Great Value Vacations’ mistakes led to a ruined trip for Mary Williams. At the last minute, she had to pay for a walk-up airfare to complete her vacation. What Williams and Great Value Vacations had was a failure to communicate.
Williams’ quest for a refund for her last-minute flight underscores the importance of a solid paper trail. This establishes the company’s obligations to the customer. If a travel company doesn’t honor those obligations, that paper trail is the foundation of successful advocacy to make the customer whole.
Her story is also a reminder that the three Ps of self-advocacy — politeness, patience and persistence — are a traveler’s best friend. Williams waited for months in frustration before turning to Elliott Advocacy for help in obtaining her refund.
Construction noise at night is no vacation
Williams and her sister purchased a “Discover Dubai” vacation package from Great Value Vacations for December 2019. The package included airfare on KLM, accommodations at the Zabeel House Mini Hotel and travel insurance through Trip Mate. The Zabeel House Mini Hotel has high ratings on many review sites, including 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. Following their stay in Dubai, the sisters were to travel to Egypt.
When they arrived at the Dubai airport, a driver was awaiting them. So were some unpleasant surprises.
The driver handed Williams a packet that included an updated itinerary, supposedly covered by a company called Kurban Tours. Williams had never booked with Kurban Tours and did not understand why this company was involved in her travel arrangements. She had received no communications from Kurban Tours before receiving this packet.
One of the itinerary changes was their hotel. Williams and her sister were now booked at a Hampton by Hilton instead of the Zabeel House Mini Hotel.
The Hampton by Hilton also has a 4.5-star rating. But it was located next to a construction site, where work went on throughout the day — and night. The sounds of hammering and drilling kept Williams and her sister awake.
A Great Value Vacations mistake: the new itinerary listed the wrong departure time
Williams and her sister initially were to fly out of Dubai to Cairo on a 12:30 p.m. flight. But the new itinerary contained another Great Value Vacations error. It now listed the departure flight time as 5:30 p.m.
According to the itinerary, a driver was supposed to take them to the airport at 2:30 p.m. But no driver ever arrived at the Hampton by Hilton to meet the sisters. Along with a hotel clerk, they made several frantic telephone calls to the number on their itinerary for Kurban Tours. But none of them was able to reach anyone at that number.
Williams and her sister took a cab to the airport, where more unpleasant surprises awaited them.
Still another Great Value Vacations mistake at the Dubai airport
When they arrived at the airport, Williams and her sister discovered that the flight listed on their updated itinerary did not exist.
They later learned that their flight had been changed to 12:10 p.m., and the airline treated them as no-shows. Yet again, Great Value Vacations had made a mistake. Nobody had communicated the new departure time to Williams and her sister. They paid $1,050 for new KLM tickets to Cairo on a flight that would depart five hours later.
Her complaint yielded only $200 in future travel credits
When Williams returned home, she filed a complaint with Great Value Vacations about her unhappy trip. She requested a refund of her walk-up airfares.
Great Value Vacations expressed sympathy for Williams’ disappointment and had its operations team look into the itinerary problems. It told her that it had “updated her traveler portal” on its website to notify her of the flight changes about five weeks before her trip.
But Great Value Vacations didn’t explain the changes to the itinerary or Kurban Tours’ role in the problems. And it offered the sisters only two $100 credits for future travel. This was a far cry from the $1,050 in walk-up airfares that they had paid.
Williams then filed a claim on her Trip Mate policy. But because her request for reimbursement was not a “covered issue,” Trip Mate denied her claim.
The terms and conditions weren’t in her favor
Unfortunately for Williams, Great Value Vacations’ terms and conditions were one-sided — against her.
Like other travel agencies, Great Value Vacations disclaims responsibility if travel companies change itineraries. Its terms and conditions specify that Great Value Vacations “is not responsible for and will not provide any refund for portions of trips missed due to canceled, rescheduled, or delayed flights.” And the terms and conditions contain no language obligating Great Value Vacations to notify its customers of changes to itineraries.
Even without a legal obligation to do so, Great Value Vacations should have communicated the hotel and flight changes directly to Williams. It should have worked with her to find acceptable lodging and flight alternatives. And it should have offered her reasonable compensation for her last-minute airfares rather than two paltry $100 credits.
Elliott Advocacy airlifts the missing refund
Williams turned to Elliott Advocacy for help in obtaining a refund for her vacation. Our advocate Dwayne Coward contacted Great Value Vacations on Williams’ behalf.
Her paper trail finally motivated Great Value Vacations to admit its mistakes. Its representative responded to Dwayne that “we now see that the travel voucher PDF that Ms. Williams printed was not updated with the new transfer pick up time and flight time.” The representative apologized and agreed to process a full refund for Williams’ last-minute airfares.
Getting a travel agency relationship off the ground
A travel agent’s primary responsibilities include communications with travel companies and customers. When it fails to meet them, as in Williams’ case, it can make the difference between a happy experience and a nightmare trip. And it can also result in significant financial consequences for its customers.
Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, notes that there are several steps you can take before booking with any travel provider:
- Check your agent’s credentials. Reputable agents are often members of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). And if you live in a state that requires a “seller of travel” to register its business, ask to see the agent’s registration. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy — Is this the worst travel agent ever?)
- Check online review sites and search engines, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Yelp, and Google for any complaints or negative reviews of your agent.
- Ask your agent for references. A travel agent should be able to provide you with the names of happy customers who will offer positive testimonials. A red flag should go up if the agent refuses to provide references.
- Ask trusted friends and relatives for recommendations.
- Ask your agent if it carries errors and omissions liability insurance.
(Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy — This is what happens when your travel agent never paid for your cruise)
If you have to bail out of a bad situation with a travel agent
If your travel agent isn’t there for you during your trip, we recommend the following course of action:
- As I note above, observe the three Ps of consumer advocacy in all your communications with your travel agent: politeness, patience and persistence.
- Email your travel agent for assistance. Our website contains a database of executive contacts for many companies, including travel agents such as Great Value Vacations. Write to the lowest-ranking executive and allow that person a week to respond. If that executive doesn’t offer you a satisfactory response, escalate to the next higher executive. Allow extra time for a response in emergencies such as the current coronavirus pandemic.
- Keep a paper trail of all your communications with your travel agent, including emails, receipts and confirmations. You’ll need it to establish what your travel agent owes you.
- Maintain a civil tone in all your communications with your travel agent. Shouting (using all caps), sarcasm, accusations and threats hurt your case.
- Stay off the telephone, social media and review sites while attempting to self-advocate with your travel agent. Don’t initiate a chargeback. That’s the nuclear option.
If this course of action proves futile, come to Elliott Advocacy. We are happy to help you!