Rocky Mountaineer canceled our tour of Canada and refused to refund our $6,339. Help!

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Christopher Elliott

Rocky Mountaineer canceled Kay Nelson’s rail tour through Canada last year. Then the tour operator gave itself permission to refuse her refund request and give her an expiring voucher instead. What’s happening here?

Question

I need your help getting a refund of $6,339 for a Canadian rail tour from Rocky Mountaineer. Our package included airport, train, and hotel transfers, with nights in Calgary, Banff, and Vancouver.

Rocky Mountaineer canceled the trip, scheduled for May 2020, which we booked in February 2020. The company offered a 110 percent nonrefundable credit to use against a new booking that can be applied to the 2021 season and would have had to have been used by the end of November.

I would prefer Rocky Mountaineer give me a full refund rather than credit for a trip we may not ever take.

Rocky Mountaineer has refused our direct request for a refund. I filed a chargeback through my credit card, but Visa sided with the tour operator. Is there anything you can do? — Kay Nelson, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Answer

Rocky Mountaineer should have offered you the choice of either a full refund or a credit. That’s the standard for a COVID cancellation. We’ve received many complaints during the pandemic just like yours in which companies have canceled a trip and kept the traveler’s money. By the way, here’s my free guide to booking a tour, which will help you avoid a situation like this. And here are my tips on getting a refund for a tour.

In your case, the tour operator’s cancellation policies on its site are one-sided regarding refunds. They tell you under what circumstances you can cancel and receive a partial refund, but they don’t address a cancellation by Rocky Mountaineer.

You have to dig deep into the company’s terms and conditions — and know a little French — to figure out your rights when it cancels a tour.

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Section 12 says, “Other than as a result of force majeure, Rocky Mountaineer will repay the deposit or charges for the itinerary or, where appropriate, a reasonable pro-rata share thereof.”

A force majeure is an unforeseen circumstance like a pandemic. In other words, if it’s an event beyond the control of your tour operator, and if it has to cancel, it gets to keep your money — and, presumably, will offer a credit.

It’s hard to argue with a contract you’ve already signed. That’s one of the reasons that you lost your credit card dispute. The Fair Credit Billing Act only allows a consumer to succeed against a merchant under specific circumstances, as I explain in my guide to credit card disputes.

Rocky Mountaineer responds to your refund request — through its lawyer.

But you could have reached out to someone higher up at the tour operator to plead your case. I explain how to escalate your request within a company in my comprehensive consumer problem-solving guide. We publish the names, numbers, and email addresses of the customer service contacts at Rocky Mountaineer in our company contacts database to make that process easy.

But I’m not sure that would have worked. Technically, you agreed to this contract, even though it may have conflicted with some state laws. And that’s why I recommended that you reach out to your Attorney General to find out if the agreement with Rocky Mountaineer might have run afoul of any North Carolina consumer protections.

You filed a complaint with your Attorney General. (FYI: Here’s how our readers can find their state’s attorney general. )

In response, you heard from a lawyer representing Rocky Mountaineer. The representative offered you a $1,900 refund for the portion of your trip that included some of your hotel stays. That’s less than you wanted, but you accepted the refund and will use the rest of the credit for a rail tour next summer.

 

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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 weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes 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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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