Did Overseas Adventure Travel or another tour company promise you a refund during the pandemic and then renege later? If so, you’re certainly not alone. One of the most frequent complaints we’re fielding involves tour operators changing contract terms after the coronavirus cancellation wave began.
The good news? One of the top tour operators has recently changed its stance once more — this time, in favor of its customers. If you’ve been battling for a refund from Overseas Adventure Travel or Grand Circle during the pandemic, you’re in luck. (Reprint)
Here’s the fabulous update from the Elliott Advocacy success files!
Help! My tour company promised me a refund, then gave me future travel credit instead
At the dawn of this global pandemic, the Elliott Advocacy team began to see unusual complaints. Some of these complaints involved companies previously not on our radar for negative consumer treatment. Customers were reporting that many travel companies were canceling their scheduled tours and then, after first offering a refund, ultimately refusing to fulfill the promise.
One of those companies was Overseas Adventure Travel, a division of Grand Circle. Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) has always been quite responsive to our team’s inquiries, and complaints have been minimal.
So when we started to receive complaints from consumers like Ngoc Tran, we began to take notice.
OAT called and canceled my trip (understandable). Both on the phone and by email, their representative said I could get a refund. On 3/6/20, I called to ask if it would also reimburse any extra fee (visa fee), and the agent assured me it would.
Since then, no communication from OAT except for marketing emails.
I have written emails and sent Harriet Lewis (vice-president) 2 certified letters.
I hope you can help me get a refund.
And the pleas for help began to flood the Elliott Advocacy team’s inbox
Then we heard from Doris Livezey.
I reserved Irish Adventure with OAT, division of Grand Circle Travel. They notified me that they had canceled our trip. I requested a refund. I have repeatedly asked for a refund and called and I spoke to Yarrow. This person told me I could only have a credit or reschedule my trip. Can you find out what’s going on? I want a refund!
And Beverly Stewart.
My travel companion and I had been watching the OAT website since March when things began shutting down. We had a $22,000 adventure to Africa planned. In an email to the support team on April 14, I said that since OAT had ‘postponed’ our trip until July 2021 and we WOULD NOT accept this as a possibility, we wanted a full refund. At that time OAT was asking the if you had a trip scheduled for June to not call until April 27. Then when I called on April 27, the support person said no refunds were available. The next day James from OAT called me to reintereiterate this.!!! How can this be ok?
And the complaints continued to pour in.
Our tour to the British Isles was fully paid for in April 2019 (nearly $20,000). It’s important to note that OAT already had our down payment since 2018. Because of the pandemic, in March 2020, we agreed to change our July 2020 reservation to an advanced reservation for July 2021. When I called OAT for a specific departure date the agent informed me that our trip was permanently discontinued. So I agreed to peruse the new substitute trips and the entire catalog to find another.
However, there is nothing in that catalog that we want, nor can do, so I requested a refund. OAT offered a 100% voucher, which is not acceptable because they discontinued the trip for which we agreed and paid for. We’ve contacted the company repeatedly and received no response to our email from the Vice President, Harriet Lewis. We are hoping that you can offer us help/advice to recoup our money. (Cynthia Huhn, a frustrated Overseas Adventure Travel customer)
Can a travel company or tour operator change its terms of cancellation after the fact?
Many consumers who have contacted us during the pandemic want to know if travel companies or tour operators can really change their terms after-the-fact.
We do not have a legal team here. But common sense says a company can’t change the terms of a contract after both sides have agreed to those terms.
And to be clear: OAT wasn’t the only company suddenly updating its terms and conditions after the pandemic.
We’ve been receiving complaints about Sandals (a story for another day), Vantage*, and many other prominent travel companies.
These businesses appear to have quickly put their legal teams to work updating contracts after the global pandemic arrived. These newly revised terms and conditions are being used against their customers who want a refund — even when the company has been forced to cancel the traveler’s plans.
But are these post facto changes of the cancellation terms really legal? And more importantly for these companies to retain their loyal customer base, are they ethically right?
That remains to be determined. Of course, as a consumer advocacy team, we say definitely not.
What’s going on with all of these Overseas Adventure Travel missing refunds?
Our advocacy team takes special notice when we see a spike in complaints about a specific company. In March and April, as the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the travel industry, there were plenty of companies that qualified for this tracking. Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle were a duo that received tons of complaints. So that qualified them for special scrutiny from our team.
In May, I sent a request to our contact at Overseas Adventure Travel noting the problem and asking for help.
Soon we received a positive response from the company. Overseas Adventure Travel wanted to make things right with all the consumers who were contacting us. And at that point, there were lots of them.
And the fantastic news for the OAT and Grand Circle customers was that the company intended to remedy the situation.
Please let me know if you can share the names of travelers who are still seeking help with OAT/Grand Circle refunds.
We will review and address each of these. (Overseas Adventure Travel to Elliott Advocacy)
I quickly compiled a list and sent it to our executive contact.
The OAT/Grand Circle refunds started flowing within days.
Yes, Overseas Adventure Travel will provide a refund if it canceled your trip
First, from Tran.
Hi Ms. Friedman,
Overseas Adventure travel called me today and said they would process my refund. It’s a miracle.
It’s amazing! Thank you so much to you and your organization.
I had never asked for consumer help before, just never thought about it. But I do read Christopher Elliott’s newspaper column. Thank you!!
Then we heard from Livezey.
Hi Michelle –
Well, I will receive my refund. They say the squeaky wheel…
Thank you so much for your help. Doris Livezey
A steady stream of refunds from Overseas Adventure Travel and Golden Circle
Then came a steady stream of refunds.
Thank you, Michelle! We received confirmation on Monday and our credit cards received $1,400 credit on Wednesday. We are waiting for the check in the mail!
I was waiting for the checks to arrive before OFFICIALLY thanking you.
We are very appreciative of all the hard work you did on our behalf.
And Cynthia Huhn who had been waiting for months and months for a giant refund finally received her good news.
We processed the Huhns’ refund on 8/19/2020:
· $16,640.75 by check
· $3,498 to Visa card ending in 5855
And on and on it went. We’re now regularly receiving messages from our Overseas Adventure Travel contact concerning cases we can put in our success file.
To date, the Elliott Advocacy team and Overseas Adventure Travel have worked together to process successful refund requests totaling nearly $300,000. And we are still actively working on additional cases.
So if you, or someone you know, has been waiting for a refund from Overseas Adventure Travel, now is the time to act. If you hit a wall with your refund request, send it to the Elliott Advocacy team and we can help.
How to get a refund from your travel provider during the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has inspired a great deal of bizarre behavior from airlines, tour companies and cruise lines.
If you hope to ensure the coronavirus doesn’t hit your travel pocketbook, here’s what you need to know.
- Review your contract
You’ll want to know that the facts are on your side during these unusual times. We have seen many contracts that allow the company to reject your complaint based on “factors beyond our control.” Before you go to war over this type of contract, you may wish to consult with an attorney. Of course, do not threaten the company with legal action — that almost always backfires for the consumer.
- Keep detailed records
Make sure that you document every part of your case. So many times, consumers contact us with a handwritten narrative of their problem-solving efforts. Unfortunately, your notes alone will not help our team to successfully advocate your case. Remember we need to present a clear illustration of your problem and why the company owes you a refund. Written documentation of your interactions with the company and its response is required to successfully mediate any case. Stay off the phone and always conduct your battle via email.
- Be relentless with your pursuit
If you’re sure that the facts are on your side, keep pushing for your refund. Don’t give up. Especially during this global pandemic, many companies are relying on wearing down their customers’ resistance. Don’t give in — and if things don’t go your way, at least you’ve created a paper trail that the Elliott Advocacy team can use to mediate your case.
- File a complaint with your state’s attorney general’s office
The attorney general in your state can also be a great resource if a company is refusing to provide a refund it owes you. The more complaints an AG’s office receives about a particular company, the greater the likelihood that it will take action. You can find the contact information for your attorney general using this link.
- Remember all the resources we have for you here at Elliott Advocacy
If you are struggling to get a refund that you know a company owes you, Elliott Advocacy has the resources you need. First, you can escalate your complaint directly to executives within the company using the Elliott Advocacy company contacts database. Our research team of Meera and John are busy every day making sure those contacts stay up to date. (By the way, here are our company contacts for Overseas Adventure / Grand Circle.) And If your own problem-solving efforts don’t do the trick, you can always submit a request for help directly to the Elliott Advocacy team. Dwayne, Christopher and I are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — here to help. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)