Travel company lags on refund after trip is cancelled

March 8, 2011 7:57:39 PM PST
A high school trip to Costa Rica fell apart when not enough students signed up to go. But the tour company told one family they could not get all their money back. Explorica is an educational tour company used by lots of schools for class trips. Their tours of Costa Rica have been popular in the past. Yet, this time, only one family signed up, and they wound up getting socked with a cancelation fee.

Simon Coelho was pretty excited about his upcoming school trip to Costa Rica. His older brother and his mom had gone last year and now Simon was going with his dad.

"From what I heard from my brother it was an awesome trip; paradise, I mean tropical rainforests, fruit growing on trees, warm beaches, warm water, beautiful women," Simon said.

The trip was booked for next month. Simon's mother Mary was making monthly payments toward the $4,300 cost until one day, Simon noticed something odd on the Explorica website. The date of the trip had been changed, not just by a few days, but by a whole year. No one had bothered telling Simon or his family.

"You got to tell someone when you change something," Simon said. "What if we were at the airport waiting like, where is everyone?

What happened is nobody else had signed up to go -- only Simon, his dad and the teacher, so the trip was postponed for a whole year. Mary says she could not plan that far ahead and there was no assurance the trip would go off next year either.

"They need a certain amount of people to go and if they didn't get them this year they maybe wouldn't get them next year either," Mary said.

So Mary canceled the trip and asked Explorica to refund the money she had paid so far, about $1,300 in all.

"They said, 'OK, fine, just send us an e-mail and by the way we'll be keeping about $500, plus,'" Mary said.

Explorica told Mary she had to pay a cancelation fee of $530. Mary said that wasn't fair because the trip she had paid for no longer was happening.

"It's not the same trip when it's a year later, I want a full refund; they said, 'That's not going to happen, we're not going to refund you period,'" Mary said. "I was promised a call from a supervisor and I never did get one so I called Michael Finney."

Travel attorney Al Anolik says a tour company cannot penalize customers whose trip was effectively canceled.

"No way can they hold any of your money when they try to offer you something a year from now," Anolik said.

7 On Your Side contacted Explorica and it said it was the school's decision to postpone the trip due to low participation however, the company agreed the date change was extreme and booking costs incurred so far had been minimal. Considering all of that, Explorica agreed to provide a full refund.

Explorica said it normally charges a cancelation fee to cover its own costs for booking flights, hotels and tours ahead of time. However, the company said it considers giving full refunds depending on circumstances, as it eventually did in this case.

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