A vacation without future


Q: I recently booked a trip to Las Vegas for my parents for their 57th wedding anniversary. Since my parents aren’t young, I also bought trip cancellation insurance through my travel agent.

Within three weeks of the making the reservations, my dad developed a severe bladder problem which would prevent him from traveling. His doctor faxed a letter saying this to my agent, who forwarded it to Future Vacations, the tour operator my agent had used.

We had not been billed for the hotel yet but the airline tickets on US Airways were immediately charged to my American Express card. My agent has made numerous calls and sent numerous letters, but the tour operator refuses to issue a credit for the airline tickets. I disputed the charge with American Express but after one month they reinstated the charge, saying that the travel company needed to issue the credit.

Can you help me get my money back?

— Marlene Patrick

A: You would think that if you bought trip cancellation insurance, you’d be covered. But that’s not necessarily true.

The type of fare you booked wasn’t eligible for coverage under your policy. Why didn’t your agent tell you? She says she didn’t know, and accused Future Vacations of failing to disclose the terms of the policy she helped you buy and then stonewalling her when she followed up with additional questions.

Future Vacations says it never heard from your agent. But Ivette Rohrbach, the operator’s manager of customer service, promised to contact your agent to try to get to the bottom of this case. It turns out that your own airline ticket had been refunded by US Airways, but not your parents’. No one knows why. Since the airline had your money, any refund of the tickets would be up to US Airways, not Future Vacations.

The proverbial ball was now in US Airways’ court, which is not a good place to be. Regular readers of this column know that the carrier has a track record of spectacular customer-service successes – and failures. Which way would it go this time?

More clear to me is who is responsible for this mess. You put your trust in a travel advisor, and she sold you insurance that proved to be useless. Even if Future Vacations wasn’t forthcoming with the fine print on its policy – and for the record, it insisted that it had disclosed the limits of its policy – it was her responsibility to make sure she knew what she was selling you.

After weeks of back and forth, US Airways agreed to refund your tickets minus a $100 “service fee,” and Future Vacations pitched in two travel credits to cover the cost of the penalty. Incidentally, US Airways also said it had never heard from your agent regarding the refund.

I think that’s an adequate solution for US Airways and a very generous thing of Future Vacations to make up the difference. As far as your agent goes, maybe it’s time to show her the door. There are plenty of competent travel advisors out there who will do their homework instead of selling you a worthless insurance policy.