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Travel Solutions: After coronavirus cancellation, why won't my tour operator refund my deposit?
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Travel Solutions: After coronavirus cancellation, why won't my tour operator refund my deposit?

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Last October, I booked a Pacific Northwest and California trip with Collette Tours. At that time, I paid $519, which included a $250 deposit and $269 for travel insurance. The tour is scheduled for May.

Then the coronavirus outbreak happened. Because of my age and health concerns, I decided to cancel the trip in early March. My deposit is supposed to be entirely refundable. I have called Collette several times to find out the status of my refund, which has not yet been credited to my card, and continue to get no positive results. I want the $250 deposit refunded. Can you help me? — Patricia Fuja, Naperville, Illinois

A: If your deposit is refundable, you should receive your $250 back quickly.

The question is, how quickly?

You canceled in early March, which is when the rest of the world canceled its vacations. Collette Tours, like every other tour operator in the world, faced a catastrophic scenario. Everyone wanted their money back — now.

I think you should give any company a minimum of 30 days to process a refund under extraordinary circumstances like these. There really is no precedent for cancellations on this scale. It’s never happened before, not even after 9/11. I know because I wrote this same column after 9/11.

You’re lucky that you booked a tour with Collette. It’s one of a few tour operators issuing full money-back refunds, as opposed to travel vouchers, during the coronavirus outbreak. Some tour operators are returning money but charging fees to cover their losses, which they can do under their contract (which no one reads). But Collette is a straight shooter and didn’t do any of that.

Your request brings up an interesting question: Should you go for a full refund or a voucher? I’ve spoken with a lot of consumers (including my mother) who insist we should be asking for a credit. After all, if everyone asks for a refund, we could kill the airlines, cruise lines and hotels we rely on for our vacations. I think that’s a valid point, and one worth considering before you demand all your money back.

Your case was a little different. You were within the window for a full refund of your tour, and the terms of the purchase were clear — you could get a refund. So you weren’t asking for any special favors from Collette.

You could have appealed this issue to an executive at Collette if this had dragged on for more than a month.

But you contacted me after only a few weeks, which isn’t enough time for Collette to process your refund. At a time like this, it’s just not practical to expect a fast refund. I never thought I would write those words: Blame coronavirus.

I contacted Collette on your behalf. A representative told me that its standard procedure is to process a refund in seven to 10 business days. “However, the COVID-19 outbreak has led to unprecedented levels of changes to existing bookings disrupting normal operations and timelines,” she added.

Collette issued a refund to your credit card for $250.

If you need help with a coronavirus-related refund, please contact me. You can send details through my consumer advocacy site www.elliott.org/help or email me at chris@elliott.org.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.

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