We all have them and we survive them. The events are nightmares at the time they happen but eventually we learn to laugh about them and relate the stories at parties and get togethers. The stories are never pretty and sometimes the learning experience is costly.
I am not new to traveling and like everyone else, I have my horror stories. You would think after I have lived, worked or traveled to every US state, and been around the world I would learn. But, it isnt about learning or being a slow learner. It is about trusting. It is rare that I schedule a trip via a travel agent but when I do, I trust they will do the right thing and obviously that is not always the case.
The majority of my travels have been by the seat of my pants, without the benefit of any reservations or prearranged plans, not in groups or by escort. On occasion however, whether traveling alone or with others I have had the privilege of working with travel agencies.
There was one trip in which my sister and I were going to Brazil. We went to a local travel agency and settled on where and when we wanted to go. We conveyed to the agent that she needed to apprise us of all paperwork, vaccinations, visas, passports, etc., that was required and that her assistance will needed in preparing any paperwork. I had my passport but my sister did not and the agent was helpful in completing the paperwork. We were given information on vaccinations and pages and pages of information on where to go when we got there and things to see.
When the time came for our departure we drove to the airport, two hours away, and went to check in at the departure gate. We were promptly informed we could not go to our destination because we had no visa. When we called the agent she said she forgot to check.
We redirected our efforts and asked the airline agent where they had a plane flying that required a passport but not a visa. We ended up on vacation in England.
On another occasion my sister and I were going to Australia half way around the world. The travel agent booked the reservations, in economy, at a cost of approximately ,300 each. What a miserable, long and awful flight that was. After I returned home, I decided to go on a six month trip around the world. I contacted the travel agent and purchased a six month first class ticket, for around the world, at a cost of approximately ,800. What a pleasure that trip was, in first class, compared to the economy ticket which cost me unnecessarily 0 more, each. It was unimportant to the travel agent that my sister and I would be cramped and miserable. She was more interested in the additional ,000 fare she would lose if she booked us first class.
Of course, we have to talk about refundable tickets, as long as we are talking about travel agencies. Times have changed and tickets are generally not refunded you receive credits which you must use within one year, and there are rebooking fees attached. There are conditions attached to the refund also that are pretty hard to comply with.
I have also learned that even though the reservation fare is refundable, the travel agency might, when it sees fit, delete, archive or terminate their record so you cannot rebook without jumping through all kinds of red tape.
When you purchase the cancellation insurance, it is even more exciting. You have to rebook within a certain period of time and you again have to pay fees. Coordinating your efforts through the travel agency and the insurance company is cumbersome to say the least. Of course, with the cancellation insurance, you are entitled to a proportional refund, if you meet all the requirements and fine print.
Recently I had another experience. I met a travel agent, Dianne Tuttle of Academy Cruises and Tours, over the internet who was soliciting for guest speakers for seminars on cruise ships. She talked a good story and her websites displayed all the expected credentials for her agency at 570 Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, California.
We talked about conducting four seminars but then settled on two. She requested I provide ,000 deposit for when it became time to book the two seminars with the cruise lines. We were going to reserve a block of 25 cabins on each of the two ships. According to the Tuttle, the cruise line would require a 0 deposit to hold the 25 cabins at the time of the reservation.
Tuttle uploaded the information on her website and I did the same. I also put feelers out to determine if there was an interest in the programs and cruises. There was none so I contacted Tuttle on October 15, 2010 and told her the seminars were cancelled, to not book the cabins, and to refund the ,000.
On October 18th Tuttle acknowledged my request to cancel all plans. Tuttle informed me she had preceded, by reserving the cabins, she sent the deposits to the cruise lines (Carnival), and continued to market the events, cruises, and our collaborative ventures through her website even though all plans had been cancelled. She still has not refunded the ,000.
Now, to compound the problem, I had also made reservations for a personal cruise, in which I would be traveling with others, through this same travel agent. This time Tuttle said the cruise line required an 0 deposit within 30 days of making the reservation so I sent her 0.
After all the other facts were coming to light, I decided to contact the cruise line, Costa, to see what was going on with my reservation. I was informed that the reservation had already been made and cancelled two times and that only a 0 deposit had been provided, not the 0 Tuttle had said, in writing, was required.
I checked with one of my travel companions and she called Costa regarding her reservation and found that all was in order and as it should be. She was also informed that my reservation had now been made and cancelled three times.
A few days later I got an email from Tuttle telling me my reservation was cancelled and the money refunded. I have never received any refund.
I checked with Costa and my reservation was cancelled, after it had been made and cancelled a total of four times. The deposit had been refunded to the travel agent.
Consequently, I started contacting the alphabet agencies and organizations that Tuttle claimed to be associated and affiliated. Complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau, IC3, and California OAG, on Complaints.com, ASTA.org, IATAN, CLIA, California Department of Consumer Affairs, Florida OAG, and many others. ASTA reported that Dianne Tuttle, nor Academy Cruises & Travel, are and have never been affiliated with ASTA and they planned to pursue the matter.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) was established as a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) to serve as a means to receive Internet related criminal complaints and to further research, develop, and refer the criminal complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement and/or regulatory agencies for any investigation they deem to be appropriate.
In this case, Tuttle falsely represented affiliations and associations, advertised and promoted events that did not exist, on her websites; and she received, used and kept the money in which she was and is not entitled.
Are all travel agents and agencies unethical and unprofessional? No. Is it safe to just walk into an agency off the street, or telephone one in the yellow pages, or click on a website address, absolutely not? Always check with the local alphabet agencies and travel agent affiliate organizations, and look for referrals.
Do not under estimate the option of making your reservations directly with the venue or at least double checking every bit of information provided by the travel agent.
Here is another tidbit that can influence your actions. When a travel agent makes a reservation on your behalf, the only person the venue is technically able to talk with concerning the reservation is the travel agent. They are under no obligation to tell you anything about your reservation.
This is compounded when the travel agent or agency pays for the trip. You pay the agent and the agent pays the venue. The agent can cancel the trip out from under you, without you knowing until you show up at the boarding gate. The agent pockets the refund and you are left out in the cold.
Dont make the same mistake I did in paying the agent. Pay for your travel arrangements with your credit card. Instruct the agent to pay using your credit card and not by putting the expense on their account. This way, you have recourse if something goes wrong. I paid through online banking which was an incredibly bad idea.
When you have a bad experience and it is the direct result of an unethical or unprofessional travel agent or agency, file the appropriate complaints and post the information on the internet so others can learn from your misfortunes.