Case dismissed: No refund for my canceled Middle East vacation By Christopher Elliott | May 19, 2011 Here’s another cautionary tale — as if we needed one — on the dangers of choosing an interesting destination for your next vacation. How about Egypt? It’s got pyramids, museums – and a riot or two. Catherine Green certainly got more than she bargained for when she booked a March 26 tour to the Middle East through On The Go. With all of the warnings being issued by the State Department, she was certain the tour operator would cancel the Egypt trip and offer her a full refund. It didn’t. “They are demanding that I pay $3,532 for a trip that I canceled with all reasonable prudent person beliefs that On The Go would not be able or interested in trying to assure my personal safety in a civil war torn country,” she told me. On The Go, it turns out, is living up to its name. It isn’t letting a little revolution get in the way of its business. Despite a violent regime change, it continues to run tours to Egypt. I contacted On The Go to get its side of the story. A representative pointed me to its terms, which say Green missed her window for a refund and warning her of the perils of traveling to a region that isn’t exactly known for its stability. “All bookings are accepted on the understanding that the Client appreciates such risks and hazards and that they undertake all tours at their own volition,” it says. It also reiterated that it wouldn’t be refunding her tour. “Please note that on her travel dates, the US State Department and the British Foreign office both deemed Egypt safe for travel in turn we were and still are operating tours with great feedback,” a spokesman added. On The Go did, however, offer Green an opportunity to reschedule her vacation later this year, so she could feel more at ease with visiting Egypt. Green doesn’t consider that a reasonable offer. “I no longer respect them,” she told me. “I’ve saved five years for this trip, and $3,532 is no trifling matter. You might think they would be eager to provide a full refund to exemplify excellent customer service in hopes of gaining my continued travel arrangements.” While I agree that $3,532 is no small sum, I think On The Go’s offer to reschedule Green isn’t out of line. She might want to consider taking them up on it. For the rest of us, there’s this takeaway: In these uncertain times, choose your vacation destination very carefully. Which is to say, if you want a sure bet, visit Canada or England or Western Europe, but avoid places that are dicey, like Mexico, parts of Central and South America and the Middle East. And if you do go there, be sure to read the State Department warnings and buy a good travel insurance policy. Otherwise you could end up paying $3,532 for a vacation you didn’t get to take. (Photo: Sim ona Scolari/Flickr Creative Commons) Christopher ElliottChristopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at email@example.com. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google PlusFacebookTwitterLinkedInGooglePinterestReddit Related http://www.facebook.com/alexanderstevens Alex Stevens So first they should refund her because she assumed OTG “would not be able or interested in trying to assure my personal safety in a civil war torn country,” then when that didn’t work, it was because “You might think they would be eager to provide a full refund to exemplify excellent customer service in hopes of gaining my continued travel arrangements.” Why do people continue to believe in story after story that vendors should break the policies they agreed to because they disagree with them when it goes against them? They warned her, they gave a refund window, the tour was operated, the State Department says it was safe to go, and presumably nothing bad happened – and they STILL offered to let her reschedule – it’s all on her. Furthermore, she pointed out it took her 5 years to save for this trip – I’m guessing a once-in-5-years traveler isn’t necessarily the one that OTG is dying to save for “continued travel arrangements.” Tom She lost me when she used the term “civil war.” Cruises and Disneyworld are great destinations for people like her. Travel to the Mideast, Africa, Cuba, and other unsettled places must be reserved for people with a spirit of adventure. Absherlock Sounds like this isn’t so much fear as it is buyer’s remorse. Good for the tour company for not giving in. Jacky Tom, Cuba is one of the safest places you can visit; to include it with the Middleast and Africa is heavy handed (yes I have been there many times – have you?). Otherwise understand what you are getting into and don’t blame someone else for your planning. Guest I normally vote yes for the customer but there is no way I could have done that in this case. Not when it was pointed out that all bookings are taken with the customer knowing the risks involved and that the State Dept and others had cleared Egypt for travel by that point. Furthermore even at the height of the issues in Cairo many parts of the country were fine to travel to. Ms. Green is scared to go and I think that’s understandable but it doesn’t mean that the company should give her a refund. She should take them up on their offer to go later on, I’m hoping to go later on this year. All will be fine, all IS fine there tourist wise, and she’ll be helping out the tourism industry and some very hardworking people. amystery726 Maybe On the Go would allow her to book a different tour, and, if it’s lower cost, she would just lose that sum. Otherwise, traveling to areas that are unstable in the best of times has inherent risks, and she should have thought of the possible “what if” scenarios before booking. RWD She should have known better than to book a trip to Egypt, ever. I would never step foot into the Mideast. MikeZ I’m actually very surprised by “the US State Department and the British Foreign office both deemed Egypt safe for travel”. I would have thought for sure that the unrest would have caused a travel warning. I do think that the offer of a vacation later in the year is very generous and one the OP should take. JJWeldon Greedy tourist. It didn’t turn out to be the “Disney” Egypt of Hollywood so she wants a full refund. Screw anyone else. they gave her more than enough slack by offering to reschedule. Tom Cuba unsettled in the sense that Americans generally can’t travel there legally, can’t use American credit cards, have little protection from American consulates, or recourse in American courts if they get ripped off. Also, they may be subject to prosecution under current laws. Crime is relatively low in Cuba in part because the Cubans believe in swift and sure justice. I remember those boat hijackers who were arrested, tried, exhausted their appeals and were executed all within 48 hours. That kind of justice dampens crime. http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com Kathy I go by British travel warnings as the US State Dept. is often ridiculously over-cautious, so if they said it was safe, I would go. I did cancel a trip to Tunisia earlier this year (I canceled at the end of January) but I had only pre-paid my air-fare, which Tunis Air refunded, minus 30 euro. In this case I’d take the reschedule, although I’d avoid dates around any scheduled elections and skip Cairo on Fridays. I’ve read several trip reports from people who’ve found Egypt a great destination right now, with few tourists around. Brooklyn It’s time for legislation on this; if, after you book a ticket with a US provider (airline, cruise ot tour group), the State Department issues a warning against travel to the region in question, the company should be required to refund your money or give you a credit for a future trip – your choice. That should be part of the cost of doing business for the companies as they can better afford it than individuals like the OP. People claim that they don’t want Government interference, but these companies have shown time and again that they can’t be trusted to police themselves. There should be no need for travel insurance in such cases. Personally, I’ve often chosen to ignore State Department travel warnings, but no one should be compelled to do so. Tom Good idea, but has a fundamental flaw. State Department is already under huge pressure from countries not to issue travel warning for fear of scaring away tourists. If you added pressure from travel companies and their insurers who feared giving huge refunds, the State Department might never give warnings. I prefer the State Department as an honest broker of information — and let the traveler decide how to interpret the information. cjr001 There were travel warnings, but I’m guessing they must have been rescinded before her date of travel. Note that there are two levels of alert: Travel Alert, which are short-term, and Travel Warning, which are more serious and long-term. The State Dept. still lists Egypt with a Travel Alert dated 4/26. Although, it seems meaningless when there was a Worldwide alert issued on 5/1 due to the death of bin Laden. http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com Kathy But the article says that the company said: ““Please note that on her travel dates, the US State Department and the British Foreign office both deemed Egypt safe for travel in turn we were and still are operating tours with great feedback,” a spokesman added.” http://santafecheapskate.wordpress.com Chelseagirl98 She “saved five years for this trip” and then booked to a volatile destination without checking the refund policy? She was ‘certain” she’d get a refund? Based on what? I’m tired of these people who refuse to take any responsibility for their predicament and always rely on the vendor to rectify their own negligence. If you pay thousands of dollars for a trip without doing your homework, this is what happens. Greta It may have worked more in the OP’s favor if she had saved a little longer and bought trip insurance with the “cancel for any reason” provision. I know trip insurance is debated all the time here, but purchasing it for a trip to a volatile region is one of the times when it makes sense to do so. With that “cancel for any reason” clause. Walt Blackadar She gets a big fat “no mo'” from me and I’m usually on the side of the consumer. I understand her problems with taking an Egypt trip in March and I think it says something about OTG’s business practices that they would point the liability clause as their primary defense. That struck me as “we don’t care what happens to you when you’re on our trip because we’re not liable”. That being said: 1. It’s her fault for assuming that they wouldn’t go. 2. OTG did offer her the same trip later this year. That seems like a very fair offer and she refused. At this point, the OP seems to have an entitlement mentality and it’s her problem. OTG made a reasonable accommodation for her. If she doesn’t want to accept it, then she can walk away from the money. http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FC6URZR53LS75ECKPIN4A2BYWQ Eileen w/r/t the touring company, I file this under “Congratulations, you are right, wanna cookie?” As in, ok, you are within your policy and you can be as stubborn about keeping this woman’s money as you want, but the right thing to have done would have been to refund the money. Or at least. to refund any of her money that had not been committed towards any non-refundable fees for her travel or lodging. They are well within their rights to continue to keep her funds, but they would have earned much better PR if they had refunded it. john4868 So you just added a huge cost to doing business to US tourists. Are you willing to pay more? Joe Farrell Why is that bad Tom? Cuba is no different from most other nations in the world – break their laws, suffer the consequences- the State Dept is not going to recommend a war because tourists get ripped off – are you REALLY going back to Botswana to litigate the stolen trinkets or poor service? Are u going to complain to the consulate? Travel to Cuba is safe of the promise of swift justice and the fact that the country wants to increase tourism and acting like thugs does not increase tourism . . . Jennifer Frankly, I don’t think this customer would appreciate any of the tours offered by On the Go, It specializes in Africa, the Mideast, and Asia, including Russia. No Canada, US or (the rest of) Europe. As someone who “risked” touring Jordan and Israel in February, I’m definitely going to look into On the Go for a future trip. I think they offered enough to this customer by offering to reschedule her trip for later in the year. Joe F This one is pretty simple. Even WITH travel insurance [as another post shows] there was no refunds being given for travel to Egypt. In this – a life long trip savings for 5 years – no travel insurance and wishful thinking that she’d get her money back because she thought so . . . thems the facts and the facts say no. Lindabator You can read, right? She said the travel alert had already been lifted, and they did offer a later trip. But also keep in mind there are travel alerts to all sorts of destinations, even in Europe. That’s hardly reason the world should stop still for the wary traveller. If you want perfect security, you won’t even find it in your own home, so travel with a bit of knowledge of the area, a good travel policy (cancel for any reason for the dicier areas) and a little flexibility. Or just stay home and watch the Travel Channel. Eighmeagh Interestingly, the On the Go’s terms and conditions specify that the traveler is required to purchase travel insurance. So what kind of policy did the OP take out? (presumably not a “cancel for any reason” — but why not? And did she verify that her cancellation was not covered by her insurance before seeking a refund from On the Go?) Also, On the Go is a British company. Thus, any warnings by the U.S. State Department are likely of little or no relevance when it comes to On the Go’s decisions about continuing to operate tours to areas of potential unrest. Looks like a case of an unsophisticated buyer not making sure she understood ALL the terms and conditions of what she was buying. I think On the Go did more than enough. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson I’m really having a hard time with this for a variety of reasons… First of all, I agree the OP should have used more caution when choosing her destination. However, Egypt has always been a destination of choice. Why shouldn’t she go where tens of thousands have gone before? With political unrest at an all-time high in the Middle East, I think I might have continued saving for another year or so to see how things panned out there. It’s not been a secret that there are problems in the Middle East. As much as we all have our “bucket list dream trip”, they’re not always doable. Also, offering her a second chance at the trip is, IMHO, good customer service but so is a full refund given the political unrest in that part of the world. Offering her a second chance later this year – um, what if it’s still in upheaval? Does she get a third, fourth or fifth chance while she waits for it to become safe again? Finally, how unsafe is it, really? Being part of a tour group certainly shelters one much more than traveling alone. And we’re all aware of how much the media embellishes things in the interest of selling papers. I’d say give her the second chance but if things are still going wrong, refund her money… In full. But that’s just me. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson I like Jennifer’s train of thought here. I gotta be honest, I’d much rather go to Asia/Russia than the Middle East. Has the OP considered adapting her plans to suit the occasion? I’m sitting here imagining Christmas in Moscow. I also saw on the site they go to Vietnam. This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Chris, perhaps you should talk to the OP about altering her plans to another destination that isn’t the Middle East but equally beautiful and desirable. john4868 Why should OTG lose their profit and any deposits that they made on her behalf because she has buyers remorse? I don’t see where they did anything wrong. Even a little bit. Brooklyn Actually, I think a lot of the State Department’s warnings are politically motivated. Thie legislation I’d like to see adopted might make them think twice about warning people not to travel to places that are perfectly safe but out of favor with our government (Cuba, for example) since the companies would pressure the government if they lost too much revenue. Or maybe they’d think twice about going ahead with trips to destinations that have become combat zones and cancel them on their own. Individual travellers are relatively safe in most cases; it’s organized groups that pose tempting targets. Brooklyn “You can read, right?” Why, yes, I can, and this is what I read: “With all of the warnings being issued by the State Department, she was certain the tour operator would cancel the Egypt trip and offer her a full refund”. I take this to mean that the State Department had in fact issued a warning at the time she cancelled her trip, but that it was lifted before the date on which she was scheduled to depart. Was she supposed to wait until the last possible minute before deciding whether to cancel? I’m sure an intrepid traveller like yourself parachutes into combat zones on vacation on a regular basis, bowie knife between your teeth, but not everyone is as perfect as you…or as wealthy. If she saved for years for this trip, it’s unlikely that she’d have been able to afford a ridiculously expensive “cancel for any reason” insurance policy. You, of course, would have no problem with that…. Lindabator As a travel agent, I’m not “philthy rich” but have to work for my money like any one else — and paying an additional $35 – $50 for Cancel For Any Reason to cover something she saved for 5 years for only makes sense. Expecting everyone else to pay for her choices and or mistakes is unacceptable. Andi330 I disagree with you on this. At no point does the OP indicate that she asked the OTG if they would refund her for cancelling because she deemed the trip unsafe. OTG followed their policy on this one, and rightly so. She didn’t ask if she would get a refund or a reschedule if she cancelled, she just cancelled. She apparently chose not to have travel insurance (or if she did, she didn’t get a good enough policy). But the biggest indicator of all is that neither the US State Department, nor the British equivalent had a travel warning for Egypt at the time her tour was scheduled. That tells me (and should have told her) that it was safe to travel to Egypt. At that point, OTG had no obligation (and no reason) to refund her trip for safety concerns. They’ve offered to let her reschedule. She should take the offer if she doesn’t want to be out her money. Jbaker Or- if you want to travel somewhere dicey, remember to take out a Cancel For Any Reason Travel Insurance policy which gives you the freedom to change your mind and recoup most of your travel investment- and protects you while you are traveling if you do decide to go. http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly I support Tom. Cuba is a gorgeous island, but does involve some element of “risk”, ie. policies may change at the blink of an eye and US citizens may not gain entry. Happened to me about 12 years ago – called the Cuban consulate to make sure it was ok (after going 3+ times before), got to Cuba and was turned back because the Pope happened to be visiting that month… Tom isn’t saying “don’t go to Cuba” but merely saying that it isn’t as US tourist-friendly as some other locations… Crissy Chris you say that in these uncertain times we should choose are destination very carefully. But really, any trip to any location (not just, Mexico, S and C America and the Middle East) can have issues. For some the United States as a terrorist target can be dicey. I think the better point is that you need to pick a location that is in your comfort zone and where the likely issues are still in your comfort zone. If it’s not and you still want to go you need to buy cancel for any reason insurance. I went to Egypt a couple years ago and it was fantastic and much safer then everyone said it was. The OP should do a little research on the actual conditions in Egypt now and consider taking this trip in a few months. http://gspirits.com/ Zod On the one hand, their terms and conditions clearly state the rules. but on the other hand, there should be something about “doing the right thing”. This seems t be a theme with American tour companies. A couple of years ago, my parents teamed up with relatives in Germany to visit Egypt. This was going to be about 32-40 Germans touring through Egypt seeing the sights. About 2 months before they were scheduled to leave, Egyptian rioters blew up a German tour bus. Needless to say, Egypt was no longer looking like the ideal place to visit! The tour company recognized the danger and rescheduled the entire tour for 2 weeks in Tennerife! Better than getting blown up in Egypt! This is how you treat people… Joelw These situations are not comparable. However, rescheduling the trip to another destination would still not give the OP any money back and is substantially the same as allowing her to take the same trip at a later date. I think the first commenter above had it right. First she assumed that they would give her a refund because ythey couldn’t guarantee her safety and then when they wouldn’t do that she suggests that she now get a refund as an examp,le of good customer service. IMHO, she should take OTG up on their generous offer and consiedr herself lucky. http://nodebtworldtravel.com/ Brian The biggest thing we can take from this: Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy that covers ANY reason you could possibly cancel. andrelot The most expected effect would be a lot of tourist business companies setting shop on the Bahamas, Canada or other countries and selling trips only online, thus escaping American courts enforceability of its courts.