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February 2004 Vol. 30, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Traveling Divers Beware

from the February, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When a business changes hands, things can get lost in the shuffle. Take the case of Rick Weissenborn of Chula Vista, CA, who last year booked diving, accommodations, and airfare to Kona, Hawaii through the Eco- Adventures website. He received a confirmation that included the stipulation: "All deposits and payments are fully nonrefundable."

After charging a $1,880 deposit to his credit card, Weissenborn learned he needed an angioplasty, which lead to bypass surgery. Two months before his May trip, he notified Eco-Adventures and requested a refund.

In April, Eco-Adventures referred him to Kona Town Travel to cancel his airline reservations, but the agent who issued the tickets, Robin, said they were nonrefundable. Undeterred, Weissenborn contacted Hawaiian Airlines and learned they did, indeed, issue refunds for medical cancellations but required the travel agent to obtain the refund for him. Robin claimed she needed the ticket numbers for the refund, but Weissenborn hadn't received the tickets (according to the agent, they had shipped the tickets six weeks after Weissenborn had faxed in his cancellation). Weissenborn called Mark Bader, his original Eco-Adventures contact. Bader was on vacation. The next time he called, Bader no longer worked for the company.

Bader had been one of four Eco-Adventures owners who had sold it to Bob Pettit in April. An Eco-Adventures employee told Weissenborn that his deposit was nonrefundable, despite his medical problems. Then, on May 24,Pettit called Weissenborn to ask if he were still planning on diving, because he was at the dock waiting! When Pettit learned that Weissenborn had canceled and was trying to get his money back, Pettit said Weissenborn would have to settle with the previous owners. On June 9, Weissenborn sent Pettit a request for a refund, including copies of all pertinent documents, to be forwarded to the old owners, from whom he has heard nothing.

Pettit told Undercurrent that under the terms of his buy/sell agreement with the previous partnership, he has no obligation to pay their outstanding debts, a responsibility remaining with the original owners. As he puts it, "I can't refund money I never collected." Apparently, there are other undisclosed debts from the old partners in the hands of Pettit's attorney.

Could Weissenborn have protested the charges to his credit card company? Possibly, but credit card issuers rarely intervene when a vendor follows stated policy. Would he have been better off booking through a dive travel agent who might have been more familiar with Eco-Adventure's situation? Perhaps, but that's never a guarantee -- especially when a business changes hands. The solution, of course, would have been for Weissenborn to have purchased travel insurance, which would most likely have resulted in a refund.

Many dive resorts and live-aboards encourage divers to book directly with them, so they can save travel agent commissions. But it makes the consumer solely responsible for due diligence into the operator's terms, conditions, and even financial status. With no middleman to help, you will unfortunately be on your own to straighten out messes like Weissenborn's.

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