes. This offer never expires and is valid throughout your lifetime.

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Ah, so they’ll offer a do-over. Not a bad deal, but as they say in consumerland, some restrictions apply. The fine print can be complicated.

Is this lifetime guarantee just a gimmick?

Dryburgh asked for a refund of the whale-watching portion of her trip. The company shouldn’t have been running a tour on that day, she argues.

“Part of that trip was through five-foot waves and the captain of the boat remarked that it would be hard to see a three-foot fin in that water,” she says. “I certainly did not expect to be reimbursed for the entire trip, since we used this as transportation between Victoria and Vancouver.”

The “guarantee” is impractical for her to use, too.

“While it is nice that they offer a lifetime guarantee to see whales on another trip, this is not a viable option for us as we live in Pennsylvania and it is not likely that we will return to British Columbia for many years,” she says. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

Prince of Whales’ response? A form letter saying “no”:

All wild whale watching companies here do offer the same stated guarantee. But at Prince of Whales we still go the extra distance to ensure this guarantee is rarely needed because we make the best possible effort on everyone’s first adventure by building the fastest boats in the industry, covering the greatest distance every day to have those best chances.

We are however very clear we do not offer monetary refunds for no-whale days. Our tariffs go to pay our professional staff and fuel the boats for the search for these common but still very much wild and elusive animals.

Please take solace that uniquely at Prince of Whales our trips are designed so the trip is more than whales alone, but also transportation as you noted on your particular tour of choice, and all of our tours engage with a full interpretive program with very personal service.

Dryburgh wrote a polite but firm rebuttal:

I understand your position that we got value from our trip in the form of the information from your naturalist and transportation to Vancouver, which is why I did not ask for a full refund of the trip.

I had hoped for a partial refund for each of the four passengers in our group and would be satisfied with a $50 per person refund.

I am concerned that although you offer a lifetime guarantee for your tours, your company may go out of business before we can return.

That didn’t do much good. Here’s the final “no.”

The hardest part of educating about animals in the wild for a living is keeping people happy on the days when the animals elude us.

I can only offer again that the costs for these boat based adventures are already spent whether animals are successfully located or whether they have traveled to parts unknown. As much as I wish we could operate in such a manner that everyone gets money back if wild animals are missed, it is simply impossible to do so.

I also appreciate you understanding that we are the only whale watchers who have gone the extra mile to include so much more value than just whales alone. Any other company’s boat that day simply got a whale watching trip with no whales. So you certainly made the right selection.

As for us going out of business, no one predicts the future, of course, but next year will mark our twentieth year in operation. A real milestone because we have been growing and building every year since the dawn of whale watching in BC and Washington. We have no plans to be going anywhere.

Dryburgh thinks it’s unfair and wants a refund — and she wants me to help her get it. Is the whale guarantee worth anything? Perhaps if you live close by or have extra time while you’re visiting Seattle or Vancouver. But if you’re flying back to Philly, no. Your money is gone.

I’m not sure if my advocacy team and I can, or should, advocate for Dryburgh. I mean, we’re talking about whales here; they don’t exactly come when they’re called. At the same time, a careless glance at the “guarantee” might lead you to believe you’ll see whales, or your money back.

Should I mediate Susan Dryburgh's case?

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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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