When Dick Rheinhardt booked a cruise vacation through Four Seasons Tours and Cruises, in Largo, Fla., last November, he agreed to pay $824 for what he believed to be a travel insurance policy. But it wasn’t a real policy, he says. A few months later, Florida authorities told three agencies that Prime Travel Protection policies might be bogus. Rheinhardt wanted a refund.
That’s when he discovered Prime Travel Protection was alive and well.
I notified our credit card company that we were protesting the payment of the premium. Travel Protection, Inc. responded with a letter to the credit card company stating that the trip had been covered, and they would have paid a claim if one had been filed.
In response I faxed a copy of a six-page “Cease and Desist” order issued by Florida Department of Financial Services against Prime Travel Protection, Jerry Watson and his multiple companies. This order states that their product is insurance and his companies are not, and have never been licensed to do business in Florida.
Rheinhardt has good reason to be suspicious. He had made another claim through Prime Travel Protection on a cruise vacation, and it hasn’t been paid yet. After the Florida order, he had no intention of waiting around to find out if the second policy would be effective, should he need to file a claim.
On July 2, MasterCard sent us a letter stating “There is no evidence provided to show the merchant did not provide service as agreed.” They sent this letter after receiving the faxed copy of the Cease and Desist Order. Upon receiving this letter we immediately called MasterCard and were told that the letter may have been sent by mistake and that higher management was reviewing the file.
Rheinhardt says he’s working with Florida’s Department of Financial Services in its investigation of the travel agent. “They sent a Special Investigator, Susan V. Gorton, to our home and we gave her information that she thought would be helpful,” he told me.
I contacted MasterCard and Four Seasons Tours and Cruises last week and asked for their side of the story. Neither has responded.
We don’t have to wait for the results of Rheinhardt’s credit card dispute to draw a few conclusions. First, despite its claims to the contrary, Prime Travel Protection apparently remains in business.
Second, the cease-and-desist orders by Florida and Colorado have apparently been ineffective, if the goal was to close down a company that sold unlicensed travel insurance. From where I’m sitting, it looks as if insurance regulators simply went through the motions and didn’t follow through with what the tough enforcement action that was necessary.
And finally, it looks as if credit card companies, rather than siding with aggrieved customers, are leaning toward taking the side of a shady merchant.
If MasterCard resolves this dispute in Prime Travel Protection’s favor, I believe Rheinhardt has a solid case for small claims court. At the very least, he should consider switching credit cards.
(Photo: barsen/Flickr Creative Commons)