Consumer advocate says some trips reclassified as postponed, not canceled, to avoid refunds

DANVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- When is a cancellation not a cancellation? That's the dilemma facing travelers seeking refunds from a travel company.

The definition of what qualifies for a refund these days seems to be constantly changing. Here's what travelers need to know.

Carolyn Pon is no stranger to travel.

She's been on safaris in Africa to explore the wildlife. She's traveled to Norway to enjoy its splendid beauty. And she's taken in the culture of Russia.

"On the river. That was great. That was really good," she said.

Next she had hoped to go with a group of eight to see Greece, also from a river. She booked the trip for her group of friends and family originally in 2019 to depart in 2020.

Then COVID happened.

"And when it got cancelled, we were trying to get a refund. That's when we started having issues with their customer service," said Pon.

Pon booked her trip through the same company she used for her previous trips, Vantage Travel.

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the executive director of Elliott Advocacy, the consumer arm of national travel columnist Christopher Elliott. She says Vantage Travel has been around since 1983.

"And they have hordes of loyal travelers that are dedicated to using Vantage," said Couch-Friedman.

Vantage told Pon they would rebook her on a different cruise to Greece, but would also include Italy for a higher price and a longer trip.

They would also have to change ships.

"Isn't that unique," Pon declared as she held up a picture of the vessel she was to have been on originally. "I mean it's not like a river boat, or a tour boat. It was going to be an actual sail boat," said Pon.

Instead, Vantage wanted to book her on a ship that holds up to 200 people. The change of ships and itinerary were not acceptable to Pon's group.

Consumer advocate Couch-Friedman says other consumers have had similar experiences.

"I've heard of that with Vantage, where you're going to get a replacement trip that has nothing to do with what you booked. We've never seen such behavior in the travel industry before the pandemic," she said.

Elliott Advocacy says Vantage Travel also classified these trips as postponed and not cancelled. Under its policy, postponed trips don't qualify for refunds.

Pon reached out to 7 On Your Side.

We reached out to Vantage. Each member of her group of eight have now each received average refunds of more than $6,000.

"I think that Michael Finney and the team are fantastic. They're very communicative and they do a great service to the community," Pon said.

Elliott Advocacy tells us that patience is not a virtue and those travelers who stay on top of their travel agency for a refund are the ones most likely to get it.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE! 7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

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