Over two years ago, Vantage Deluxe World Travel promised Sethu Krishnan a $7,443 refund for a cruise he canceled. But the company never actually sent the money. Instead, the tour operator sent excuse after excuse about the missing refund.
Eventually, and just like hundreds of other Vantage customers, Krishnan reached the end of his patience. He’s hoping TPG can help retrieve his money from the noncommittal tour operator.
Here’s his frustrating tale.
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Planning a cruise before the pandemic
In fall 2019, Krishnan and his wife began planning a cruise with their favorite tour operator, Vantage Deluxe World Travel.
“This was to be our fifth trip with Vantage,” Krishnan told me. “Before the pandemic, this company was excellent, and we always enjoyed their tours.”
The Krishnans chose a 14-day Portugal, Spain and Douro River cruise at a total cost of $13,572. They also purchased the Platinum Travel Protection offered by Vantage and underwritten by Trip Mate for $1,350. That policy provides a cancel-for-any-reason waiver, which the couple found appealing.
Under that policy, the Krishnans would receive a full cash reimbursement if specific events named in the waiver forced them to cancel the cruise. These events are called named perils. If the cancellation was caused by any other reason not named in the policy, the couple would receive reimbursement in the form of a future travel credit with Vantage.
Throughout the winter, the Krishnans happily looked forward to their springtime cruise. That is, until February 2020. That’s when much of the world became aware that a global health crisis was brewing.
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On March 7, 2020, amid growing concerns about the possible pandemic, the Krishnans canceled their cruise.
“The cruise was scheduled for May 2020, so we were about 67 days out,” Krishnan explained. “Since we had purchased cancel-for-any-reason travel protection, we weren’t concerned about the penalty.”
Unfortunately, Krishnan was about to discover that his Platinum Travel Protection didn’t provide the travel insurance coverage he was hoping it did.
Vantage: File an insurance claim to get your refund
When Krishnan canceled the cruise, Vantage instructed him to file a claim with Trip Mate. He quickly did that, citing concerns about the coronavirus as the reason for the cancellation. Just as swiftly, Trip Mate rejected his claim.
“Trip Mate denied our claim because fear of the coronavirus was not a covered reason for cancellation [that would lead to a cash refund],” Krishnan explains.
On the day the couple canceled their cruise, they were in a 40% penalty phase. Vantage would only refund the Krishnans $7,443 in cash. As a result of the cancel-for-any-reason Platinum Protection, the balance of what they paid would be returned in the form of a $6,158 future travel credit with Vantage.
Within weeks, Vantage sent confirmation of the future travel credit and a promise that the $7,443 would soon follow. But by that time, the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic, and the cruise industry had been completely shut down. That closure forced the cancellation of thousands of cruises and immediately put the entire industry in financial peril.
The Krishnans’ cash refund was not going to come through anytime soon.
A two-year battle for a cruise refund from Vantage
Throughout the pandemic, Krishnan kept up a vigilant pursuit of his refund. He consistently called and wrote to Vantage asking for updates. Each time he reminded the company of the $7,443 it owed him. And each time, the customer service agent would thank him for his patience and remind him that the global pandemic was preventing the company from processing refunds at that time.
But after one year with no sign of his refund, he was running out of that patience. And when the cruise industry began setting sail again, he let Vantage know he was done waiting.
In October 2021, Vantage sent Krishnan what, on the surface, appeared to be encouraging news about his refund. At that time, a senior customer service agent informed him he would finally receive his money in eight to 10 weeks. But once again, it turned out to be an empty promise.
In early 2022, Krishnan once again pushed the company for answers about his missing refund and pointed out that the pandemic appeared to be winding down. Therefore, he told Vantage, it was time to give back his money.
Vantage returned his email with yet another standard message stating, “Thanks for your patience” and an acknowledgment that their refund processing was “slightly delayed.”
Then in May 2022, he received another unusual explanation for the delay. Not only was the eight to 10-week processing promise out the window, but inexplicably, the timeline for the refund had been extended into the “unknown.”
“Dear Mr. Krishnan,
Unfortunately, recent world events have caused us to once again redeploy our team to handle time-sensitive trip issues, operational challenges and an unexpectedly large number of inquiries requesting updates / changes to existing itineraries. As a result, we are once again unable to provide a timeline on when we will be able to process your refund request.
Mira Delgado, Vantage Deluxe World Travel”
It was becoming clear to Krishnan that he was never going to see his $7,443.
TPG’s Ashley Kosciolek speaks to the New York Times about Vantage
To say that pursuing his Vantage refund consumed much of Krishnan’s time during the past 27 months is an understatement. But sending emails, making phone calls and reading through the many complaints about Vantage on the BBB (where it holds a one-star overall review) wasn’t getting him any closer to his refund.
Not knowing where else to turn, he sent a plea to The New York Times and asked for their assistance in exposing the company.
“Most of the customers of Vantage are retirees on a fixed income. They are being ripped off by the company’s terms and conditions regarding refunds, cancellations and travel protection. I appreciate your help in making the people aware of the predatory policies.”
Shortly after Krishnan sent his letter, he read an article in the New York Times’ “Tripped Up” column about another Vantage customer’s frustrating refund crusade. In that article, TPG’s senior cruise writer Ashley Kosciolek provided some expert insight into the problem with Vantage.
When Krishnan reached the end of the article, he was disappointed but not surprised to read that even the New York Times could not help secure a refund for a Vantage customer.
Still wanting to shine more light on Vantage and its refusal to send promised refunds to its customers, Krishnan sent a request directly to Ashley.
“I am a Vantage customer waiting for a refund,” Krishnan told Ashley. “I would appreciate your help in making customers aware of Vantage Travel’s unethical practices.”
Thanks to Ashley, Krishnan’s request for help landed in my email box.
A cruise operator struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic
The pandemic certainly hit the cruise industry hard, and many companies did not survive. Other travel providers just barely made it. Vantage would appear to be one of those companies.
As a consumer advocate, I’ve responded to hundreds of emails from frustrated Vantage customers since the beginning of the pandemic.
All of these formerly loyal Vantage customers have similar stories to tell, with slight variations. Some, like Krishnan, preemptively canceled their tours before the pandemic forced Vantage to cancel them itself. The cancellation terms of his contract and the Platinum Travel Protection are clear: On the date the couple canceled, they cited a fear of COVID-19 as the reason. That meant Vantage owed them a 60% cash refund and a 40% future travel voucher.
But many other Vantage customers did not cancel their trips. They waited it out, assuming that if the tour operator canceled the cruise first, it would owe 100% refunds to its customers.
At least that’s how things worked before the pandemic.
However, when Vantage had to cancel all its scheduled tours after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, the company automatically issued future travel credits to most of its customers instead of refunding them.
Still other Vantage customers found themselves booked on new future trips without even the slightest consultation from the company. As I discussed on ABC News, Vantage claimed it hadn’t canceled any trips – it had only postponed them. So, the company reasoned, it didn’t owe its guests refunds, but it would allow the traveler to rebook an alternative trip if the one Vantage had automatically bestowed on them wasn’t to their liking.
Vantage had bent the definition of the word canceled to an unrecognizable state. The company informed its customers it was no longer able to operate their tours as scheduled. That’s a cancellation in most people’s books – but suddenly Vantage was calling it a postponement and asking its customers to let their funds ride with the company.
In the fall of 2020, I reached out to Vantage to find how it justified this new interpretation of the word canceled, emailing my contact there the following:
“Our team is trying to figure out what’s happening here. Did Vantage change the terms of their contracts after the pandemic began? Is there something in the Vantage contract that allows Vantage to cancel the tours and keep the guest’s payment indefinitely?
A postponement is a cancellation, no matter what label you place on it.”
In response to that email, Vantage assigned an executive to review all the complaints piling up in our advocacy team’s inbox.
Gradually, over many months, as the company began operating tours again, refunds started to appear. The process is still slow going, but when Ashley forwarded Krishnan’s complaint to me, I was hopeful that we could finally end his seemingly endless battle with Vantage.
Finally, a refund from Vantage Travel
When I went through the many pages of correspondence with Vantage that Krishnan had accumulated over the past two years, I shared his frustration. He had politely and consistently asked for this money back, but each response from the company contained the empty promise that his refund would soon be processed.
Vantage owed him $7,443, and he had waited long enough. I sent his case over to our executive contact at Vantage to see why Krishnan was still waiting after all this time.
Within a few days, Krishnan finally received his long-awaited refund.
“Good Morning, Michelle!
Thank you for circling back to me on this one. I do come bearing some good news! Our Accounting Department has processed the Krishnans’ refund today to their AMEX ending in **** for $7,443.20.”
Krishnan is thrilled that he can finally put this struggle to rest. But he remains concerned for the many other Vantage customers he knows are still waiting for their refunds.
“Thank you for your help,” Krishnan told me. “I sincerely hope Vantage will do the right thing and make the valid refunds to all customers.”
That’s a hope that we share.
Dealing with tour operators
If you or someone you know is still waiting for a pandemic-era refund from Vantage or any other tour operator, there are a few things you can do to nudge the company along.
Make sure you’re owed a refund
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, many travelers preemptively canceled their cruises and other tours before the companies officially canceled. That was a mistake for many of these consumers. If a company cancels your trip, in most cases, it owes you a full refund. But if you cancel first, the cancellation terms of your contract will dictate your refund eligibility.
And remember that even if you are owed a refund, it will be processed back to the original form of payment. So if you paid for the trip with travel credits, you would not receive a cash refund. The first step in obtaining your missing refund is to make sure you will actually be eligible for one, though.
File a complaint with your state’s attorney general
If you’ve been struggling to get a travel provider to process a refund you know it owes you, your next step is to file a complaint with your state’s attorney general. You can also file a complaint in the state where the company is based. In Vantage’s case, that’s Massachusetts. Here’s how to find your state’s attorney general.
Take them to court
Depending on the value of your missing funds, you may be able to file a small claims case against the company. This is a much easier process than filing a regular lawsuit. Of course, collecting a small claims award can also be tricky. Your state attorney general’s office should be able to give you guidance that pertains to your state. If the value of your claim exceeds the small claims limits, you can visit the American Bar Association to get a legal referral and determine if and how to pursue a lawsuit.
Don’t give up
When a company has a lengthy list of refunds to process, the squeaky wheel will often get the grease (or, in this case, the refund). If you know you’re owed a refund, don’t give up. Consistently send the company reminders and let their team know you’re not going away. By politely and frequently sending those reminders, you just might find that your request rises to the top of that refund list.
The pandemic created unimaginable problems for travel providers around the world. Many of these formerly well-respected companies were blindsided by the sudden shutdown of their industry, along with their sudden inability to conduct normal business. Unfortunately, consumers who had cruises and other prepaid vacations scheduled as we entered that dark time, have shared the financial impact.
As the travel industry slowly returns to normal most reputable companies are doing their best to return all the funds that are owed to their customers. Vantage is one of those companies that is hoping to regain the trust of its loyal customers.
If you’re one of those travelers still waiting – and waiting – for your promised refund from Vantage or any other tour operator, cruise line, hotel, car rental company, or vacation rental agency send your request for help to [email protected], and I’ll be happy to help you get your money back into your pocket, too.