Q: I need your help getting a refund of $6,339 for a Canadian rail tour from Rocky Mountaineer. Our package included airport, train and hotel transfers, with nights in Calgary, Banff and Vancouver.
The trip, which we booked in February 2020 and was scheduled for May 2020, was canceled by the tour operator because of COVID-19. Rocky Mountaineer offered a 110% nonrefundable credit to use against a new booking that can be applied to the 2021 season and would have had to have been used by the end of November.
I would have preferred a full refund rather than credit for a trip we may not ever take. Rocky Mountaineer has refused our direct request for a refund. I filed a chargeback through my credit card, but Visa sided with the tour operator. Is there anything you can do?
— Kay Nelson, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
A: Rocky Mountaineer should have offered you the choice of either a full refund or a credit. That’s the standard for a COVID-19 cancellation. Many companies tried to keep their customer’s money anyway, with predictable results.
The tour operator’s cancellation policies on its site are one-sided when it comes to refunds. They tell you under what circumstances you can cancel and receive a partial refund, but they don’t address a cancellation by Rocky Mountaineer.
You have to dig deep into the company’s terms and conditions — and know a little French — to figure out your rights when it cancels a tour.
Section 12 says, “Other than as a result of force majeure, Rocky Mountaineer will repay the deposit or charges for the itinerary or, where appropriate, a reasonable pro-rata share thereof.” A force majeure is an unforeseen circumstance like a pandemic. In other words, if it’s an event beyond the control of your tour operator, and if it has to cancel, it gets to keep your money — and, presumably, will offer a credit.
It’s hard to argue with a contract you’ve already signed. But you could have reached out to someone higher up at the tour operator to plead your case. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the customer service contacts at Rocky Mountaineer on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/rocky-mountaineer/.
But I’m not sure that would have worked. Technically, you agreed to this contract, even though it may have conflicted with some state laws. And that’s why I recommended that you reach out to your attorney general to find out if the agreement with Rocky Mountaineer might have run afoul of any North Carolina consumer protections.
You filed a complaint with your attorney general. In response, you heard from a lawyer representing Rocky Mountaineer. The representative offered you a $1,900 refund for the portion of your trip that included some of your hotel stays. That’s less than you wanted, but you accepted the refund and will use the rest of the credit for a rail tour next summer.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or email@example.com.