Anibal Trejo/Shutterstock

Anibal Trejo/Shutterstock

Al Chapper’s trouble with Vantage Worldwide River Voyages isn’t just the most common river-cruise question I get. It’s the most common cruise complaint, period.

Which is why I’m thinking of mediating it.

Chapper just got off a “river” cruise of France’s Burgundy and Provence region. And I put “river” in quotes because although they followed the Saône and Rhône rivers, they were not on a ship.

They were in a bus.

“The company did bus us to some of the sites we were supposed to visit but had to cancel some others,” he says. “The result was that we missed perhaps two or three days out of the 13-day itinerary.”

To its credit, Vantage addressed the problem right away in a letter:

On behalf of of Vantage Deluxe World Travel, I’d like to thank you for your patience and understanding over the course of your French Waterways journey. As you know, dangerously high water levels along the Rhone and Saone prompted French authorities to close all navigation along these rivers.

We regret that this act of nature forced us to cancel our river travel as scheduled in order to ensure your safety, which is always our top priority.

We of course recognize the disappointment this may have caused you. I would like to extend a $500 per person future travel credit as compensation. Feel free to use it toward any advantage trip of your choice departing by December 31, 2014.

As a seasoned world traveler, you know that acts of nature and other unforeseen events often require us to change the best laid plans. We are glad that in spite of the sailing ban we were still able to deliver the majority of our scheduled sightseeing and cultural activities, and we appreciate the hard work of our regional teams, who acted quickly to arrange alternate activities for you.

Hmm, a $500 voucher for another river cruise? That assumes Chapper wants to come back to Europe within a year, and considering that a river cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, that’s highly doubtful.

“Is that reasonable?” he asks. “We have reason to believe that they knew of the problem in advance of the trip and should have given us the opportunity to cancel without penalty. We do not want to be greedy, but we feel that the $500 offer is too low.”

Vantage’s tour participation agreement (PDF) is pretty clear.

Without limiting the foregoing, Vantage is not responsible for any losses or expenses due to delays or changes in schedules, overbooking or downgrading of accommodations, defaults by any third parties, including Suppliers, mechanical or other failure of airplanes or other means of transportation, or the failure of any transportation mechanism to arrive or depart on time. Vantage is not responsible for acts of God or force majeure events, sanitation problems, lack of medical care, sickness, weather conditions, strikes and other labor activities, acts of terrorism, acts of war (declared or undeclared), quarantines, embargoes, blockades, criminal activities or any other act or event beyond the direct control of Vantage.

In other words, it lets itself off the hook for the river closures. (Incidentally, Vantage’s terms are a really fun read. Did you know that by going on one of its tours, you agree to be photographed and for the images to be used in a Vantage ad? Wow.)

Vantage’s adhesion contract is meaningless, because it’s an agreement that says it doesn’t have to deliver a meaningful product. I believe there’s an implied agreement that Chapper would get a full 13-day river cruise. I’m not at all persuaded that an unredeemable voucher represents a good-faith effort to fix a problem that Vantage may have known about well in advance.

I’m very tempted to take Chapper’s case, even though I know that the cruise line will point me back to its terms and will tell me that $500 represents more than the three missed days as a prorated portion of a trip.

It’s just that I’ve seen too many of these river navigation problems to turn a blind eye. If they can’t navigate the river, they should start selling motorcoach tours. N’est-ce pas?

Should I mediate Al Chapper's case?

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