Can this trip be saved? She didn’t make it to Marrakech after all

Here’s another reason to double-check with your tour operator before you take off.

Linda Taylor waited until she was on the way to the airport to send an email to the company running her Morocco tour. Good thing she did; there was no tour.

There’d been a bombing and the whole thing had been canceled.

“We cancelled right after the bombing as we always put our clients safety first,” the tour operator said in a message.

The only reason Taylor had emailed her tour operator was because her flight arrival times had changed a few times. Otherwise, she had no clue that the tour might have been called off. She’d received no call, no letter, no email. (Subsequently, her tour operator forwarded an email that it said it had sent the day after the bombing.)

So, disaster averted, right? Well, not exactly.

The tour operator, a small business that combines luxurious accommodations with yoga, hiking, exercise and healthy cooking classes, offered $500 to cover the cost of her airline ticket and one night’s lodging. But Taylor says that’s not enough.

I do think it is fair to ask her to reimburse me for the flight I booked originally to go to Morocco ($351) as I will not be reimbursed for this through the airline, as well as the money I spent on getting to the airport in Paris (60 euros in gas, 10 euros in tolls, 11.50 euros in parking = $120), as I would not have incurred these costs had I been informed prior that the trip had been canceled.

Thus, I am asking for, in addition to the $500 refund for the trip that was canceled, a reimbursement for $470 for my loss of flight and transportation to and from the airport. I do think this is fair, as I would not have spent the entire day traveling to and from the airport and the wasted airfare had I known the trip was canceled prior.

At that point, the exchange turns a little testy. Her tour operator fired back:

We are not in a position, nor are we obligated to pay you back for anything other than what we cancelled well in advanced. Additionally, we elected to cancel all the sessions and therefore take a financial hit in order to put our clients safety first- we very well could have go forward with the sessions and not been obligated to refund money, but that is not how we operate.

I’m sure the operator meant to say “advance.” Anyway, Taylor wants to take the tour operator to small claims court, even though the operator claims it emailed her and mailed her a letter, notifying her of the cancellation.

Here’s why I’m on the fence about this case. Anytime you travel, but especially when you go to a volatile part of the world, you double- and triple-check everything. Taylor should have been keeping an eye on the news and phoned her tour operator to make sure the trip was still on after the bombing.

I think this could have turned out much worse. She could have made her flight to Marrakech and then waited for a tour group that never showed up. Not to mention possibly put herself in danger.

Should her tour operator refund the $470 for going to the airport that day? Had the company failed to make any attempt to notify her, then maybe Taylor would have a stronger case. I think there may be other ways of addressing her problem — a discount on a future trip, perhaps even a sincere apology.

(Photo: ja s_gd/Flickr Creative Commons)

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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  • Willy

    OP cannot really hold the tour operator responsible for the ‘extra costs’ she paid. In this case the cancellation isn’t even the fault of the tour operator.

    Things like this do happen in the world, and by refunding the tour that was cancelled, that’s all that anyone can really expect from the operator and anything else is getting sort of greedy.

  • Absherlock

    Chris, what exactly do you want the tour operator to “sincerely apologize” for? There’s no question that they cancelled for a legitimate reason and they were able to show proof that an e-mail was sent.

    I’m wondering if the flight to Morocco for which she asking compensation was non-refundable and she felt the only way to get her money back was to lay blame at the feet of the tour operator.

  • Guest

    It sounds like her airfare and tolls ARE being covered in the $500 they are offering.  She wants that $500 PLUS another $470?  That seems unreasonable given the situation.

    I am concerned though that she claims she was never notified of the cancellation.  Sure they sent her an email they “claimed” they sent but do they have proof they sent it?  (proof could be a screen shot of the email they sent with her email in the sent line and a screen shot of it going through)  Did they send the mailing return receipt or delivery confirmation?  Or did they just figure they got there?  I think the company needs to do more to ensure customers are notified.

    I don’t think you should mediate but i DO think the company should do more in the future to ensure customers know what is going on. 

  • Kevin Mathews

    This lady sound irresponsible and she got more then enough compensation.  Anyone with a brain on their shoulders keeps an eye on the news of any foreign country they are traveling too.  In addition, e-mailing the day of your flight to confirm if everything is still on is NOT a good plan.
    Couple of Questions should be asked though:
    How much time was there between the bombing and her flight?
    Why was the Tour Operator still holding onto her money?  If they had planned on attempting to reschedule her for a future tour, why would they not have made more attempt to contact her?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’m confused.  When was the trip scheduled?  Where are the tour operators at?  The bombing was reported April 28, 2011, according to the link posted.  E-mail could have gone into the Spam folder, letter could be en route if the country where the tour operators are has poor postal service.  The tour operators should have had some mechanism for ensuring that their clients *received* the notifications, perhaps by follow-up phone call.

    I’m sure that Ms. Taylor’s trip insurance will come through for her on the $470 in costs, right?  (Ha! Beat @Arizona Road Warrior to the punch on this one!)

  • BillC

    It looks like she was informed well in advance. If she bought a non-refundable air ticket then she should have been aware of the risks.
     
    I think the $500.00 is enough. When I plan a trip I usually check weekly or bi-weekly up until departure day to check for any changes. It is so easy these days to stay on top of these things that there is very little excuse for surprises. In this case I would have been on the phone to the tour operator as soon as I had heard about a bombing at my destination.

  • john4868

    The $500 was specifically there to cover the cost of her flight and yet she wants more?

    In my eyes the TO did all the right things in the case. They emailed her of the cancellation, which they can show, and sent her a letter.

    The TO did enough

  • Asiansm Dan

    The RER Paris-CDG is 17 Euros Round-Trip. Me too. I think the $500 is enough. 60 Euros for gas I doubt it.

  • B

    Elliott- big fan of your site but when you end your story with yor own opinion, it gives a ‘biasness’ to your readers which way you are leaning…. Just a helpful tip, perhaps you should remain neutral and wait for the voting to end and then give your ‘gut opinion’. For example, in this case I was leaning toward you mediating the case but I could tell you didn’t really want to- maybe that is why so many peaople said “no”? Don’t stop what you are doing because it is great! But just something tithing about?

  • SoBeSparky

    Anytime you pay in advance for a nonrefundable ticket, then when external events (not under control of the airline or tour operator) cause a passenger to not fly, it is at the passenger’s financial risk, not the tour operator or the airline. 

    Similar occurrences are happening with tours to Tibet as the border is closing later this month (June 2011) for around a month.  If you bought and paid for a nonrefundable airfare, then you are stuck because you cannot get a tour permit to enter Tibet.  Another analogy is buying the airfare before a country’s visa is issued.  If you cannot get the visa, then you are out the money.  It is not the tour operator or airline’s fault.  Unless the tour operator made an iron-clad no-questions-asked refund guarantee (very doubtful) then the tour operator has made a generous offer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    First of all, I can’t believe she waited until she’s on her way to the airport to contact her travel agency.  Like others have said here, I’m usually checking and double-checking any trip I take overseas for quite some time beforehand.

    The statement from the agency that they sent her an e-mail is somewhat dubious because I can “say” I sent someone an e-mail but that doesn’t make it so, nor is there anyway to confirm it.  “Oh, it must have gotten caught in some internal filter at some ISP thousands of miles away and you never saw it.”

    It’s early in the morning here for me and I haven’t been awake for long but if I’m reading Chris’s posting here correctly she spent $470 to get to the airport and the agency is offering her $500 and she wants them both?

    Sounds to me as though Marie Antoinette here wants to have her cake and eat it too.

  • zpaul

    I think the $500 is enough compensation, but I think the tour operator was somewhat negligent in communicating the cancellation.  I was a Tour Director with a very reputable company for almost ten years, and any time that we had to cancel a tour the guests were contacted by telephone, with follow-up by mail or email.  No matter how teckie the world gets, there’s no better way to ensure a message is communicated that by communicating directly with the other person – as has been said, e- and snail mail can get lost, delayed, etc.  Having proof that an email or letter was sent is NOT proof that it was received.  

  • Belinda Contague

    You already recognize that the woman could very well have landed in a country where she could have been at risk.  This tour company thinks that an email is enough?  I think a phone call to every single person on the tour should have happened and that’s just common sense.  We’re talking about personal safety, not just some money for a flight.  I also think the company should be sued/punished for taking customer safety so lightly. 

  • JJWeldon

    Sometimes life happens.  We don’t get compensated for everything – the TO did more than enough.  The OP should have contacted the tour operator well before the airport.

  • FranD

    +1

    Agreed completely. Also, sometimes you add updates to the story which always add something. They really should go above the poll rather than below as several times I wished I could revote after reading them.

  • JJWeldon

    It is unreasonable to expect the TO make all those international calls.  The traveler – after reading about the bombing – should have contacted the TO before going to the airport.  Now that is common sense.

  • MikeZ

    All, the $500 was not compensation for any loses because of the airfare or the trip to the airport. The $500 was the original cost of the tour. She is asking to be compensated for the additional expenses she incurred because she did not get notification.

    Lots of e-mails get stuck in spam filters. Anyone who has dealt with Craigslist adds knows this. However, the company also claims it mailed her a letter. Even if the OP had an e-mail message go to a spam filter, I find it highly doubtful that a letter would also go missing or that the OP would ignore such a letter, coming from the company who she was booked to do a tour with.

    I voted no on the mediation simply because the OP is already talking small claims court and the tour operator isn’t responsible for the bombing. However, i would probably vote yes now that I have had a chance to think about it a few minutes. I think the tour operator is not being honest about all the notifications it claims to have sent.

  • Jennifer

    I disagree that the $500 was not compensation for the airfare but for the cost of the tour.  The post says, the tour company “offered $500 to cover the cost of her airline ticket and one night’s lodging.”  That, to me, means the cost of her airline ticket to Morocco.  The story is a bit confusing to me.  Did the woman pay for her actual tour?  If not, then she should have known something was wrong.  When you take a tour, you get lots, I mean lots, of paperwork a couple of weeks in advance of the trip.  If I didn’t receive any paperwork, I would have been on the phone to the tour operator.  I would have confirmed my tour. 

    I guess I’m not sure what she’s asking for if she already received $500 to cover her airline ticket.

  • Sylviaguarino

    Your time is limited.  These “grievances” are not. I think there are better cases for you to invest your talents.  I would have voted no even if you did not hint at your reticence to get involved.

  • MikeZ

    The story is at ods with itself. in the quote letter it says “Thus, I am asking for, in addition to the $500 refund for the trip that was canceled, a reimbursement for $470 for my loss of flight and transportation to and from the airport.”

    To me this means the refund was for the cancelled tour and not for the flight and other incurred expenses. If the $500 was to include other expenses above and beyond the cost of the tour, then it would seem to me the company is admitting some liability in the e-mail and letter not getting to it’s intended target.

  • Jacob Jurmain

     Neither the OP nor the tour operator are at fault for the bombing, and both took the risk of doing business in a somewhat unstable region.  Shared risk, shared responsibility.

  • Guest

    I’m confused. 

    The story says the tour company, “offered $500 to cover the cost of her airline ticket and one night’s lodging” which reads like they are giving her an extra $500.

    But then the customer says the $500 isnt’ enough as she wants, ‘”in addition to the $500 refund for the trip that was canceled, a reimbursement for $470 for my loss of flight and transportation to and from the airport.” which says that the $500 being offered is for the tour part ONLY and that is being reimbursed.

    Which is it?  I’m inclined to think the $500 is only for the tour because the tour company replied with, ‘We are not in a position, nor are we obligated to pay you back for anything other than what we cancelled well in advanced.” 

    Am I right?   Is the $500 only for the tour? 

    They didn’t cancel “well in advanced”.  The bombing happened April 28th.  If the customer was due to travel in late May that’s only a month, hardly ‘well in advance’ in my opinion. 

    If she’d had travel insurance would this have been covered?  I think it should be covered by SOMEONE if indeed this traveler had no knowledge that her tour was cancelled and that someone should not be the traveler who had no part in the decision to cancel the tour.

  • Guest

    I’m inclined to agree after reading the story a few more times.

    the tour company says they don’t have to give her back any more money other than what they cancelled.  They didn’t cancel the flight, they only canceled the tour. 

    she says she wants the $500 for the tour that was cancelled AND the flight to be reimbursed. 

    Given the re-read I’m still on the fence though, why shoudl the tour company be on the hook for her flight?  Although in my opinion, even if they DID send notice of a cancellation right after the bombing a month isn’t ‘well in advance’.  But how did she not get ANY notice of the cancellation at all? 

  • Julie.

    The $500 was for the cost of the TOUR itself. Her other expenses, for which she would like reimbursement, were $470.

  • Michael K

    I’m confused about something:

    If the tour operator cancelled the tour “well in advance”, then shouldn’t they have refunded the original tour reservation payment (“well in advance”)?  If she paid with plastic, presumably she would have seen such a the credit on a statement (again, “well in advance” of the travel date).

    When and how did the tour operator issue a refund for the cancelled tour?  Did they wait until the OP called them before issuing a refund?   I don’t see how one can absolve the tour operator without knowing the answer to this.

  • Guest

    The bombing occurred at the end of April so even if they did refund her money right away it may not have hit a statement yet.

  • Michael K

    In that case, the tour operator exaggerates and loses some credibility when they claim they cancelled “well in advance”.  It was at most about a month in advance and apparently not enough time for the OP to receive a mailed letter before her departure date from the U.S.

    If one of the tour operator’s customers asks to cancel a tour reservation one month before departure, would the TO characterize it as a request made “well in advance” and would they issue a full refund?

  • ouijesuis

    I just got back from Marrakech and it was lovely. Why can’t some people just roll with the punches? Take your vaca, make some change in plans and ask for a refund for the tour sure…but just because the “tour” was cancelled doesn’t mean that it wasn’t business as usual in Marrakech. Book a few nights in a riad, check out the souks, take a day trip to the Atlas mountains and spend an evening at a hamam.

  • sunshipballoons

    I have the opposite view. I don’t see why they should have reimbursed her for her plane ticket, unless perhaps she can show it was refundable on the date they should have, but didn’t, give her notice of the cancellation.

    If they really didn’t notify her, they clearly should reimburse her totally unnecessary expenses for her trip to the airport. 81.5 euros should have done it.

  • Guest

    I’m right there with you, I would have gone anyways BUT I get that not everyone is comfortable with traveling on their own in any country.  Some people just need the comfort of a tour (or a fancy hotel, or to be surrounded by people just like them even if they are in a foreign country).

    I also wouldn’t label Morocco as volatile.  Jut because it’s an Islamic country doesn’t make it unstable.  Did a bombing happen?  Yes but bombings have happened in LOTS of places.  Would people have avoided London or the whole of the UK for most of the 80s?  In my opinion you’re MUCH safer after a bombing has happened becuse everyone is on hyper alert. 

  • James

    Sounds like she purchased a land-only tour. If the $500 was to cover the cost of her airline ticket and one night’s lodging, that means it wasn’t a refund for her tour portion, but something additional. So she was already in Paris doing her own thing, and had a Marrakesh add-on. Once she found out that the tour was no-go, she could’ve still taken the flight and arranged her own trip once she got on the ground. So if indeed she got her land-only tour portion refunded (which seems obvious) AND $500, the TO definitely met her halfway. Disappointing for her? Yes. Should the TO have sent follow-up emails when no one responded? Yes. Does she deserve more than $500? No.

  • Dave

    If the tour operator had arranged for the air transportation, then I’d say they should be on the hook.  She bought it herself, apparently at the risk of buying a non-refundable ticket, so they are not responsible.

    Could the operator have done a better job of communicating the changes?  Sure looks like it.  But if they didn’t sell her the air transportation, then that’s not their responsibility (just like if you make your own air reservations to catch a cruise from Fort Lauderdale — the rules of common sense don’t change just because it’s a land tour).

  • http://www.allaboutcabo.com All about Laurie

    I always buy trip cancellation. It is worth the extra money to save you lots of aggravation. In this world of technology many things can happen to a email. I think it is the obligation of the company to actually get in touch with the person not just contact them.