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April 1998 Vol. 13, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Undercurrent the Ombudsman

Big deposit, no return, but can I use it next year?

from the April, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When you put down a nonrefundable deposit on a trip and don’t go, you usually expect to lose it. But what happens if you just want to go later?

Undercurrent subscriber John Cohen (Evanston IL) and his wife and another couple put down $2000 in April, 1996, with the travel agency Landfall Productions for a March, 1998, trip to the Galapagos aboard the Lammer Law. In December, when it looked like El Nino might foul both the weather and the diving, Cohen asked Landfall to change their reservations to March, 1999. Cohen told us that “we knew it was beyond the sixty-day time limit they had set for cancellation, but we asked them to apply the deposit to a trip a year later.” After discussions with both Landfall Productions and Duncan Muirhead, owner of the Lammer Law, Cohen was told that they must either go on the trip or forfeit their deposit. Cohen still plans to go to the Galapagos in 1999, but “it now appears we will be on a competing vessel.”

While Undercurrent understands why a no-refund policy exists — trying to fill spots on a Galapagos trip three months before departure would be tough indeed — we wondered whether a little mediation on our part might help. We called Dennis Zabo of Landfall Productions, who told us that “Dr. Cohen’s attempt to change his trip was made well after the stipulated sixty-day notice period spelled out in all of our literature.” Muirhead said “Dr. Cohen decided to cancel just three months from the start of the trip — 21 months from the date of his reservation. A trip to the Galapagos is not a spur of the moment decision to most people, so filling spaces in a three-month period is difficult.”

Landfall and the Lammer Law have persuasive arguments, and they’re well within their rights. Although they could get full payment from the Cohen party the following year, they decided to stick with their business decision and policy. And the Cohen party, though out $500 per person, will probably be able to duck El Nino — which may also prove to be a good business decision.

But they’d better not wait too long. Fishing is taking such a toll that Galapagos Island residents, authorities, tourist operators, and environmentalists declared March 4 a day of mourning for the archipelago, saying it is jeopardized by large-scale fishing activity. To recognize what they dubbed a “Black Monday” for the environment, participants dressed in black and marched through the streets of San Cristobal and Santa Isabel, and flags over public buildings were flown at half-mast.

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