For John Smith, being told that he could not receive a Your Man Tours refund added insult to injury.
It was bad enough that Your Man Tours (a brand of YMT Vacations) had canceled his vacation. Now he was being offered a credit with no guarantee that he could use it before it expired. This didn’t sit well with Smith. So he embarked on a journey to receive a cash refund — with help from Elliott Advocacy.
Unfortunately, many travel companies that can’t operate because of the coronavirus pandemic are limiting refund options to credits with expiration dates. Like Smith, their customers cannot be sure they will ever be able to use those credits. The three Ps — patience, persistence and politeness — are the key to winning cash refunds from travel companies that insist on giving credits.
Their “trip of a lifetime” would not take place
In January, Smith and his wife booked a 13-day “Hawaiian Escape” tour for May through YMT Vacations. They paid $4,642 for the trip, using his Chase credit card. But in April, YMT Vacations announced that it was suspending all its travel operations because of the coronavirus pandemic.
YMT sent the Smiths a letter indicating it would “waive fees and penalties and provide a future travel credit for 100% of your land, cruise, river cruise and optional tour payments. … This credit may be used on any future YMT Vacation.”
But there was a disclaimer at the bottom of the letter: “Your future travel credit reservation is set to expire two years from [the] date of issue and is non-transferable.”
Smith is 76 years old. He could not be sure that he would ever be able to use that credit. He needed a Your Man Tours refund.
“Unfortunately, we are not offering refunds”
Smith wrote to YMT Vacations requesting a refund of his tour fees:
In light of the cancellation of our 4 Island Hawaiian Vacation starting May 20, 2020, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we would like to request that our money of $4,642 be refunded. I don’t see where we will be vacationing anytime soon, and that is a lot of money to be without. We are both retired. Please let us know when we can expect our refund.
But YMT’s “travel consultant” responded that the only compensation available was “future travel credits.” She promised to forward his email to the “proper department” at YMT Vacations, and that “someone should be getting back to you in the next week.”
Another YMT employee reiterated that “At this time it is YMT’s policy to offer a future travel credit (FTC), which is industry standard.” She noted that YMT’s future travel credits generally expire after one year, but the company was extending this period to two years.
Frustrated, Smith asked Elliott Advocacy for help in obtaining a Your Man Travels refund.
Was Smith entitled to a Your Man Tours refund?
Not according to YMT Vacations’ terms and conditions, which contain the following provision:
YMT reserves the right to make changes [to] its program prior to or during the operation, with or without notice, due to operational, climatic conditions or for any reasons beyond the control of YMT. The itinerary descriptions are guaranteed with the exception of unforeseen conditions including but not limited to … acts of God, … or other travel restrictions.
Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, noted that “Many travel companies, most likely to remain solvent, are invoking these or force majeure clauses in providing credit and moving booking dates to another time.” And our advocates have struggled to negotiate successful outcomes with these companies for people asking for our help.
But Dwayne reached out to YMT Vacations, hoping for a satisfactory resolution.
This case called for desperate measures
YMT Vacations never responded to Dwayne’s contact. Smith never heard anything further regarding his request for a Your Man Tours refund either. So he initiated a chargeback with Chase.
Even Chase initially wasn’t helpful. For unknown reasons, it closed Smith’s case without pursuing it. Smith called Chase, which suggested that he try again.
After Smith sent Chase over 15 pages of documentation, Chase credited a full Your Man Tours refund back to his account.
So how long should you wait for a pre-pandemic refund?
In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, our publisher, Christopher Elliott, advised that patience is the key to obtaining a coronavirus-related refund. His advice still holds true six months later.
Patience is one of the three Ps of consumer advocacy. As the coronavirus pandemic continues with no immediate end in sight, many travelers find it harder to observe those three Ps. Yet they are still a consumer’s best friends in this crisis.
Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, has pointed out that “The reality is that it looks like the coronavirus will disrupt our travel plans for months to come.” With reduced staff and operations, travel companies need more time to resolve complaints. And with deep cuts in their revenues, they will be ever more reluctant to issue cash refunds.
How to request a cash refund from a travel company
But don’t forget about those other two Ps: politeness and persistence. Even if a travel company insists that it will only offer credits for future travel, here’s what you can do to pursue a cash refund:
- Write a politely worded letter to the company. Our contacts database contains executive contacts for hundreds of companies. (As of this writing, executive contacts for YMT Vacations are pending.)
- Start by writing to the lowest-ranking executive and allowing that person a week to respond. Then escalate to the next highest ranking executive. Repeat as necessary. Don’t start with the company’s CEO. If the CEO doesn’t give you a satisfactory response, there’s nowhere else at the company to take your request.
- Include a paper trail documenting your interactions with the company, including emails, confirmations and receipts. These provide evidence of the company’s obligations to you. A solid paper trail is crucial for advocating your case. Our advocates won’t be able to assist you without it.
- Be concise and courteous in your letters. Don’t use aggressive language, include a laundry list of complaints, use all caps (the equivalent of shouting), or make accusations or threats. These actions are generally counterproductive because they alienate executives rather than motivating them to help you.
- Refrain from legal action and negative publicity, such as hostile online posts, while trying to self-advocate your case. These are nuclear options.
- Although Smith won a chargeback against YMT Vacations, we don’t advise this course of action unless all else fails. A chargeback should always be a last resort.
And finally, our advocates at Elliott Advocacy stand by to help you!