When French America Line fails, a credit card chargeback can help

When French America Line cancels Frank Magarowicz’ second scheduled cruise, his story becomes one of an increasing number of refund complaints against the company and its sister company, Uncommon Journeys. But is there anything we can do to help?

Question

I came upon your site while looking for contact information on French America Line river cruises. We booked a river trip on the Plantation Celebration for May 2017. French America Line canceled that cruise because of “boat problems.” The company gave us a choice of a total refund ($12,144) or an alternate trip on the Plantation Pioneer. We decided to take the second cruise.

That trip was in doubt because of ongoing problems. Then the company told us that could cancel and receive a refund.  We decided to cancel and called French America Line reservations. The representative verified the cancellation and the amount to be returned to our credit card account.

In follow up calls to French America Line, this same representative informed me that all refund requests should go to the accounting department. I have repeatedly tried to call the number and only reached a voice mail. I’ve sent e-mails, but have gotten no response. We are a retired couple who would much appreciate any help in getting our $12,144 back. We could surely use these funds for other purposes. — Frank Magarowicz, Henderson, Colo.

Answer

I’m very sorry to hear that your vacation with French America Line never happened. Even more frustrating than your missed vacation must be the continued delay of your promised refund.

Asking for a refund after the second cruise cancellation was the best choice you could have made. A second cruise cancellation that isn’t weather-related is probably an indication of more significant problems. In fact, yours isn’t the first story we have heard about a failed vacation planned through French America Line or its partner company, Uncommon Journeys.

Related story:   Why did United cancel my return flight?

In a recent story about French America Line, we helped a reader get a promised refund after the company’s initial check bounced. And in another story (Uncommon Journeys to a refund), we set our own rules aside to help a travel agent obtain a refund for her clients from Uncommon Journeys, French America Line’s partner company — but we were unable to help the agent collect her own promised refund. Cases brought to us that involve Uncommon Journeys cancellations reach back to March.

You tried contacting the accounting office multiple times but never received your refund. Eventually, you contacted our advocacy team. Michelle Couch-Friedman, our executive director, handled your case personally.

Reaching out to Christopher Kyte of French America Line

Friedman reached out to French America Line on your behalf. A representative told her that only the CEO could authorize a refund. Both companies are owned by Christopher Kyte. He was initially responsive and helpful to all our advocates in resolving the earlier cases. Unfortunately, now he has stopped communicating with us.

I visited the French America Line website and noted that the last cruise that is listed is one that ends on Jan. 6, 2018. The company advertises no sailings past that date. I also couldn’t find any future cruise dates on any of the online travel agency websites. While I couldn’t find any announcements that either company is planning to cease operations, that’s not a good sign — cruise lines typically publish their sailing dates at least a year in advance.

Friedman told you that we have received many similar complaints about both French America Line and Uncommon Journeys. Kyte hasn’t explained the missing refunds. And now he has stopped communicating with our advocacy team entirely.

Related story:   A United Airlines error sent us on a one-way trip

Some travel insurance policies cover company bankruptcies and insolvency. Had you purchased a policy with that coverage, you might have been able to recover your money through the insurance company.

The good news for you

Fortunately, you used a credit card to pay for your cruise. So that left you with another important option: a chargeback. The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers in transactions like this, and Friedman suggested you pursue that option with your credit card company.

The credit card company quickly processed your request and refunded your money. While I do not recommend that consumers start with a chargeback, once other efforts are exhausted, a credit card chargeback can often enable you to recover your money in the case of company insolvency.

March 2018: Since this article first appeared last December, our advocacy team has continued to receive a steady stream of customers of both French America Line and Uncommon Journeys. Unfortunately, it appears that the only way to receive a refund from either company is to file a chargeback. 

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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