When hurricane Irene plowed through the Northeast late last summer, she didn’t just leave half of New England underwater. The storm also ruined a vacation or two, including the tour of Niagara Falls Jim Allendoerfer had set up for his fiancee and her family.

Tour operators are normally very understanding when it comes to the weather, but that wasn’t the case with the Tours4Fun, the website through which he’d purchased the Niagara tour.

Then again, Allendoerfer’s circumstances were a little unusual. His fiancee’s family had flown in from Thailand, and they’d decided to cancel their entire Empire State itinerary and head to Vegas instead.

He explains:

Most of the companies in New York were more than happy to refund our money but Tours4Fun refused to refund even half.

I asked to speak with a supervisor and got a supervisor who was unwilling to discuss a refund.

They only offered to transfer the tour to a different day, which is not reasonable for a group of people visiting from Thailand to reschedule. I asked them for half of the money back and they refused that too.

What is going on here? I decided to contact Tours4Fun to get its side.

As it turns out, Tours4Fun isn’t a tour operator, but a travel agency. A representative explained that during the hurricane, multiple-day package tours still departed as usual, and compensation for delays or being unable to take a tour due to the storm would have been up to a travel insurance company.

He adds,

The only tour cancellations refunded in full were local day tours or 2-3 day bus tours and the only days these tours were canceled was exactly on the days Irene hit New York (Saturday and Sunday). The Monday following Irene and all tours thereafter were operating as normal.

So unless the tour was directly affected by the storm — specifically, unless it was canceled outright — Allendoerfer wouldn’t get a refund. Tours4Fun was being generous by offering to reschedule his fiancee’s Niagara visit.

Allendoerfer is disappointed by that response.

“At this point I dont care about them anymore,” he told me. “I’m just disgusted that a company can take $450 from me and not feel guilty about it.”

This is an interesting case. Since Tours4Fun is only a travel agent, its hands are tied. But I find its assumption that customers would buy insurance on a $450 tour to be wrongheaded. As I’ve said numerous times, travel insurance makes sense when you’re taking a safari or a one-week cruise. But a Niagara Falls tour? Not so much.

Allendoerfer’s options are limited. He can’t dispute the charges because he paid by debit card, he says. I’m not even sure if a dispute would work. He lives in Chicago and the tour operator is based in New York. His bank may have refused to consider the chargeback, anyway, citing chapter and verse of the Fair Credit Billing Act.

I also understand the tour operator’s perspective. If you’re closed because of the weather, you might have insurance that covers you. But if guests randomly cancel their plans before and after a storm, even when everything is up and running, that could be bad for business.

But the bottom line is that Allendoerfer didn’t have a good customer experience with Tours4Fun, and that concerns me the most. As his travel agent, I think he was looking for the company to advocate for him and secure a full refund.

I’m sorry that wasn’t possible.

(Photo: Alber to Mari/Flickr)