Charged even more after they canceled his $30,000 cruise

Can a cruise line cancel a sailing because of lack of interest? Can it rebook you on the next available cruise, but charge you more?
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Is this enough compensation? You missed your deadline — here’s a voucher

It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime for Johanna Robles and her extended family of 19, which included her husband, children and grandchildren. But when she tried to book the “Great Rivers of Europe” tour through Grand Circle Travel, the experience was less than great.

Since Robles and her husband were paying for the entire cruise — we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars — they wanted to make sure they understood the terms of their deposit. By the way, they’re clearly disclosed on GCT’s site.
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An Australia tour that wasn’t meant to be

Question: My friend and I recently booked a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji through Grand Circle Travel. The trip never happened, and now it looks as if it never will, even though I bought travel insurance.

Our flight from Boston to Los Angeles was delayed because of a mechanical problem. When it was fixed, we couldn’t fly because our crew had timed out. The flight was eventually canceled.

The soonest our airline could get to Los Angeles was five days later. I called Grand Circle Travel, and a representative instructed me to call her back when I knew our new flight plans so they could connect us with the rest of the tour in Australia.

We found another flight from Washington, and took a bus from Boston to Washington. We made it as far as Maryland before the bus stalled outside of Baltimore — another mechanical delay. We missed our flight.

At this point, we had no connection on Qantas from Los Angeles and had lost the majority of the Australia portion of the trip. One of the most important things we were looking forward to was swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and taking underwater photographs. We decided to cancel. My insurance company only refunded me $750 of $5,400 I spent. Is there anything you can do to help? — Rebecca Canter, Portland, Maine

Answer: Your trip really wasn’t meant to happen. Trust me on this. After two mechanical delays and a missed flight, can you imagine what would have awaited you in Australia? Think of that swim on the reef. Think great white sharks and box jellyfish.

Aren’t you glad you stayed home?
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A canceled cruise, a missing refund

Question: We’re having a problem with a travel insurance claim, and need some help sorting it out. We recently booked a European river cruise through Grand Circle Travel. Since my husband and I are both over 80 years old, we were interested in a trip cancellation policy, in case we couldn’t make it.

We called and spoke with a Grand Circle representative to clarify that their insurance would cover us. We were assured that we would receive a full refund if a cancellation were necessary. His exact words were, “You can cancel anytime — even up to the last day — and receive your money back.”

Because of a problem with my husband’s spine, we had to cancel our cruise. We filed a claim, but after much back and forth with Grand Circle, we were referred to its insurance company, TripMate.

They have refused a refund and have issued travel vouchers that must be used in a year and are not transferable. To take advantage of the vouchers it would involve a long flight, and I am not able to do this. We would greatly appreciate any help you can give us with this matter. — Sylvia Sweeney, Summerfield, Fla.

Answer: If Grand Circle promised a full refund for your cruise, you should get a refund. But did the company really guarantee an unconditional refund if you had to cancel for any reason?

Most travel insurance policies come with pages of fine print, including exceptions for pre-existing conditions, bad weather or other unforeseen events. That should have been clearly explained to you when you booked your trip — not when you were making a claim.

Either the Grand Circle representative with whom you spoke made assurances about your policy that were overly broad, and ultimately misleading, or you didn’t understand what he said. That’s the trouble with phone conversations: there’s no written transcript, and the conversation can easily be misinterpreted.

Grand Circle should have either offered to send you a brochure with the documentation on the policy or pointed you to a place on its Web site where you could read the details. Telling you that you can cancel “anytime” and you can receive a full refund — if, indeed, he said that, left you with the impression that you were totally protected. I don’t know if there’s any kind of policy that can offer full protection.

Next time you book a vacation, take a little time to review the fine print. Remember, talk is cheap. When you call the sales department, they’ll tell you what they need to make the sale. (That’s why they call it the sales department.) If someone makes a claim that seems too good to be true, ask for it in writing.

Some large travel companies record their sales calls, so it might be possible to go back to the tape and review the promises that were made. Certainly, if you decide to make a reservation by phone, it helps to take good notes, including the name and extension of the representative who helped you.

Grand Circle shouldn’t have deferred to its insurance company. If it made a claim about your insurance that wasn’t true, then it needs to make this up to you. And a voucher is not a “full refund” that you were originally offered.

I contacted Grand Circle, and it refunded you $5,595 — the full amount of your cruise.