Can this trip be saved? They overbooked my cruise and all I got was a refund

Beth Mann and her husband were looking forward to a European cruise they booked through Vantage Travel for months. They’d been preparing for her ports of call in Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn by reading books on Russia and the Baltics.

But then the hammer fell on their plans.

A few weeks ago, they received a call from Vantage. “Oops, we’re sorry,” a representative told them. “We overbooked.”

Never mind that they’d already paid $11,920 for cabin 246 on the MS Tolstoy. The Manns weren’t going.

Vantage offered the couple a full refund. But Beth Mann isn’t sure if that’s enough.

“Does Vantage’s word have any value?” she asked me.

She added,

To add insult to injury, our Vantage travel packets arrived the day after the phone call with the final information on flights, itinerary, and even the names of our travel guides and my platinum member card.

Talk about pouring salt in the wound.

Of course, I thought upon receiving the packet, the phone call must have been a mistake. When I inquired, I received a very curt reply, “There has been no mistake!” I was also told, “Everyone overbooks!” Of course, our mothers’ told us that because “everyone else does it”, that is no excuse for bad behavior.

Related: In today’s edition of What’s your problem?, Thomas Hill’s camera is lost in the mail. Not our fault, says Sony — take this up with Federal Express. Is Sony really off the hook?

It’s true, overbookings happen. In fairness to Vantage, I’m almost certain its representative didn’t just say “Oops, we’re sorry” or blow her off when she called back — but that’s what it felt like to her. Just as bad.

Does she deserve more?

Is there a precedent for additional compensation? Well, if the tables were turned and Mann had tried to cancel, here’s what she would face (PDF). She can’t just take her money and run; Vantage would charge her cancellation fees and other penalties.

Shouldn’t Vantage offer something similar when the roles are reversed?

In a perfect world, yes. But in the real world, it’s uncommon for a company to step up and take responsibility for its overbooking mistakes unless it’s obligated to by law. If Vantage were an airline, and the Manns were involuntarily denied boarding, then the Transportation Department would step in. But weeks in advance, even the government requires either a refund or a flight of the passenger’s choosing — but no financial compensation.

Mann wants to know how something like this could be prevented. I don’t know. Telling her to avoid a popular cruise seems silly. It’s popular because people like it, but that’s no reason to stay away from it.

Should I try to recover more than a refund for her?

Update (9/27): Vantage has responded.

I was sorry to read of Ms. Mann’s dissatisfaction with Vantage. I certainly understand her disappointment, and we hate having to change anyone’s reservation.

I wanted to share some details you might find helpful. In the event of an overbooking, our travelers are given a few options. They can move to another program, or reschedule the same program at another time with a discount and price protection.

If travelers are not able to change their travel plans, we give them a full and expedited refund and $500 per person. In the Manns’ case, they chose to cancel for full refunds, and were also reimbursed for their visa expenses in early August.

(Photo: Joha ndk/Flickr)

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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