Julie Mann wants an $18,266 refund from Vantage Travel. Last year, she and her husband Frank booked an anniversary cruise to Norway. But Vantage canceled the trip during the pandemic. Then the company automatically rescheduled the couple for August of this year without their approval. Mann wants her money back instead — and she’s losing her patience.
She has the right idea. Because when it comes to Vantage Travel refunds, patience may not be a virtue.
Vantage is one of the most complained-about companies, according to our records. Last year, we counted 132 grievances against the company. And that number is rising. In the first 11 weeks of 2021, we’ve already received 64 new complaints, making it the number six company for complaints, just behind Vrbo and ahead of American Airlines.
This sudden acceleration of cases is worrisome. Although there’s no hard evidence that the company is in financial distress, I’ve seen this pattern before. An increasing number of complaints — at this rate, we’ll have more than 600 cases by the end of the year — and many of them are sitting here on my desk, unresolved.
Something tells me this won’t end well.
What gives Vantage the right to refuse a refund?
Usually, when a company cancels a cruise, the rules are clear — you get a full refund. So what gives Vantage the right to refuse to refund customers like Mann?
At the start of the pandemic, we couldn’t get an answer to that question. Vantage simply didn’t respond to our requests. But late last year, as the number of cases started to pile up, Vantage offered an answer. It had quietly changed its tour participation agreement after the outbreak.
A representative told us that the Vantage refund policy is as follows:
Vantage guests whose departure has been postponed or modified are not eligible for any refunds. These guests were provided with the following options:
1: To move to a future departure of the same trip, same season, and be fully price-protected.
2: To move to ANY of our available Cruise or Adventure Tours without penalty plus an additional future travel credit to help offset the new trip’s cost.
3: To receive a Future Travel Certificate with an additional Credit Incentive that is valid towards any Vantage Cruise or Adventure Tour departing on or before the end of 2022.
That seems pretty straightforward. We may disagree with it, and it may not be entirely legal (under Massachusetts state law, where Vantage is headquartered, it must offer a refund if it fails to provide the service), but the policy is unambiguous.
What is ambiguous is the vast gray area into which so many of our cases fall. For example, many customers booked their tours in 2019 under the previous policy, which appears to have allowed refunds for canceled tours. Vantage says those customers should receive their money back, but they have no projected date for the processing of these refunds.
However, it looks as if Vantage is trying to apply its new policy to all its canceled vacations, which is really confusing my advocacy team.
But there’s a big difference between canceled and postponed
And here’s another confusing thing: Vantage seems to be conflating “canceled” and “postponed.” By saying it’s just postponing the trips, it is allowing itself to keep customers’ money.
Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, tried to press Vantage for an explanation:
Our team is trying to figure out what’s happening here. Did Vantage change the terms of their contracts after the pandemic began? Is there something in the Vantage contract that allows Vantage to cancel the tours and keep the guest’s payment indefinitely?
A postponement is a cancellation no matter what label you place on it. In terms of this couple, they did not cancel the trip and they do not want to reschedule it. They want — and need — a refund.
We don’t have a legal team here, so that is why we were advising your customers to file complaints with the attorney general’s office where they could receive legal guidance. We only stopped doing that because you indicated that Vantage was committed to providing refunds for their customers. We’ve now received a significant number of responses from your team that various guests aren’t eligible for refunds because Vantage canceled the trips and automatically rescheduled or awarded future credit (against their will). As a consumer advocacy team, we’re committed to helping consumers be made whole in disputes with companies.
With that being said, it is our hope that your team will reconsider this stance and put this couple, and the others who did not cancel their trips, on the wait list for a refund. That is what would make these consumers whole. Thank you! (Michelle to Vantage)
So we have two things going on here. Customers accuse Vantage of applying a new policy retroactively to tours booked before 2020, and also of blurring the line between cancellation and postponement.
But really … why can’t Vantage refund its customers?
You don’t have to be a travel insider to know that the entire industry has been turned upside down.
If a company like Vantage can find a way to keep its customers’ money, then it can at least hold on to some business, which may be enough to get it through until travel starts up again. (FYI: Vantage isn’t alone in this tactic. Two weeks ago, we told you about Sandals unusual cancellation and refund policy during the pandemic).
We have no special insights into Vantage’s financial health. The company is obviously in a difficult spot. And doing the right thing, which is to issue prompt refunds to anyone with a canceled cruise, might just sink the entire company. Crystal Cruises has been on the verge, too, as I pointed out last week.
I can understand why a company would want to hold on to Mann’s money. But that doesn’t mean it should.
A confusing request for a Vantage Travel refund
Our team has tried to help every reader with a Vantage Travel refund request. Some are easier than others. For example, there was Rick Pedersen’s case involving a $12,959 refund on a Vantage tour of Portugal and Spain. And there was Valerie Smith’s problem with an insurance claim on a vacation to Vietnam and Cambodia. Those were pretty straightforward.
But Mann’s case wasn’t.
Mann’s husband had developed an unspecified medical problem after their cruise cancellation. It was clear the couple would not be able to take the rescheduled cruise, so they filled out a claim form with Trip Mate, their insurance company. After months of back-and-forth, Mann says Trip Mate deferred to Vantage Travel in a phone call.
Dwayne Coward on our advocacy team agreed to look into the problem. He reviewed all of the documentation that Mann sent and he recommended that she follow-up with Trip Mate concerning her claim. He pointed out that Trip Mate was required to provide her with a written explanation about her case. It appeared that her claim with Trip Mate remained under review.
Trip Mate is the plan administrator for the protection plan, so they should be providing you with a letter either approving or denying your claim which would detail the reasons for the denial.
Insurance is regulated by the individual states, and regulations normally require insurance companies to provide specific items, one of those is usually a letter concerning the outcome of a filed claim, reasons for any denial, and the process to appeal that outcome.
I recommend asking Trip Mate once more for a copy of the letter detailing the outcome of your claim, this may be available online, via https://www.tripmate.com/main/claims/. If they do not provide it, then you should file a complaint directly with your State’s Department of Insurance.
Any approved claim should result in payment as described by the policy, otherwise, the cancel for any reason provision would apply. (Dwayne to Mann explaining her next steps)
Dwayne also sent her case over to our executive contact at Vantage to see if they could shed some light on the situation. Then Dwayne asked Michelle to review Mann’s problem. She did and reiterated to Mann what her best course of action would be: to follow through with the Trip Mate claim. But…
Mann was understandably frustrated and disappointed that our team could not extract the refund from Vantage.
I find your response disappointing as I was looking for an advocate to pursue our refund.
We need someone to advocate for us and to challenge Vantage — not just check in with Vantage and see what’s going on. Perhaps our complaint can be rerouted to Chris Elliott himself as we need a strong advocate who is listening to us and clearly understands the matter. (Mann to Dwayne)
Ah, but Chris was reading and our team was challenging Vantage about all these refund requests.
What’s going on behind the scenes at Elliott Advocacy?
I review all the cases that we advocate, including this one. And I have to admit that I was a little disappointed (but not surprised) by Mann’s approach. My team was doing everything it could — we collaboratively advocate cases like hers.
We took another look at the case and found three issues. I’m mentioning them here not to embarrass Mann but to help anyone else trying to get a refund from Vantage World Travel.
The first issue is that there wasn’t one paper trail — there were many. The correspondence between Mann and Vantage was spread out over dozens of emails. Our advocacy team receives hundreds of requests for help every week. We always ask for a clean and complete paper trail that remains in one email string, not for our convenience but for the consumer’s sake. We often forward these threads directly to the company for consideration. Sending multiple emails makes it difficult for our contacts on the other end to organize the case and forward it to the correct department. It also increases the likelihood that critical parts of the case may become disconnected from the complete file and never be seen by the right person.
The other issue was that Mann’s paper trail appeared to be incomplete. She’d filed a claim with Trip Mate, and the insurance company responded with a voice mail that suggested to us that it was still reviewing her claim. Mann interpreted the voice mail as a denial. But typically, travel insurance companies deny a claim in writing.
The final and most troubling part of Mann’s case was that she didn’t seem to really want the advice that our team was offering. Three consumer advocates gave her the guidance to push Trip Mate for an official determination of her claim. After she received that information, if her claim was indeed rejected, her next step would be to file an appeal with the state insurance board. In an appeal, Trip Mate would need to justify its rejection of her claim. But Mann continued to refer us back to her transcript of a phone message from Trip Mate that she says ended Trip Mate’s involvement in her case.
That prompted me to send her a follow-up note:
Ms. Mann, I’ve been following your case and wanted to let you know that we’re all very concerned about the Vantage situation. I plan to write something about this soon. But in the meantime, we really need to see the paper trail between you and Trip Mate — specifically, their response to your claim. It needs to be in writing. (Christopher to Mann reiterating our team’s guidance)
Mann referred me back to the voice mail. I told her that if she hadn’t received a formal denial in writing, then her case was still being processed. But she believed that Trip Mate had made a final decision, and it was not in her favor.
Folks, if you send a request to my team, you must have faith in our advocacy skills or you wouldn’t be reaching out to us. We’ve successfully mediated thousands of cases. Refusing to follow our guidance once you’ve received it from all three of us, just doesn’t make sense.
Vantage: We don’t owe this couple a cash refund
After we contacted Vantage on behalf of the Manns, here’s what it said:
Thank you for sending this one over. In short, the Mann’s are not eligible for a cash refund or cash reimbursement.
Once Vantage postponed their original 2020 departure, their reservation was not eligible for any cash refunds or reimbursements from that point forward. As such, filing a travel protection claim with Trip Mate will only result in future travel credit. The future travel credits are not due to their Trip Mate claim being declined but because their reservation is only eligible for future travel credit.
To further explain, when their departure was postponed to a new date, the funds that paid for that reservation were essentially converted to travel credits. This was prior to the Mann’s request to cancel their reservation. Since the funds are travel credits, the outcome of any claim can only be reimbursed as travel credits.
Also, just to correct a point made in the Mann’s information provided to you, Vantage does not adjudicate, or make any decisions, on the outcome of Travel Protection Claims. Trip Mate makes those decisions and Vantage administers the claim reimbursements. We were simply trying to explain the above to the Mann’s.
Bottom line: Mann may still get her refund, but it won’t be coming from Vantage. Their team has already confirmed that according to their updated policies, Mann is only eligible for a future travel credit. Her best chance at retrieving her money back is through her travel insurance policy.
But do you have time?
I mentioned before that Mann had the right idea. This may be one of those times when you don’t want to be patient.
Why? We’ve just seen so many Vantage cases, and although we have no access to the company’s finances, my advocacy team has a bad feeling about this. Something tells me that time may be running out to get a refund.
You know the three Ps I’m constantly preaching — patience, persistence, politeness? For the Vantage Travel refund claims, make that just two Ps.
How do you get a faster refund?
- Make an urgent but polite appeal. You can send a brief, polite email to one of the Vantage Travel executives we list on this site.
- Ask your travel advisor for help. Most cruises and tours are booked through a travel agent. If there were ever a time to lean on your travel advisor for a refund, it’s now.
- Request a credit card chargeback. You may be able to dispute your credit card charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Here’s Michelle’s article about how to file a chargeback the right way.
- File a complaint with the attorney general’s office in your state. The more complaints the attorney general’s office receives, the more likely it will be that the problem is fully investigated. Here’s how to find the attorney general in your state.
- File an appeal with your state’s insurance board. If you believe that your travel insurance company has rejected your valid claim, filing an appeal with your state’s insurance board is your next step. Here’s how to file an appeal to your state’s insurance board.
I really hope I’m wrong about Vantage Travel. I know the company well and have been on its riverboat cruises. They’re terrific. I hope the company pulls through this difficult time. But not like this.