Coronavirus concerns made me cancel my tour. Where is my refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

When coronavirus concerns cause Patricia Fuja to cancel her West Coast tour, she tries to get a refund from her tour operator. But why is it taking so long?

Question

Last October, I booked a Pacific Northwest and California trip with Collette Tours. At that time, I paid $519, which included a $250 deposit and $269 for travel insurance. The tour is scheduled for May.

Then the coronavirus outbreak happened. Because of my age and health issues, I decided to cancel the tour in early March and go after coronavirus is no longer a concern.

My deposit is supposed to be entirely refundable. I have called Collette several times to find out the status of my refund, which has not yet been credited to my card, and continue to get no positive results. I want the $250 deposit refunded. Can you help me? — Patricia Fuja, Naperville, Il.

Answer

I’m sorry you’re going to miss your tour of the Pacific Northwest.

If the deposit for your tour is refundable, you should receive the $250 back quickly. The question is, how quickly?

You canceled in early March when the rest of the world also canceled its vacations over coronavirus concerns. Collette Tours, like every other tour operator in the world, faced a catastrophic scenario. Everyone wanted their money back — now.

I think you should give any company a minimum of 30 days to process a refund under extraordinary circumstances like these. There really is no precedent for cancellations on this scale. It’s never happened before, not even after 9/11. I know because I wrote this same column after 9/11. (Related: Is my coronavirus emergency flight refundable?)

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You’re lucky that you booked a tour with Collette. It’s one of a few tour operators issuing full money-back refunds, as opposed to travel vouchers, during the coronavirus outbreak. Some tour operators are returning money but charging fees to cover their losses, which they can do under their contract (which no one reads). But Collette is a straight shooter and didn’t do any of that.

Should travelers who cancel future tours over coronavirus concerns ask for a refund or voucher?

Your request brings up an interesting question: Should travelers concerned about coronavirus go for a full refund or a voucher? I’ve spoken with a lot of consumers (including my mother) who insist we should be asking for a credit. After all, if everyone asks for a refund, we could kill the airlines, cruise lines and hotels we rely on for our vacations. I think that’s a valid point, and one worth considering before you demand all your money back. (Related: Vaccine rules put Disney on Ice on ice. Can I get my money back?)

But your case was a little different. You were within the window for a full refund of your tour, and the terms of the purchase were clear — you could get a refund. So you weren’t asking for any special favors from Collette. Here’s my free guide to booking a tour, which contains more helpful information about fixing a tour problem. Also, check out my tips on getting a refund for a tour.

You could have appealed this issue to an executive at Collette if this had dragged on for more than a month. But you contacted me after only a few weeks, which isn’t enough time for Collette to process your refund. At a time like this, it’s just not practical to expect a fast refund. I never thought I would write those words. Blame coronavirus. (Related: American Queen changed its COVID protocols — can I get a refund?)

My advocacy team and I contacted Collette on your behalf. A representative told me that its standard procedure is to process a refund in 7 to 10 business days. “However, the COVID-19 outbreak has led to unprecedented levels of changes to existing bookings disrupting normal operations and timelines,” she added.

Collette issued a refund to your credit card for $250.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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