The Travel Troubleshooter: I canceled my tour on time. Where's my refund, Viator?
I have a problem with Viator, a site that sells tours.
I booked four of its tours in Naples, Italy, this year. Unfortunately, I had to cancel the tours because I developed bronchitis and a middle ear infection in both ears. My doctor said I couldn’t travel. I emailed Viator to cancel my trips.
Three of the four tours offered an immediate refund. However, my tour of the Sea Grottoes of the Amalfi Coast, for which I paid $775, did not respond. After several efforts to contact the tour operator, it declined to refund the tour, saying that it was six calendar days before my trip, and therefore will offer only a 50 percent refund.
I’ve read the terms, and I believe I am entitled to a full refund. Can you help me?
— Jacqueline Bohnen, Kempton Park, South Africa
A: If you canceled 24 hours before your tour — which you did — you should get your money back. If you log into your Viator account and click on “Manage Bookings,” you’ll see the terms and conditions. They state that you’ll receive “a 100 percent refund for cancellations made at least 24 hours in advance of the start date of the experience.”
But there’s more. If you review Viator’s terms and conditions, you’ll also see that the 24-hour rule is a “standard” policy, but that ultimately, your tour operator’s policy prevails (www.viator.com/terms-and-conditions#payments). Viator didn’t operate this tour, but it has some control over how you’re charged (and, if necessary, refunded). “Cancellation policies vary from the standard and you must check the supplier’s cancellation policy contained in the applicable product listing at the time of your booking, which is the policy that will apply to and govern the terms of your cancellation and any refunds,” it notes.
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In other words, Viator’s policy applies — except when it doesn’t. A look at the Sea Grottoes of the Amalfi Coast tour shows a five-day window for cancellations. Somehow, your tour operator had misread its own policy. That’s not as unusual as you might think. It’s fairly common for airline employees to misinterpret their own fabulously complex fare rules. Repeated appeals to the tour operator won’t help you — besides, as Viator’s terms and conditions note, Viator still has your money.
You can find Viator’s executive contacts on my consumer-advocacy site (Viator is owned by TripAdvisor): www.elliott.org/company-contacts/tripadvisor/. A brief, polite email to one of them might have helped.
I contacted Viator on your behalf. It reviewed your contract and determined that you were, indeed, within the window to cancel. “We’re addressing this error to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” a TripAdvisor spokeswoman told me. “The vast majority of our products are moving to a 24-hour standard cancellation policy, which will give travelers the flexibility to cancel up to a day before the start of their tour for a full refund. This new policy will give travelers more flexibility so they can book with confidence.” You’ve received a full refund.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at [email protected].