Q: My travel companion and I bought two Groupons for the “Greek Highlights: Athens, Mykonos & Santorini Upgrade.” We purchased an additional two nights, airfare from St. Louis and insurance with Great Value Vacations.
Then my travel companion broke her hip and had surgery. She couldn’t make the trip, and canceled nearly two months before our scheduled departure. That gave her tour operator plenty of time to fill her reservation with another traveler.
We have several issues. First, it took four phone calls before Great Value Vacations canceled her reservation and provided us with a credit. The trip cost $2,400 per person, yet even with the travel protection, Great Value Vacations would credit only $1,037, claiming the difference was for the “shared” services. We shared only a hotel. But why have insurance if they’re going to ding you for it?
Great Value Vacations would not allow me to find a different travel partner who also would pay for the trip to utilize the “shared” service. That way, my travel companion could get her full refund, less her insurance premium. I found out that the only way to get a full credit less the premium was if we both canceled, which we ultimately did.
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I feel I should have been able to continue with the trip at no additional cost to me or my travel companion. The idea that the shared portion of the hotel cost Great Value Vacations $1,200 is absurd. Can you help me?
Linette Warnecke, Troy, Illinois
A: If you had travel protection, you should have been covered for a cancellation. At least that’s what the average traveler would assume. But you had an itinerary with lots of moving parts, including the Groupon component and the Great Value Vacations package with air, hotel and insurance.
Great Value Vacations is just taking the components of your vacation and bundling them into a package. It still must follow the individual rules of each company. So, for example, if the hotel has set a cancellation restriction, then Great Value Vacations must follow it, too. If an airline doesn’t allow name changes, then neither does Great Value Vacations.
The question is, When does your travel protection policy kick in? When one person in a reservation cancels, and that person has the trip protection, he or she receives a credit for all nonshared services. But when you ran the numbers on the individual components of your vacation, you concluded that Great Value Vacations was keeping more of your money than it should have. The company also failed to explain its math and never bothered to tell you why trip protection didn’t cover the losses.
Your travel protection plan, the terms of which are disclosed on your carrier’s site, comes with a ton of restrictions. You can cancel for any reason, but you will receive a credit only for future travel equal to the full amount of all payments made, less any protection costs and fees. Name changes also are prohibited.
If you’d read these restrictions before your purchase, would you have changed your mind? You say you would have, especially knowing how opaque the company would be about its costs. But the average person wouldn’t care. No one thinks they’re going to file a travel protection claim.
I list the names, numbers and email addresses of key customer-service executives at Great Value Vacations on my consumer-advocacy site. You had already found those contacts and were dealing with a manager, who refused to budge.
I contacted the company on your behalf, and it cut you and your travel companion a check for the full amount you were due under your travel protection policy.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.