Travel

Travel Troubleshooter: Antarctic cruise canceled... and my refund is on ice

Christopher Elliott, the Charlotte-born Travel Troubleshooter columnist, is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine
Christopher Elliott, the Charlotte-born Travel Troubleshooter columnist, is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine Christopher Elliott

G Adventures cancels Shelley Piontek’s Antarctic cruise after its ship breaks down. But neither the tour operator nor Piontek’s travel-insurance company will refund her transportation expenses. Why not?

Q. It’s been a goal of mine to travel to all seven continents. Antarctica is no easy feat, so I’ve been saving and doing research for several years. A few months ago, I booked a cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula with G Adventures. I was set to leave for the trip last fall, so I had a long time to prepare and look forward to the trip.

Just three days before I was set to leave, I received a heartbreaking call that my entire trip had been canceled. The reason? There was an engine problem with the ship. G Adventures offered to refund the cost of the cruise and 15 percent off a future sailing, but since prices go up so much per year, that didn’t do much.

I scrambled to try to salvage what I could, and filed a claim with my trip insurance. And that’s where I had a problem. I am out $821 in flight and travel costs that I feel I am owed. G Adventures refuses to pay, since the company feels it should be covered by travel insurance.

My travel insurance covers medical emergencies, death and weather-related cancellations, but not a mechanical failure.

I feel as if G Adventures should be the one to reimburse me if it can’t keep its ships in running order. But I’ve gotten nowhere. This trip is still a dream of mine, and I am hoping to go this year, but not if I can’t get back the money I am already out for the trip that G Adventures canceled on me. Can you help? Shelley Piontek, Sacramento, Calif.

A. If you insured your Antarctic adventure, you should have been covered. And by “covered,” I mean you shouldn’t have lost any money when the vessel you were supposed to be sailing on had a mechanical failure.

From your tour operator’s perspective, this is an open-and-shut case. It canceled your cruise and it refunded the cruise – plus it offered a discount for a future sailing. Likewise, your travel-insurance company has rules, which it followed. And its policy doesn’t cover a mechanical delay.

Problem is, you’re left with an $821 bill for a ship that broke down. Effectively, G Adventures is asking you to share some of the responsibility for its faulty engine, at least from your perspective.

It looks as if G Adventures and your travel-insurance company can’t agree on the definition of “unforeseen circumstances.” Your tour operator believes it’s any event “outside of the reasonable control of G Adventures,” while your travel-insurance company begs to differ, suggesting with its policy exclusions that the condition of a cruise ship is something the tour operator can control.

Nothing could have prepared you for this. You did everything you could have possibly done, and you followed all the right steps in trying to resolve this. I see a strong paper trail, and you were always polite.

In the end, you appealed to G Adventures to make right on its pledge to “lead” with service, and reminded the company of its claim that 99 percent of its customers were happy with their tours.

I contacted G Adventures on your behalf. The company agreed to refund the transportation expenses you incurred as a result of its cancellation.

Charlotte-born Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)” (National Geographic). 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 or contact him at his website: www.elliott.org.

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