Bill and Florence Gardner hoped to leave Feb. 12 for the Riu Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. They paid $ 5,802 for a two-week all-inclusive vacation, plus $ 49 each for Sunwing Vacations’ worry-free cancellation waiver.
On Jan. 28, Florence’s doctor said she was unfit to travel because of a heart abnormality he detected. She would have to consult a cardiologist.
When I checked the fine print, I realized that the Gardners hadn’t bought trip cancellation insurance. They had bought a Sunwing product — not underwritten by an insurance company — that allowed customers to cancel trips up to three hours before departure.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But there are two asterisks after this sentence, which lead to a message: “Some or all of your refund may be paid in Sunwing future travel vouchers, depending on when you cancel.”
If you read the terms and conditions (shown on a different page), you find that you won’t get back all of your money, no matter when you cancel. You will get part of your refund in travel certificates, which are valid for one year and issued only in the name of the passenger who cancelled.
“At the time of booking, we read about the Worry Free Cancellation Waiver on page 32 of the Sunwing brochure, which said we’d receive a 100 per cent refund if we cancelled the trip,” Bill said.
“After my wife became ill, I read the fine print. On page 390, you are referred to page 417 for the chart that shows the schedule of change and cancellation fees. There are only 394 pages in this brochure.”
Sunwing, which began operations in 2002, is a family-managed and -operated business. Customer relations manager Alexandra Abreu said she couldn’t offer a cash refund.
She offered to extend the travel credits’ expiry date or transfer them to an immediate family member. Gardner opted for a two-year period to use the credits. Abreu agreed to do so.
Suppose you book a Caribbean trip with Sunwing’s rival, Air Canada Vacations. You pay a $ 250 fee if you cancel 45 days or more before departure. You pay 50 per cent of the total price if you cancel 21 to 44 days before departure. And you receive no refund if you cancel 20 days or less before departure.
Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ellenroseman.com