Q: I booked a tour of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam through Overseas Adventure Travel. I paid a deposit of $350. Before I paid (in full), I received a health advisory from OAT asking: “Is this adventure right for you?”
It wasn’t. To participate, I had to be able to make a 328-step walk up with no handrails and a four-hour walk on uneven surfaces. Travelers also had to be able to participate in five to seven hours of physical activity each day.
I received this information months after paying my $350 deposit.
I am a senior citizen under medical care for cardiovascular disease, and I have a foot problem which prohibits me from extensive walking.
My doctor wrote a letter to OAT, stating that this trip is not safe for my medical condition and that she has advised me to cancel this trip.
I have contacted OAT four times to cancel. Each representative said that I could transfer the deposit to a future trip with OAT. I said that it is not likely that my medical condition could improve and that I need the return of my deposit. I finally reached someone who promised that a manager would call me back. No response.
I believe that OAT is deliberately not returning the calls since it doesn’t want to return my $350.
A: OAT should have told you about these requirements before you plunked down your deposit.
A look at your itinerary on the OAT site suggests that you would have been able to take this trip, as originally booked. The company gives your “Ancient Kingdoms” tour of Asia an activity level of two — considered “moderately easy.”
But then, OAT changed its rating to “strenuous.” And that’s when your doctor nixed your travel plans.
I don’t know why OAT changed things up, but then it should have offered a quick refund. So why did it take four phone calls to get a promise of a return call from a supervisor — which never came? Part of the problem is trying to handle this by phone.
A paper trail is really important. You can forward that entire trail of correspondence to a manager at OAT. I publish the names and contacts of all the OAT executives (Grand Circle Travel owns OAT) on elliot.org.
You told me you had already escalated this to OAT executives and that they’d still ignored you. There’s no excuse for that.
OAT says you must pay a nonrefundable $300 processing fee for each trip you cancel, “which reflects our costs of administering a reservation.” But you didn’t want to cancel this trip to Asia. You had to because OAT changed the requirements. This seems pretty cut and dried to me: OAT should refund your money.
I contacted OAT on your behalf, and that’s what it did. A representative said that you were due a refund because you “didn’t sign a contract.”
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org.