You can cancel anytime – oh, and good luck trying!

By | March 15th, 2016

Leah Sherman isn’t the first one and she won’t be the last.

She tried to cancel a Gray Line tour – a product that was cancelable, to a point – and nearly lost everything.

Her story isn’t about bad cancellation policies. There are plenty of those in the travel industry, and business in general. And we give those enough virtual ink on this site every day.

No, this is about seemingly good cancellation policies that have a little catch: They’re difficult, or even impossible, to invoke.

In other words, you can cancel for any reason – if you can figure out how to cancel.

“I have been trying to cancel a Panama Canal Partial Transit tour,” says Sherman. “The cancellation policy states that I can cancel up to 48 hours in advance and get a refund.”

Ah, but that assumes she can cancel. And she can’t.

I have tried calling the Panama number on my voucher twice and the phone has not been answered.

I have sent numerous emails to only to be told, “You need to contact directly with the Agency Grayline Worldwide to cancel in their systems.”

When I tried to call Gray Line’s general toll-free number and sent a message through, the response was “If you are writing to . . . cancel a reservation . . . please contact the local expert in your destination.”

I have tried to do that with no success. I don’t know where to go next. Can you help me?

Why, yes. We have some excellent Gray Line contacts, and we stood ready to help. Our advocates asked for a few details on her tickets. But before she could send them, she emailed us with some happy news: She’d gotten through to the right person and canceled her Panama Canal tour.

And all is well. Or is it? Time will tell.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear how often this happens. A customer will try to cancel a cruise while they can still get a partial refund, or an airline ticket before departure, or a hotel room — and for some reason, they can’t get through to the right person, or the electronic request isn’t received in time. If it only happened occasionally, I wouldn’t suspect a more sinister plan to keep your hard-earned money.

But Sherman’s story happens far too frequently. And as a result, too many companies keep deposits or pocket the money for unused hotel rooms or flights.

That’s the lesson learned: A company might have an amazingly generous and reasonable cancellation policy, but it won’t make any difference if you can’t actually cancel the product or service.

Did Gray Line give Sherman the bureaucratic runaround? Without a doubt. Will your company also give you the runaround the next time you have to cancel? Honestly, I hope you never find out.

Do companies make it too dificult to cancel their products?

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