Christopher Anderson believes he just discovered the world’s worst travel agent ever — one who lacks even basic geography skills. Just how bad were those skills? Well, Anderson and his wife asked this “professional” to plan a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But she booked them a trip to Cancun, on the opposite side of the country. Then to make matters worse, this geographically challenged agent expected the couple to pay for her mistake.
What is going on here, and can the Elliott Advocacy team help? (Reprint)
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Anderson’s outrageous tale is a lesson that proves once again that all sellers of travel aren’t all created equal. So that leaves it up to you — the consumer — to vet the person you entrust with your travel planning. Otherwise, you too could end up with a confused travel agent who books you thousands of miles away from your intended destination.
A busy couple needs a travel planner for their vacation
Anderson says that he and his wife are a busy couple who are about to celebrate their second wedding anniversary. Earlier this year, they decided that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, would be the perfect getaway for the occasion. With its striking rocky coastline and gorgeous beaches, the Mexican resort area fit the bill for their celebration.
However, neither Anderson nor his wife had the time to focus on planning the details of such a vacation. So the duo decided to leave it all to someone they believed to be a professional travel agent.
As our regular readers know, Elliott Advocacy always promotes the value of a professional travel planner. The expertise and knowledge a skilled travel agent can bring to the table are invaluable for many travelers. In fact, plenty of the fiascos we report here could have been avoided if the consumer had just engaged a qualified travel advisor.
Of course, if you find yourself a terrible travel agent, the above paragraph doesn’t apply.
How he found possibly the worst travel agent — ever
Anderson says that his wife met a woman in a moms’ group on Facebook, who said she was a travel agent. The couple already had done a little research for their trip. They wanted to go to the Hard Rock Hotel in Cabo San Lucas.
“At the beginning of May, my wife Ashley asked this agent to book our 7-day, all-inclusive trip to Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos in Cabo San Lucas,” Anderson recalled. “We wanted to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary there. The agent we contacted told us that she works for Evolution Travel. We found out later that this is just a second job for her.”
In the text exchange between Ashley and the travel agent, there seems to be no confusion as to where the couple wants to go:
But we wanted to go to Los Cabos
Soon after the above email exchange, the travel agent sends a confirmation of the booking to Ashley. And immediately Anderson’s wife detects an oddity.
Although, Anderson’s wife requested the Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos, the confirmation that the agent sent indicated the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun. The airfare also showed a trip to Cancun on United Airlines. Then the agent, inexplicably, tells Ashley that Los Cabos is somewhere inside of Cancun.
Not clear about geography either, Anderson’s wife acquiesced to the travel agent’s erroneous insistence that the Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos is in Cancun.
A simple geography lesson — Cabo San Lucas is not in Cancun
A quick glance at any map will show that Cabo San Lucas is on the opposite side of Mexico — over 2,100 miles away.
What is Evolution Travel?
Evolution Travel strives to be the best home-based travel business available in the industry. Our goal is to provide a travel business opportunity with true value and excellent products. We provide every person an even playing field to be successful and profitable through training and support. (From the Evolution Travel website)
Apparently, geography lessons aren’t part of that training — at least in this case.
To understand this story more clearly, it’s important to know a little bit about Evolution Travel. The company functions as a multilevel marketing organization (MLM). The ultimate goal of its members is to recruit new members. Travel planning appears to be a secondary goal, according to the below compensation schedule.
Entry-level position: Professional Travel Agent
At the bottom part of this business model are the entry-level members who are the “Professional Travel Agents (PTA).” There are no qualifications associated with becoming a PTA — except, of course, to pay the registration fee and monthly dues.
Voilà! Pay $49, and you are a professional travel agent — according to Evolution Travel.
I’m sure no travel professional who spends their days dedicated to understanding the travel industry would find this to be an appropriate criterion for becoming a travel agent.
But that’s how the “travel agent” at the center of this case came to be a travel agent.
(FYI: I’m not naming her in this article because I don’t think publicly shaming her will serve any purpose. But If you follow the tips at the bottom of this article, I am sure you will never encounter her.)
“Please help! I found the worst travel agent!”
When Anderson contacted the Elliott Advocacy team, he was at his wits’ end.
My wife, Ashley, was confused by [the travel agent’s] insistence that the Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos was in the town of Cancun. But she trusted her as a travel professional and paid the invoice. But when I received the final confirmation, I immediately noticed two MAJOR issues. She had misspelled my name, and the booking was a complete error — nowhere near where we asked to go.
But when Anderson called the agent, she told him that Ashley had approved the trip. As a result, she said the couple would be required to pay nearly $1,000 to correct the problem.
Anderson was not about to agree to these terms.
This terrible agent bullied my wife into accepting a trip to Cancun. When Ashley asked her why the itinerary said Cancun, the agent insisted Los Cabos is part of Cancun. Why would anyone use a travel agent if you can’t rely on their professionalism and knowledge? This fiasco has been the worst vacation planning experience we’ve ever had.
I want a refund from this confused travel agent!
Having lost all faith in the travel planning capabilities of this agent, Anderson just wanted the entire $5,000 fiasco canceled.
But the agent wasn’t bending. She sent the terms and conditions of the package to Anderson and pointed out that the trip wasn’t refundable.
“This is totally unacceptable! None of this would have happened if [the agent] did her job correctly,” Anderson wrote to me. “Now the company wants to hold me, the customer, responsible for [her] MISTAKE! I just cannot believe the unaccountability here.”
As I read through Anderson’s lengthy paper trail, I found it hard to believe, too. In multiple texts, the confused agent tells Ashley that Los Cabos is part of Cancun. And she insists that she booked the couple exactly where they requested.
It was time to ask this agent for an explanation.
Asking the geographically challenged travel agent for an explanation
We’ve seen some significant travel agent mistakes come through our helpline.
But never have I seen one so wacky.
So I reached out to this agent and asked her to explain how she determined that her clients should pay for her geographic error.
Christopher Anderson contacted us about his experience using you as his travel agent. Unfortunately, it would appear from all the documents I have reviewed — including texts from you — that you misunderstood the location of the Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos which is on the western coast of Mexico. Instead, you booked Mr. Anderson and his wife a trip to Cancun, which is on the Eastern coast of Mexico. This mistake is a significant error and one that Mr. Anderson would like you to correct immediately. But he says you are asking him to pay change fees to correct your mistake.
Can you please get back to us as soon as possible and let us know how you intend to correct this error? (Do you have errors and omissions insurance?)
To say that my email was not well-received is an understatement. Very quickly, the agent wrote back to me. In her response to me, she repeatedly misidentifies the couple as “The Elliotts.” She says that the entire mistake originated with “Mrs. Elliott” and that “Mrs. Elliott” is the one responsible. Then she ended her email by telling me that she already refunded the couple — in full and that this matter is “resolved.”
This travel fiasco isn’t over yet
I quickly checked back with Anderson, who confirmed that he had not received any refund. So I sent a follow-up to the agent. I reminded her that these clients were the Andersons and that they had asked her, in writing, to book a trip to the Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos. In turn, she had booked them into the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun — 2,100 miles away.
This time she told me that she had resolved everything, and I should not contact her again.
I do not have to inform you of anything at all. You are not my client. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are my clients. It is not for you to understand any of my business practices. I will deal directly with my customers moving forward. Thank you!! PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN.
But although the agent continued to repeat that she was resolving the problem, she did not. What she did next was to accuse the Andersons of pulling a scam on her.
Things go from bad to worse with this travel agent
Next Anderson says the agent started calling him repeatedly and even offered him a free trip. He reiterated to her that now they only wanted a refund. The couple just wanted to put an end to this fiasco and finish their time with this lady — permanently.
But then she inexplicably accused Anderson of pulling a scam on her.
“You EVEN went as far as to contact the MEDIA to tarnish MY reputation!!! This indicates to me that from the very beginning this was your intention,” the agent accused Anderson. “Maybe you found a resort that was cheaper than what I quoted you. Maybe you decided that you wanted to stay somewhere else. You [asked for] a refund for the entire trip and yet you’re still going. And when I called you just now to find out what’s going on, you ignored my call!”
Now Anderson couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Yes, he decided to “stay somewhere else.” He never wanted to go to Cancun — ever. His wife asked for a specific hotel in Cabo San Lucas. Despite this travel agent’s complete bungling of the planning, the couple still intended to go on that anniversary trip — but without any further “assistance” from her.
“This is all very difficult to comprehend,” Anderson lamented. “I can’t believe she is still giving us a hard time. All we wanted to do was go on this trip to Cabo San Lucas for our anniversary. This situation is horrible.”
Finally, an apology and an admission of a mistake
But then, shortly after the accusatory email, Anderson suddenly received an apology, and the agent finally admitted her mistake. She ended her email by agreeing to process the complete refund — no penalties involved.
“Chris, I’m owning up to my mistake,” the agent finally admitted. “I’ve been on the phone getting all these [refund] figures for you for the past days. Have a good day.”
By this time, however, Anderson had already asked American Express to initiate a credit card dispute. The company had reversed all the charges associated with the unwanted trip to Cancun and started an investigation. In the end, American Express found in favor of the Andersons.
And the couple planned their own trip to Cabo San Lucas which, to be perfectly clear, is on the west coast of Mexico.
How to find a qualified professional travel advisor
Unfortunately, in most states, there are no regulations that prevent anyone from calling themselves a travel agent. So travelers should not be lulled into trusting a person simply by virtue of the title “travel agent.” But there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of finding a qualified professional travel advisor.
- Check for professional memberships
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) provides a database of “trusted” travel advisors from around the world. According to ASTA, “These professionals maintain ASTA membership and follow a strict code of ethics.” You can also use the ASTA site to find travel professionals who have specialties in your destination and interests.
- Check for a Seller of Travel registration
If you live in a state that requires a “seller of travel” to register their business, you should ask to see the agent’s registration. Currently, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Washington and California require sellers of travel to register with the state. And although a registration does not guarantee a reputable or skilled agent, the lack of having one if it is required should send you running.
- Ask for references
A professional travel advisor will likely have a loyal following. So ask your potential planner for references — and then check them.
- Ask people you trust for recommendations
The best recommendations you can get will likely come from people you trust yourself. So ask friends and family for guidance when you’re on the lookout for a travel agent.
- Check online reviews and search engine results
In today’s world almost no professional can avoid an online presence. Make sure to run a prospective travel advisor’s name through an internet search. You might be surprised by what you discover.
- Errors and Omissions liability insurance
Remember, most professional travel advisors carry errors and omissions liability insurance. This insurance protects them — and you, their client, — against the financial consequences of a travel agent’s mistake. So before engaging a professional, ask if they carry this insurance. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)
Archer Travel: “Our travel agents will be required to learn geography!”
Shortly after we originally published this article, I received a phone call from Ron Archer, the president of Archer Travel Services and CEO of Evolution Travel. He told me that he was terribly troubled by the Andersons’ experience. He assured me that as soon as he read this article he called an emergency meeting of his executive board to discuss ways to avoid this happening again.
Their team plans to implement a required geography module for all of their Evolution Travel representatives. Archer also forwarded this article to his agents as a reminder of the critical need to be aware of geography — if they wish to represent themselves as a travel agent.
Lastly, Archer said that he would personally be calling this particular agent to discuss her future with the company.