Qualified travel agent can clarify confusing details

  • By Christopher Elliott
  • Friday, November 25, 2011 4:48pm
  • Life

Question: My wife and I are booked on a Viking River Cruise. We plan to go from Washington to Moscow three days early, take the river cruise to St. Petersburg and remain there for three days before going on to a four-day stopover in Paris en route home. It is because of the diversions and deviation that Viking is attempting to set aside its responsibility to comply with what its literature apparently states.

The problem: Viking does not want to be responsible for the ground transfers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, despite the fact that we have purchased a Viking Air Package.

At the outset — this trip was booked nearly a year ago — Viking summarily denied any responsibility for transfers and stated that we must make transfer arrangements on our own, even though the cruise line’s literature states that if air is not purchased from Viking, transfers may be purchased separately.

Furthermore, it has been difficult to get anyone on the phone at Viking at a level to discuss the matter further. Shouldn’t Viking’s literature mean what it says?

Robert Brown, Silver Spring, Md.

Answer: If Viking includes ground transfers with its air packages, then you should have received them. But I’m not sure if it explicitly promises the transfers.

At the time you made your purchase (the language has since been modified, but I’ll get to that in a moment), the promotional copy might have left you with the impression that transfers were included. But anyone with a working knowledge of the cruise industry, like a competent travel agent, would have known that’s not necessarily the case.

A closer reading of Viking’s terms would have revealed that transfers do not apply on nonembarkation days or dates that don’t coincide with tour dates. Nor do they apply to non-Viking-related hotels, such as the properties you planned to visit in Russia.

You had two things in your favor: First, the vagueness of the promotional language, and second, the apparent difficulty you had getting a clear answer to your request.

I think this could have been avoided by reading Viking’s terms closely or working with a qualified travel agent, who could have advised you about the transfers. In reviewing your correspondence, I see you spent a fair amount of time on the phone, too. When dealing with this type of request, it’s usually best to make your request in writing. That way, you’ll have a paper trail if there’s ever any disagreement with the company.

I contacted Viking on your behalf. In addition to taking care of your transfers as “an exception” to its policy, a spokeswoman told me Viking is reviewing its terms and conditions as it applies to transfers and will “update it accordingly to ensure the verbiage is as clear as possible.”

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

&Copy;2011 Christopher Elliott distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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