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When voucher isn’t a deal, do I get a refund?

By Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott
Have a travel problem? Want to avoid vacation hassles? See what Christopher Elliott has to say. The Charlotte native is also National Geographic Traveler's reader advocate, and Travel Troubleshooter is his syndicated consumer column.

Teri Rustmann’s Living Social voucher for a Caribbean vacation isn’t worth the money it’s printed on – or so he thinks. Why won’t the company refund it?

Q: I’m writing to you in the hope that you can help resolve a dispute I am having with Living Social. I don’t know where else to turn.

I purchased two Living Social vouchers for a Costa Rica trip, for $1,799 each. According to the advertisement, the voucher represented a 40 percent savings over the regular price of the trip. I purchased the vouchers specifically and solely because they represented a significant savings, as stated in the voucher.

After I booked the trip, I contacted the tour operator directly. I asked for a breakdown of the costs of the excursions on the trip. When I conducted my own research, I found that the total price of the trip was approximately $200 less than I had paid.

The tour operator refused to provide a breakdown, but agreed to cancel the reservation and waive the cancellation fee since, in a representative’s words, we “bought something different to what you thought you were purchasing.” We were told to take the matter up with Living Social.

Living Social has declined to refund the voucher, since the 30 days we have to ask for a refund had already passed. Now they are both marked as “used” so I can’t even take a vacation. I think Living Social misrepresented one of its vouchers. What do you think? – Teri Rustmann, North Palm Beach, Fla.

If Living Social promised you a deal, you should have received one. But this one’s a little complicated. Bear with me while I break it down.

According to Living Social, you inadvertently bought two vouchers. You only needed one. So when you contacted the company the first time, describing your problem, someone should have mentioned that you bought more vouchers than you required.

If your voucher was really saving you 40 percent, then your math should have added up, even if the tour operator didn’t reveal the exact cost of each component. Tour operators rarely do that, because they make money by buying in bulk, repackaging the tour and selling it to you. (You still save money, because you’re often paying less than the list price.)

One reason your numbers didn’t add up is that you had two vouchers, when you only needed one. That might account for some of the price disparity, when you ran you own calculation.

Of course, the time to research whether a deal’s a deal is before you buy the voucher, not after buyer’s remorse sets in. It never hurts to go online before making a purchase on Living Social, to make sure the math makes sense.

You might have been stuck with two useless vouchers, but you got lucky. It turns out the tour operator has gone out of business. Living Social offered you a full refund on both vouchers.

Christopher Elliott is the author of “Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals” (Wiley). He’s also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org.
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