Q: I recently booked a tour of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam through Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). I paid a deposit of $350. Before I paid for the trip, I received a health advisory from OAT asking: “Is this adventure right for you?”
To participate, I had to be able to make a 328-step walk up with no handrails and a four-hour walk on uneven surfaces. Travelers also had to be able to participate in five to seven hours of physical activity each day.
I received this information months after paying my $350 deposit.
I am a senior citizen under medical care for cardiovascular disease, and I have a foot problem which prohibits me from extensive walking.
My doctor wrote a letter to OAT, stating that this trip is not safe for my medical condition and that she has advised me to cancel this trip.
I have contacted OAT four times to try to cancel this trip, without success. Each representative said that I could transfer the deposit to another future trip with OAT. I said that it is not likely that my medical condition could improve and that I need the return of my deposit. I finally reached someone who promised that a manager would call me back. I left my cell and home telephone numbers. No response.
I believe that OAT is deliberately not returning the calls since it doesn’t want to return my $350. Can you help me?
Marla Caplan, San Francisco
A: Overseas Adventure Travel should have told you about these requirements before you plunked down your deposit.
A look at your itinerary on the OAT site suggests that you would have been able to take this trip, as originally booked. The company gives your “Ancient Kingdoms” tour of Asia an activity level of two – considered “moderately easy.”
“Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet,” it says.
But then, according to your records, OAT changed its rating to “strenuous.” And that’s when your doctor nixed your travel plans.
I don’t know why OAT changed things up, but when it did, it should have offered a quick refund. So why did it take four phone calls to get a promise of a return call from a supervisor – one which, unfortunately, never came? Well, part of the problem is trying to handle some of this by phone.
A paper trail is really important when you’re trying to fix an issue like this. You can forward that entire trail of correspondence between you and the tour operator to a manager at OAT. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of all the Overseas Adventure Travel executives on my consumer-advocacy site (Grand Circle Travel owns OAT).
OAT isn’t the greatest at returning phone calls, but I’ve found that companies are more responsive to emails. It’s possible that a quick note to the right person could have resolved this. When I followed up with you with this suggestion, you said you had already escalated this to OAT executives and that they’d still ignored you. Well, there’s no excuse for that.
OAT says you must pay a non-refundable, $300 per person processing fee for each trip you cancel, “which reflects our costs of administering a reservation.” But you didn’t want to cancel this trip to Asia. You had to because OAT changed the requirements. This seems pretty cut and dried to me: OAT should refund your money.
I contacted OAT on your behalf, and that’s what it did. A representative told you that you were due a refund because you “didn’t sign a contract.”
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.