Travel Troubleshooter

A ‘lesson learned’ after husband’s bike accident

Q: I need your help with an Avalon Waterways trip from Amsterdam to Brussels that I booked through Vacations To Go. A few days before we were supposed to leave, my husband was in a serious biking accident. He spent two days in the intensive care unit.

My husband had two small brain bleeds. His cognition is now intact, but he has many physical problems, including broken ribs, a broken nose, multiple stitches to his face and a swollen knee.

For the first time, we did not get travel insurance — a lesson learned. We were going to Europe with friends to celebrate 50 years of friendship. They left this morning.

I have been given the runaround, as one company blames the other for not helping.

Mara Bronstone, traveler

I have been given the runaround, as one company blames the other for not helping. I am dealing with representatives from our travel agency and our tour operator, but I’m being batted back and forth. American Airlines was kind enough to refund the frequent-flier miles we used for the trip, but it looks like I’ll lose 80 percent of our trip. Avalon has offered to refund only $1,500 for a $6,700 trip.

I’d like to do the trip next year. Can you help me recover some of the money we spent on this trip?

Mara Bronstone

Los Altos Hills, California

A: You’re right, travel insurance could have helped you, but there’s no guarantee. For example, some policies have named exclusions that specifically state that preexisting medical conditions aren’t covered. If your husband had an illness that suddenly flared up, you might still be asking your tour operator for help — and still looking at losing 80 percent of your vacation.

The terms of your cruise were clear. If you cancel less than 30 days but more than one day before your trip, you forfeit 80 percent of what you paid. If you’re within one day of traveling, you usually get nothing back. You can see the terms and conditions on the Avalon site here: As far as terms go, these are pretty good. Remember, the closer to departure you cancel, the more likely it is that the cabin you reserved will go unoccupied, so the tour operator loses money.

Next time, get the insurance.

Christopher Elliott

Still, Avalon should have at least taken your personal circumstances into account. After all, when something goes wrong with one of its cruises, like low water levels, it reserves the right to either cancel the tour or transfer you to a bus, turning your riverboat tour into a bus tour. It expects passengers to understand. Why shouldn’t it work the other way around?

Several efforts to reach out to your travel agent ended in frustration. Vacations To Go repeatedly asked Avalon to waive some of its rules on your behalf, but it refused. You also sent a brief, polite email to the company, asking it to consider a one-time exception to its rule. (I publish a list of the executive contacts for Avalon on my consumer-advocacy site: The company eventually agreed to offer you a 75 percent credit that is good for two years. You’re happy with that outcome.

Next time, get the insurance.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog,, or email him at