Imagine booking the trip of a lifetime, only to discover the company you paid filed for bankruptcy, leaving you with no trip and your money gone. That's what happened to travelers across the country, who lost more than $100 million this year when Vantage Deluxe World Travel filed for bankruptcy.
Now, many of them are finding that getting their money back is more of an exhausting journey than a relaxing vacation.
Friends may be out thousands of dollars
Gail DeMarco, Nan Wampler and Linda Revis were planning trips of a lifetime.
"I have been all over the world, other than South Africa," DeMarco said
So when she found a "Best of Africa" trip, she knew she had to go. They each put down between $5,000 and $10,000 through Vantage Travel. They paid by check to get the lowest price and didn't question the request because they had used Vantage before and were happy with them.
But shortly before departure, Wampler got some bad news when she called with a question.
"It was a 'we're sorry, our offices are closed' message," she said.
She was stunned. Vantage had filed for bankruptcy and shut down immediately, leaving these friends out thousands of dollars.
"It was just heartbreaking," Revis said. "We felt that we were never going to see our money again."
New company buys assets
Vantage's assets have now been absorbed by a new company, Aurora Expeditions, which has begun booking new trips as "Vantage Explorations." It gives existing customers five years to use their credits for future trips.
But there’s a catch.
- For ocean cruises, customers can only use their credits to cover half of the cost of a trip.
- For river or land travel, that coverage falls to 20%.
That means travelers will have to spend more money, and these friends would have to pay as much as 80% of the cost of their next trip.
They say they can't possibly take enough trips to use up all the credits they have.
In addition, their travel insurance denied coverage, as it only refunds the money if you have to cancel due to health or emergency reasons.
What can travelers do?
Josh Planos of the Better Business Bureau saysthis has also happened with other travel companies.
"A lot of these agencies do not provide refunds, or in some cases make it very, very difficult for you to access those funds," he said.
He said that's why you always need to read the fine print, which in this case excluded bankruptcy as a reason for refunds.
"There's a reason why it's in very, very small font," he said.
She says it is improbable the new company will give any refunds, as millions of dollars were lost in the bankruptcy and it does not have that money to give. Couch-Friedman says customers should try to use the credits, and if that is impossible, she suggests you gift them to family members.
DeMarco, Wampler, and Revis might have had some recourse had they paid by credit card, where they could have contested the charges.
But DeMarco says, "They asked us to pay by check, and because of that, we were not able to get any money back from the trip."
They say they now realize that paying with credit offers you some protection if your company goes "bon voyage" without you, so you don’t waste your money.
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