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My trip to Iraq was canceled. Why can't I get my $7,590 back?

TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

When Diane Gottlieb's tour of Iraq is canceled, the tour operator offers her a voucher for a future trip. She wants a refund. Can she get her $7,590 back?

I paid $7,590 for a Modern Mesopotamia tour to Iraq through MIR Corporation for last fall. l also purchased insurance from AIG Travel Guard at $766, which offered 100 percent coverage for trip interruption or cancellation.

In October, just 14 days before the trip was supposed to start, I received a letter from MIR Corporation that they were canceling the trip because the U.S. government raised the security risks.

They offered a voucher only good for a trip to Iraq in the next two years if there was any travel allowed to Iraq. I believe it is a worthless voucher.

I filed a claim with AIG Travel Guard, but it denied my claim. I also disputed the charge on my credit card, but my credit card company sided with MIR Corporation.

I'm very frustrated by this and hope that you might be able to help recover this money, which is a great amount for me. Thank you for your consideration.

Diane Gottlieb, Chicago

It doesn't seem fair for a tour operator to be able to cancel a trip and not offer a refund. But the terms of your tour say otherwise: They allow MIR Corporation to keep your money and issue a voucher for a future tour. Which is exactly what they did.

Let's break this one down. MIR Corporation specializes in tours of "under-explored" destinations (those are its words) like Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan. The paper trail between you and the company shows that it warned you of the risks of traveling to Iraq and urged you to buy travel insurance. It also clearly disclosed its terms, which were that it offers an expiring voucher when it cancels a tour.

A representative explained the reason why MIR Corporation has that policy. The tour operator had already paid its vendors and could not get a refund. But the arrangements between a tour operator and its vendors are none of your concern. The only thing that matters is the agreement you have with the tour operator.

MIR Corporation did the right thing by recommending travel insurance. However the policy you bought through AIG Travel Guard, which MIR Corporation helped facilitate, did not cover a cancellation by the tour operator. You could have bought a "cancel for any reason" policy, which, although considerably more expensive, would have given you a refund of between 50 percent and 75 percent of your prepaid, nonrefundable trip costs.

MIR Corporation also did the right thing by canceling. The State Department had issued a warning against travel to Iraq. You wouldn't want to be there during an armed conflict.

Your case is a reminder to always read the contract when you sign up for a tour, or any other travel product for that matter. It's also a reminder to read the fine print in your travel insurance. Your policy did not offer "100 percent coverage" for a cancellation, as you stated. Rather, it was a policy with named exclusion that did not include a cancellation for security concerns.

But there were special circumstances. MIR Corporation's voucher had to be used within two years and was only valid on its Iraq tours. At the time you contacted me, it didn't look like there would be tours to Iraq for a while, so there was a good chance your voucher would expire before you could use it. Also, you are 78 years old, and you suggested that you might not feel up to a tour of Iraq within the next two years.

You reached out to my advocacy team for help, and I contacted MIR Corporation on your behalf. The company agreed to offer a credit to any of its destinations for two years, and you accepted its offer.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him on his site.

 

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