Travel

Where’s the refund on my overbooked wine tour?

Q: On a recent trip to New Zealand’s South Island, I booked a wine tour through Viator.com, a website that sells tours. My husband and I were contacted by Kevin at Canterbury Wine Tours the day before and informed that the tour was overbooked and that they could not accommodate us.

I immediately contacted support@viator.com to request a refund. I received a response indicating it would take 7 to 10 days. It’s been more than 10 days, and Viator is not responding to my messages.

No New Zealand phone number is provided on its website, and no additional email addresses are listed. Can you help me? – Anne Komarinski, Auckland, New Zealand

A: I’m sorry your wine tour was overbooked. That shouldn’t have happened. A tour operator should accept only as many bookings as it can accommodate. When it couldn’t fulfill its contractual obligation, you should have received an immediate refund.

Here’s how I see it: It took seconds for Viator to remove the money from your account. Isn’t it reasonable to expect a refund to be just as expeditious?

Actually, it isn’t. The money can take days, weeks and in extreme cases, even years to get back to you. The reason? Businesses invest a lot of resources in technology that can take your money in the blink of an eye, but they have no reason to put the same resources into a speedy refund. There are few, if any, benefits to the company in returning your money quickly.

So when Viator says it will refund the money in 7 to 10 days, that’s just an estimated timeline. It might get the money back to you by then. It might not.

Normally, when refunds are delayed, companies claim they sent the money but blame your credit card. (“Did we say two weeks? We meant two credit-card billing cycles.”) It doesn’t really matter to you. The money’s still not there.

Bottom line: You have to be patient when it comes to a refund. You don’t have much of a choice.

Viator should have responded to you to let you know that your refund was on the way. Instead, you heard nothing. That’s too bad. You also could have turned to the wine tour for a better idea of when your money might be refunded. But no matter – the silence was unacceptable.

I contacted Viator on your behalf. It claims it already had told you by email that a request for a refund was “in queue” to be processed. A representative confirmed that a full refund for the cost of the tour was being sent to your credit card.

“As you know, the refunds do not appear immediately, but the credit should appear within the next 3 to 7 business days,” she added. “Viator very much appreciates the fact that Mrs. Komarinski chose to make her tour booking with Viator and sincerely apologizes for the inconvenience she has experienced, and has provided an NZD 100 gift certificate for her to use toward a future booking.”

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of“How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at celliott@ngs.org

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