Q: We booked a trip on Grand Circle Travel to Israel for a May 4 departure. Soon after our purchase, Grand Circle Travel canceled all trips for March and April. In April, they canceled our May tour.
On its website, Grand Circle Travel posted a notice offering choices of credits or a full refund. We weren't concerned because when the time came we would take the refund. Within a couple of weeks, they removed the refund option. In a few more weeks they rescheduled our trip for a year later without asking us.
We were not happy for a variety of reasons. Thousands of other Grand Circle travelers share the same concerns. Most travelers are over 60. We are in our early 70s. We never book trips that far in advance, for obvious reasons. Many of our friends who booked travel with other companies have received full refunds already. Grand Circle Travel will hold our money for 1 ½ years. That's money we could use now. What's your advice?
A: Grand Circle should have refunded your vacation promptly. In the past few months, I've heard from hundreds of customers with questions about their refunds. I think they are most troubled by Grand Circle's inconsistency. Some customers are getting full refunds, while others only receive vouchers. Or, in your case, the company just decides to rebook you.
I can understand why Grand Circle is keeping your money. It needs the cash to keep operating; if everyone takes a refund, the company might not have enough money to cover its expenses. That's what happens during a pandemic.
The problem is Grand Circle's refund policy, which allows the company to reschedule a tour without offering a refund. It appears that Grand Circle initially offered full refunds but then, when too many people asked for them, tried to rebook its canceled tours. That's perfectly understandable from the company's perspective, but extremely frustrating if you're a customer. You had paid Grand Circle $13,000 for your tour and were in no mood to give the company a one-year loan.
The other issue is survivability. If any tour operator offers you a voucher for a year, you have to ask: Will that company still be there next year? For Grand Circle, I believe the answer is probably yes. But for others, maybe not. That's why I always recommend asking for a full refund.
I also thought you might share this information with your state attorney general, which you did.
Grand Circle finally offered you a full refund. If you feel like returning to Israel next year, I hope you'll give the company another chance to get your business to reward it for doing the right thing. Just remember to review the fine print in your agreement before you do — and pay attention to the cancellation terms.