An Australia tour that wasn’t meant to be

Question: My friend and I recently booked a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji through Grand Circle Travel. The trip never happened, and now it looks as if it never will, even though I bought travel insurance.

Our flight from Boston to Los Angeles was delayed because of a mechanical problem. When it was fixed, we couldn’t fly because our crew had timed out. The flight was eventually canceled.

The soonest our airline could get to Los Angeles was five days later. I called Grand Circle Travel, and a representative instructed me to call her back when I knew our new flight plans so they could connect us with the rest of the tour in Australia.

We found another flight from Washington, and took a bus from Boston to Washington. We made it as far as Maryland before the bus stalled outside of Baltimore — another mechanical delay. We missed our flight.

At this point, we had no connection on Qantas from Los Angeles and had lost the majority of the Australia portion of the trip. One of the most important things we were looking forward to was swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and taking underwater photographs. We decided to cancel. My insurance company only refunded me $750 of $5,400 I spent. Is there anything you can do to help? — Rebecca Canter, Portland, Maine

Answer: Your trip really wasn’t meant to happen. Trust me on this. After two mechanical delays and a missed flight, can you imagine what would have awaited you in Australia? Think of that swim on the reef. Think great white sharks and box jellyfish.

Aren’t you glad you stayed home?
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No refund for the wrong Chichen Itza tour

itzaQuestion: I’m trying to get a refund for a tour, and I’m getting the runaround. Last year, my husband, my niece, and I traveled to Cancun for two weeks. Before our departure, I asked my travel agent for a reputable tour company since I wanted to book a tour to Chichen Itza, a popular pre-Columbian archaeological site. She recommended Grayline.

I went online and I booked an overnight tour that included a light show and a room at the Mayaland Hotel, as well as access to the grounds in the evening. This cost me $99 per person.

When we got to Cancun, I got the concierge at my hotel to confirm the arrangements. She phoned and I thought it was all set.

When we arrived, we were told that we were booked on the day trip. This did not include the light show. When I explained that I had paid for the overnight trip, the woman at the counter told me there were no hotel rooms available at all. There was nothing she could do. She also told me that she couldn’t issue a refund since I had booked on the Internet. She told me to get my refund through the Web site.

I have contacted Grayline Cancun several times in the past year. Each and every time, I am promised a refund. Each time, they fail to deliver it. Can you help? — Nancy Giese, Swan Hills, Alberta, Canada

Answer: Grayline should have refunded the difference between the day tour and your overnight tour as quickly as it took the company to withdraw the money from your credit card. Which is to say, instantly.

So why are you still waiting?
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Hey, where’s my ride?

Question: What are your rights when a tour operator fails to deliver part of your vacation package? I booked a one-week vacation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, through Apple Vacations recently. It included accommodations and transfers to and from the airport.

But when we arrived in Kingston, we discovered that the shuttle bus didn’t run from Kingston, but from Montego Bay. We had to pay $160 for a taxi ride from Kingston to the hotel. We also had to pay $75 to change our return flights to leave from Montego Bay instead of Kingston.

I immediately contacted Apple Vacations at the resort, but they were no help. I was referred to Apple’s headquarters in Pennsylvania, and I wrote an e-mail asking to be reimbursed for my expenses. They refused. Is there anything you can do to help? — N. M. Johnston, Cincinnati

Answer: Apple should have picked you up from the airport and taken you to your hotel, as promised. If it failed to do that, the company should cover your cost of transportation to your hotel.

But did Apple know you were on your way? I contacted the company, and it says it didn’t. When Apple reviewed your file, it discovered a “glitch” in its reservation system that would confirm a passenger has transfers from any airport in Jamaica, when in reality, all of Apple Vacations’ Jamaica services originate solely from the Montego Bay airport, according to Sandy Babin, Apple’s vice president of marketing.

Babin says if your travel agent had advised Apple that you were flying out of Kingston, the company would have confirmed that transfers were only available to and from Montego Bay. But as it turns out, you didn’t use a travel agent. You booked the trip directly through Apple’s Web site.

I might have been a little reluctant to pay for a taxi or a ticket change. In the original version of this story, I suggested that you should have contacted your travel agent (who, after all, took a commission when you paid for your vacation) and the hotel you’re supposed to stay at, which might have been able to recommend a less expensive way of getting to the property.

I based that advice on Apple’s contention that you had used a travel agent. But you self-booked this trip, so there was no agent to phone. Maybe you should have used one.

I definitely wouldn’t have taken an initial “no” from Apple Vacations as a final answer. You could call back and ask to speak with a supervisor or e-mail someone at a higher level at Apple Vacations. Here’s a hint: e-mail addresses are first initial, followed by last name – all one word — Happy e-mailing!

If none of those steps are successful, consider a credit card dispute or a trip to small claims court. With such a small amount at stake, odds are the company wouldn’t have sent a representative to court and would have lost by default.

Apple Vacations apologized for the transfer problem and sent you two $150 vacation certificates.