A $500 voucher for a missed riverboat cruise? You’ve gotta be kidding!

The blue Danube. / Photo by Happy Hangaround - Flickr
The blue Danube. / Photo by Happy Hangaround - Flickr
Some cases are resolved quickly. Some aren’t.

Sheila Drezner Freedman’s problem with Tauck dates back to February 2010, and although the high-end tour operator thinks it is closed, she’s still fighting.

Back in February of that year, she paid her Virtuoso travel agent a $600 deposit on a European riverboat cruise. She made a final payment of $9,606 through her credit card in July.

“I opted out of travel insurance, since I considered myself indestructible, having traveled for over forty years and never had a problem and foolishly, never expected one now,” she says.

Big mistake.

“At the beginning of June, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and after surgery, was told I would now face six weeks of radiation,” she says. “No problem — it left me with an extra week to recoup and still be able to go on that planned vacation. However, six days into the 59 day, 50 percent penalty period, I was given the dreaded news that I would need three months of chemotherapy before the radiation treatment.”

In other words, she’d miss the riverboat cruise she’d already paid for.

Her agent tried to negotiate a credit, which could be used for a riverboat cruise in 2011. Tauck refused. So Freedman called Tauck herself.

Unfortunately, I was connected to a manager who lacked any feeling.

I told her I was planning to put the final payment shown on this month’s Visa statement in dispute. At that point in our conversation, she said, that if I do that, she would not allow me to ever travel with Tauck again.

Not what I would call good customer service and if that threat were possible, she would also hurt my travel agent. Her rudeness was unnecessary.

Tauck has a reputation as one of the most customer-focused tour operators in America, so it was difficult to imagine such a conversation taking place.

I contacted Tauck on Freedman’s behalf twice in 2010. She sent several additional letters to the company, and finally, a few weeks ago, received the company’s “final” answer: an apology and a $500 voucher toward a future trip.

Her reaction?

Tsk, tsk. They should be ashamed to treat a once-loyal customer in such a cheap way.

It will be difficult for me and my travel companion to ever book another vacation with them.

Although we’re only two people, it shouldn’t matter. A reputable business should care about every customer and do their best to keep them satisfied.

Tauck’s cancellation terms are clearly disclosed on its site.

I can’t argue with them. Tauck recommends travel insurance and spells out its cancellation policy in black and white.

Would travel insurance have covered Freedman? I’m not entirely sure. A vigilant claims adjuster might determine that her breast cancer was a pre-existing condition (I’ve seen it before).

My real problem is the interaction between Freedman and the manager by phone. I can’t imagine anyone threatening a customer like that. Unfortunately, Tauck never addressed that issue, at least not with me.

Tauck ended up keeping about $5,000 of Freedman’s money, since some of the components of her vacation were refundable. So the tour operator is offering her 10 percent of the value of her lost vacation as a voucher.

Is that enough?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • BillCCC

    I didn’t vote either way because there was not a lot of information. I can see where someone would vote that she did not receive enough compensation since the company apologized and provided a voucher. What was the company apologizing for and why did they offer any compensation at all?  Why not $1000 or $1500?

  • LJBROCK

    Let’s not forget:   -The ace of  “My dog needed surgery”

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Having had three family members with cancer, having had cancer myself, none of us (at the time) felt radiation was really that big a deal.

    Also, this is probably this OPs first bout with cancer and extreme optimism is one of the first emotions one can feel when given a diagnosis of cancer of any kind.

    I don’t know if she were suffering from the extreme optimism or not but certainly she had a right to believe she could go on the cruise. Given the circumstances, I don’t know she was wrong.

    She should have it all returned.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    She wasn’t planning to “recover” from both chemo AND radiation.  Read it again – she was initially supposed to get just radiation.  That you can “recover” from pretty quickly.

  • $16635417
  • ExplorationTravMag

    Extremely well said, eamon256, every last bit of it.

  • Raven_Altosk

    If every company issued “goodwill” for every idiotic mistake by a customer, they’d be out of business.

    This wasn’t “thievery.” She did not buy insurance on a very expensive trip. That’s her fault, not the cruiseline or agent’s.

    You’re obviously new here. Might want to sit down and watch the adults play before joining the game, sweetness.

  • Raven_Altosk

    And the ultimate (perhaps the Joker):  “I felt discriminated against because….”

  • Raven_Altosk

    Oh, that dog going to Mexico nonsense still gets my hackles up. Those people need to go to Vegas, find some hookers, and get laid.

    Because a Facebook page for your dog is pretty effing pathetic…

  • ExplorationTravMag

    This post impresses me a great deal.  Tauck sounds like a quality company with (if the OP is to be believed) one employee having a bad day.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     +1.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Where do “This is a once in a lifetime trip” or “We saved our whole lives for this” or “This is our last trip before (a member of our family) dies” go?

  • emanon256

    And the Joker is an emotional support snake!

  • john4868

    @Raven_Altosk:disqus Me thinks … and Me hopes that she needed that new snark font. I read it as complete sarcasm.

    If she was serious….

  • SooZeeeQ

    OK, she was too optomisitc about her recovery and she did not get travel insurance.

    But…I have seen only ONE happy ending on this site when it comes to travel insurance paying.

    So what one do we use with confidence that our money for it is not mis-spent?

  • Lindabator

    Agreed – we keep hearing more and more of this – I chose not to pay for coverage, but when something happens, don’t want to assume the cost involved with that risk.  Just can’t have it both ways.

  • Lindabator

    Still too risky to assume that risk with no insurance – she could always have re-booked.

  • emanon256

    I think some people simply think everything should be 100% refundable, even when it’s not, and they probably vote and go away without even reading the comments.  Though I have a feeling very soon we are going to see a comment along the lines of, “If I paid in cash, I should be refunded in cash.”

  • emanon256

    Since when is not refunding something that is not-refundable considered thievery? I call it contact law.

    Edit: Financial exploitation would be if they sold her a cruise that didn’t exist, or deceived her into buying a service she didn’t need that was actually never performed. In this case, she bought something that only offered a partial refund after a certain date, she accepted the terms, and then she decided she wanted the refund anyway.

  • Lindabator

    Bull!  She could easily have cancelled and rebooked once she was SURE she could go – SHE choose to roll the dice, and when they came up snake-eyes, threatens to dispute the charge she doesn’t WANT to pay – Tauck was in the right, and she was CLEARLY in the wrong here.  And I’ve worked with Tauck for years – find it the most reputable and flexible company to deal with – I just don’t expect them to pay for mine (or my clients’) stupidity!

  • Lindabator

    They also do lovely small group land travel.  :)

  • Lindabator

    Of course, that’s if we “believe” her at all.  Never been MY experience with them, either.

  • lorcha

    My wife is currently battling cancer, so I know how hard this is. I understand why you thought that you could make the trip, even after the diagnosis and treatment recommendation. Heck, when she was first diagnosed, we thought she’d be done in 6 weeks or so. Well, 2 years later, she’s still fighting. You didn’t deserve to be hit with this terrible disease, and I wish you a speedy and complete recovery. 

    Also, I’m sorry to say, but you do not deserve a refund for the money that you lost on this trip. What you have received so far has been generous. Now it’s time for you to accept this life’s lesson and what it cost. If you want to share risk, you buy insurance. If you want to shoulder the risk, then you decline the insurance. What you don’t get to do is shoulder the risk and then change your mind when that risk has proved to have been a bad one.

    As a funny coincidence, my wife is currently at her oncologist’s office for a routine appointment, and one agenda item is her obtaining a note, clearing her to travel on a vacation that we’re planning so that we can purchase an insurance policy today. After all, we believe that she’ll be able to make the trip, but in the end, we can’t be sure. You never know what might come up in this battle.

  • Lindabator

    Obviously just another “entitled” person – guess the rules don’t apply to you, just everyone else!  Ridiculous! 

  • sunshipballoons

    I really don’t understand this. She’s not entitled to any money back, other than what she got. A $500 voucher seems like more than reasonable compensation for a rude customer service rep.

  • Joel Wechsler

    I’m assuming, if you are serious, that you live on a different planet than the rest of us. When the OP booked this trip she would have been given a clearly defined payment schedule as well as a schedule of cancellation penalties based on date of cancellation. She would also have been given the opportunity to insure against loss. That she chose to not avail herself of that opportunity is entirely her fault and should not result in any refund. There is no thievery involved when someone makes a conscious decision to enter into a transaction that clearly spells out the risks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2JRSKXGYKERKX7REAVMZZOGZJY Joe Apples

    You people are heartless

  • Raven_Altosk

    A badge I wear proudly, pal.

  • sirwired

     How is anybody supposed to compute the sunk costs?  A fixed scale makes far more sense.

    Possible sources of sunk costs, all of which are going to have to be tracked and calculated:
    – Travel agent commissions
    – Commission paid to providers of advertising (i.e. cost-per-click online ads)
    – Losses (or gains) due to demand-adjusted pricing
    – Customer service resource expended

    And that’s just if they manage to re-sell the tour slot.  If they don’t re-sell the tour slot it gets even worse.

  • MarkKelling

    Nope.  Just realists.  Reality sucks sometimes.

  • sirwired

     I think just about everybody, even the snarkier ones here, certainly feels sympathy for the woman.  Cancer sucks, and it would be heartless to wish ill will on someone coping with it.

    But suffering from an unfortunate circumstance does not relieve you from responsibility for your actions.

  • emanon256

     

    Thanks. Maybe @elliottc:disqus will hire me as a freelance consultant?

  • Michael__K

    How is anybody supposed to compute the sticker price to charge for of a tour?  How is anyone supposed to calculate the dates and percentages for a fixed scale?  How is anyone supposed to know when to change prices?

    I have confidence that an employee with access to the right information can come up with a reasonably accurate estimate in a small fraction of their day.

  • Lindabator

    The insurance is a moot point here, though.  She had only paid the deposit, and it wasn’t until AFTER the diagnosis that she chose to pay the balance off – she should have cancelled at that point, and if the trip was still available when she could be SURE she could travel, she could have re-booked then.

  • Lindabator

    Very well written, and very compassionate as well.  I wish your wife well, and hope you both get to take that vacation!

  • ExplorationTravMag

    *Fingers Crossed* but only after he hires me!  LOL

  • lorcha

    I can see that you are a warm, compassionate person. To truly show these qualities, I recommend that you reach into your own pocket and pay Freedman the $5000 that she lost due to this unfortunate circumstance.

    Or does your generosity only apply to other people’s money? 

  • sirwired

     Making an educated guess at a profitable price to charge for a tour is worlds away from calculating liquidated damages for a broken tour contract for a single passenger some short amount of time before the tour.

    If they did make a guess, you’d be sure there would be people here complaining that they didn’t agree with the number the tour company came up with.  Instead, in a pretty straightforward contract, they simply calculate the damages based on the amount of time before the tour.

  • sirwired

     There are two decent-sized companies, CSA and HTH Worldwide, that will provide a pre-ex waiver up until Final Payment.

  • Joe Farrell

     I tend to choose Option B in this situation – don’t book til the last minute – when you know you are healthy. 

    Took a trip last week to Boston and Connecticut – my son grad HS and wanted to visit his friends.  Got 25k airline tickets on super bowl sunday.  gee – do you think they added inventory that day so they can pad the availability stats?  “We have X gazillion mileage saver tickets every year.”  And they are generally available for trading in miles on Super Bowl Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the 4th of July.  The day before there were no 25k seats available – during the game there were literally almost every flight I wanted.  We even got round trip first class for 50k. 

    But back to the the point –

    booked our car with the vendor who had the best prices two days before leaving because they had too much inventory.

    Got the hotels 4 days out – when they are seeing their actual numbers and make cheaper rooms available. 

    Rack rate for hotel:  $245
    AAA rate for hotel:  $204
    Pre-purchase rate:  $195

    Rate actually paid by calling hotel and negotiating:  $140. 

    Got a nice room, nice service, because I booked with them instead of a consolidator – actually got a free upgrade on both room and car. 

    In this economy – wait.  The deal gets better – even on a cruise –

  • AAmerican1

    As a cancer survivor I agree with your opinion about her optimism. However, Chris writes the cancellation terms were clearly stated and they recommended trip insurance. Based on that I can’t agree that she is entitled to a refund, she gambled and lost.

  • gritchie

    That may be the greatest reply to a foolish comment that I have ever seen on this site. R_A… I… I think I love you!

  • gritchie

    Love it, Iorcha. So, how much are you pitching in, Apples?

  • ExplorationTravMag

    In reading through many of the comments, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t realize she paid the remainder of her deposit AFTER she got her diagnosis.

    Based on that, I think the bulk of you are right – she gambled and lost. She knew she had this diagnosis yet shelled out the rest of it and then wanted to get it back when she was told her treatment was going to be more extensive?

    There’s being over;y optimistic and then there’s being in complete denial, which I believe she suffered from when she paid out the remaining nearly $6000.

    Mea culpa…

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    you didn’t take out travel insurance you idiot. You should have been offerred a $500 voucher.

    Why on earth do you think you’re entitled to effectively insurance cover when you didn’t take it out.

    Some people are just too stupid.

  • Michael__K

    You’re suggesting that companies are happy to tie their survival to prices and cancellation tables that completely hinge on “educated guesses.”  

    I would give them more credit than that.  But let’s accept this premise at face value.  Common sense says that — at a minimum — whoever created the “educated guesses” is capable of identifying and subtracting out any of the component numbers baked into their guesses that are not applicable to a particular passenger or that constitute padding.

    And the goal/expectation is not to satisfy 100% of potential complainers.  Just to demonstrate compassion (and perhaps generate goodwill) in the relatively few cases where there is a clear tragic situation.

  • bodega3

    There was no stealing of her money.  She made a purchase and she knew the cancellation policies.  She made a bad decision to make the final payment.  Tauck is certainly being fair to give her $500 credit when they didn’t have to do anything.  There are costs involved and if you owned a business, especially a tour business, you would have a clearer understanding of this.  Tauck’s passengers are usually upscale, older people.  If they gave back every penny to every passenger with a medical problem, they would be out of business as the have to pay their vendors.  Get it?

  • bodega3

    Really?  How so?  I seem to think most people who posted are sympathetic to the OP but also can see the mistake she made that Tauck should be expected to cover.

  • judyserienagy

    Dumb and dumber … Tauck has screwed up royally by not gently and sweetly dealing with this unfortunate woman.  They could have AT LEAST told her that they’d refund her money if they were able to sell her spot, and they should have  been able to do that in 30 days without a problem.  If they couldn’t sell her place, then she does have to bite the bullet and lose the money.  I know EXACTLY how she feels, I never cancelled a piece of travel for 50 years, then I started falling apart and now always buy the insurance which I’ve had to call on twice in the last 4 years.  Tauck should send her flowers and have someone with a brain call her and a) declare their sadness that she had to cancel without insurance reimbursement or b) listen to her rant and rave to someone trained to deal with the public.  How do these “customer service” people keep their jobs?  They’re worse than incompetent.

  • sirwired

     Yep, companies make educated guesses as to pricing.  It’s a bit of a black art.  If it was easier, making a profit would be easier too!  Companies get it wrong all the time…

    And in any case, they already have a rough estimate in place, the schedule they already use that provides partial refunds up until a certain time before the cruise.