Consumer Rescue had a bonanza of refund wins for Vantage Travel customers as we sprinted to this year’s finish line. Since early November, our advocacy team has retrieved nearly $100,000 for victims of the Vantage Travel bankruptcy.
Here’s some good consumer news to end the year.
Vantage Deluxe World Travel revealed a $170 million debt when it declared bankruptcy last June. A significant portion of that stunning figure the company owed to customers who prepaid for tours that will never operate.
The unpleasant reality is that most of those nearly 10,000 Vantage Travel customers will never recover the refund they’re owed.
The reason? Instant ACH bank transfers were the preferred payment method of Vantage Travel. Consumers can’t reverse those transfers and they don’t come with purchase protection – even if your tour operator goes bankrupt and cancels all trips.
Additionally, customers discovered too late that the pricey trip protection Vantage Travel sold them was worthless if the company went bankrupt.
However, for two categories of Vantage Travel customers, there was some light on the horizon:
- Those who resisted the ACH discounted rate and instead paid for their tour with a credit card.
- Those who purchased a comprehensive travel insurance policy directly from a third party that included insolvency protection.
But then those “lucky” Vantage Travel customers discovered the bankrupt tour operator appeared to have one last trick up its sleeve.
Here are the frustrating but ultimately successful refund battles our team fought for these Vantage Travel victims in the past several weeks.
Booking a special family trip with Vantage Travel
Last year, Carolyn Horich, 81, decided to plan an amazing adventure with her two adult daughters. They would take a river cruise with Vantage Deluxe World Travel through Spain and Portugal on the tour operator’s River Splendor.
The total cost of the trip was $26,000 – which Horich paid via an ACH bank transfer.
As a savvy world traveler, Horich knew to avoid the travel protection Vantage was selling.
That “protection” provided no benefit at all to the traveler if the company went bankrupt or insolvent and was unable to pay its bills. Unfortunately, most Vantage Travel customers didn’t know that and bought the soon-to-be worthless travel waiver. (Read just how worthless the Vantage Travel Protection Plan was for customers with canceled cruises. )
Horich, though, declined that quasi-travel insurance policy and instead chose a comprehensive travel insurance policy from Seven Corners.
With all the details of the trip planned, mom and daughters excitedly looked forward to the adventure.
But a few days before it was time to leave, Horich got a surprising phone call.
A customer service agent from Vantage Travel had bad news for Horich: the company was canceling the trip.
“I was all packed. We were ready to go,” Horich recalled. “I expected this to be my last international trip.”
The worst was yet to come.
The unraveling of a once well-respected tour operator
Confusion ensued as Horich tried to get additional information, still hoping that there was some mistake. But there was no mistake.
The unraveling of Vantage Deluxe World Travel had begun long before the day Horich received word of the cancellation of her cruise. Although it would be quite some time before the tour company would admit it was bankrupt, it would never operate another trip.
Even as Horich and her daughters packed their bags in anticipation of their vacation, there was no chance it would happen.
The River Splendor, the ship they were scheduled to board, had not moved since January. The official explanation for the stationary river boat was “operational issues.”
Vantage Travel becomes insolvent
Throughout early 2023, week after week, just before eager customers headed to the airport, a Vantage Travel representative would make the same call: The trip was canceled due to those undefined operational issues.
Unfortunately, some travelers, like Geena Tharp and her husband, didn’t get the call at all. They found out their trip was canceled in the most jarring way: at the airport when they tried to check in for flights that the bankrupt tour operator never paid for.
There is little doubt about what those operational issues were. In its wake, Vantage Travel was leaving unpaid bills everywhere. In the end, it owed that $170 million to crew, airlines, vendors, tour leaders, contractors, employees, and, of course, customers.
Missing refund complaints from Vantage Travel customers were exploding at Consumer Rescue and The Points Guy.
The tour operator was completely insolvent and had lost all ability to pay the expenses to operate any trips — or refund the customers for those canceled vacations.
However, Vantage Travel refused to admit what was actually happening and continued selling nonexistent trips to unsuspecting travelers. Employees began sending me internal memos and called to tell me the unpleasant details of staff meetings.
And then finally, the company fired everyone and admitted what anyone who had been following the situation already knew: Vantage Travel was bankrupt.
Travel insurance that covers insolvency
Horich, like so many other victims of the Vantage Travel bankruptcy, was looking for some way to retrieve the money she invested in the canceled trip.
Combing through her Seven Corners insurance policy, she got a pleasant surprise.
“Suddenly I saw an insolvency clause I didn’t even know was in there,” Horich recalled. “I was so happy that I wouldn’t lose the $26,000 after all.”
But Horich’s happiness was short-lived. Soon after she filed her insurance claim, she received the first of many rejections.
“First, they said Vantage Travel canceled my trip for operational reasons, so I wasn’t covered,” Horich recalled. “Next, they said the company declared bankruptcy after my policy coverage had ended.”
Six months and three official rejections later, the final verdict from Seven Corners was that Horich wasn’t covered.
“My $26,000 was gone. I had no other way to get a refund for my canceled Vantage Travel trip,” Horich told me. “That was really tough to accept.”
NewsNation reports on this consumer catastrophe
I first became acquainted with Horich when NewsNation contacted Consumer Rescue as it was covering her unpleasant experience.
After that piece aired, Horich asked me to review the details of her policy.
I had a look and agreed with her interpretation. The clause covered insolvency with or without an official filing of bankruptcy.
SECTION VII GENERAL DEFINITIONS
Financial Default or Financial Insolvency means the total cessation of operations due to insolvency, with or without the filing of a bankruptcy petition or the total cessation or complete suspension of operations following the filing of a bankruptcy petition, whether voluntary or involuntary by an airline, cruise line, tour operator or other travel provider provided the Financial Default or Financial Insolvency occurs more than 14 days following Your Effective Date for Your Trip Cancellation Benefits.Horich’s Seven Corners policy
On the day Vantage Travel canceled her trip, there is no doubt it was insolvent. The reason Vantage Travel canceled her much-anticipated journey was because the company had no money to operate it.
I reviewed the response from the Seven Corners adjuster. It was clear that person had not looked at the overall picture of the situation and had relied on the documented facts in front of her: Vantage Travel reported it had canceled Horich’s trip on May 14 due to undefined operational issues and didn’t declare bankruptcy until June 29.
But that wasn’t the whole story.
It was time to ask Seven Corners to have a closer look at Horich’s case.
Asking Seven Corners to have a manual review of this claim
I have a Seven Corners customer, Carolyn Horich, who has an ongoing problem with the policy she purchased for a trip scheduled for May 26, 2023. Unfortunately, Carolyn has been caught up in the bankruptcy of Vantage Deluxe World Travel — a company that filed for bankruptcy on June 29, 2023 but had stopped operating in April 2023 due to its insolvency. At the time of its bankruptcy, it was revealed that this company had been able to accrue a stunning debt of $170 million. $108 million of that debt is what it owes customers for tours it sold which it was not able to operate because of its insolvency. There is no question, based on the bankruptcy proceedings, that Carolyn’s trip that was scheduled for May 26, 2023 was canceled because the ship was repossessed due to non-payment by Vantage.
Many, many customers had no recourse but to join the bankruptcy proceedings as unsecured creditors and, of course, they’ll likely receive nothing since there is no money left and the company owes secured creditors nearly $80 million. However, Carolyn should have been one of the lucky ones because she purchased an independent travel insurance policy that has a clause to protect her against the insolvency of her tour operator “with or without bankruptcy.” On May 26, 2023 Vantage Deluxe World Travel was completely insolvent and never operated another trip. Carolyn’s cruise was canceled due to the insolvency of Vantage which filed formal bankruptcy on June 29, 2023.
Carolyn has contacted me in hopes that I can reach an executive at Seven Corners who can review the actual details of this situation and approve her claim for payment for the money she spent on this cruise — a trip she was greatly looking forward to and one that she spent a lot of money on and protected with her Seven Corners policy… the rejection of her claim seems to be an error based on the perils listed in her policy and the timeline of the events. I have attended every bankruptcy hearing concerning this case and there is no question that Vantage Deluxe World Travel was insolvent on the date it canceled her tour — and on that date, she was covered by her Seven Corners policy.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I appreciate it! Thank you!Michelle Couch-Friedman, Ombudsman
Seven Corners approves the $26k refund claim for this former Vantage customer
The good news for Horich came shortly. Seven Corners manually reviewed all the details and reversed its decision — she would be getting her refund after all.
Finally, six months after that fateful call from Vantage Travel canceling her trip, Horich received her $26,000 refund and she couldn’t be more thrilled.
Michelle, I believe you are blessed with great powers of persuasion! Look what arrived in my inbox yesterday. Needless to say, I filled out the forms immediately and received the next response within hours. It is below. I have been holding my breath for the past 24 hours expecting to receive a third email saying it was all a mistake but I have gotten none. I owe this all to your wonderful assistance. Without it I would still be pursuing insurance company.. You are a godsend to the many lost travelers. Thank you a thousand times.Carolyn Cefalo Horich
Nationwide should have covered my parents for this bankruptcy
At the same time Horich was battling with Seven Corners, Molly Siddall and her parents were having a fight of their own with Nationwide.
Siddall contacted Consumer Rescue after her parents’ travel insurance claim concerning their Vantage Travel cancellation was repeatedly rejected.
Her parents had planned a trip through Switzerland at a total cost of $18,946 and paid nearly $2,000 for Nationwide to insure it.
When Vantage Travel canceled their trip due to “operational issues,” Nationwide had the same response as Seven Corners.
And multiple rejections ensued.
Dear Sheryl Siddall,
We are in receipt of the Trip Cancellation claim you filed with our office on 7/05/2023, as well as additional documentation on 7/25/2023, 8/15/2023 and 11/07/2023. Upon review, we have determined that your claim is not eligible for payment.
According to the documentation provided, your trip was canceled on June 3, 2023 by the travel supplier Vantage Travel due to operational reasons. You are requesting reimbursement of the prepaid expenses to Vantage Travel. The Trip Cancellation coverage will reimburse you, up to the Maximum Benefit shown on the Schedule of Benefits for pre-paid non-refundable cancellation charges imposed by the Travel Suppliers, if you cancel your trip for any of the listed reasons that are Unforeseen and takes place after your Effective Date.
Regrettably, your claim does not qualify for reimbursement because the policy purchased does not indicate cancellations by the travel supplier, due to operational issues, as a covered peril under the plans provisions. Additionally, coverage ends on this plan once the trip is cancelled. Because the trip was cancelled on June 3, 2023 prior to June 29, 2023 when Vantage filed for bankruptcy, we are unable to provide benefits under the Bankruptcy or Default of a Travel Supplier peril of the policy.Nationwide
After three rejections to her parent’s claim, Molly hoped Consumer Rescue might be able to help.
Will Nationwide approve this Vantage Travel claim?
I reached out to Nationwide to see if they could also do a manual review of this claim.
Hey there! I have a couple here who are Nationwide Travel Insurance customers, William and Sheryl Siddall. They have an ongoing problem with the policy they purchased for a trip schedule for July 1, 2023. Unfortunately, the Siddalls have been caught up in the bankruptcy of Vantage Deluxe World Travel — a company that filed for bankruptcy on June 29, 2023 but had stopped operating in April 2023 because it defaulted on many, many payments to vendors, suppliers and contractors. At the time of its bankruptcy, it was revealed that this company had been able to accrue a stunning debt of $170 million.
$108 million of that debt is what it owes customers for tours it sold which it was not able to operate because it had no money to do so. In early May, both of its ocean ships were repossessed by the company that leased the ships to Vantage because of unpaid bills. The crew members that were meant to serve those two ships were all let go (unpaid as well). This ship this couple was scheduled to sail on was taken out of service, also because of the company’s inability to pay the bills necessary to operate the ship. There is no question based on the bankruptcy proceedings that the Siddalls’ trip that was scheduled for July 1, 2023 was canceled because the ship was repossessed due to non-payment by Vantage...
…There is no question that Vantage Deluxe World Travel was insolvent on the date it canceled her tour — and on that date, she was covered by her Nationwide policy.Michelle Couch-Friedman, Ombudsman
Good news: Nationwide will approve your $18,926 refund
Siddall was amazed to soon receive the good news that her parents’ battle was successfully over.
We got a positive response! After further review of this matter, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company has agreed to a one-time exception for our Trip Cancellation claim. We are getting a full refund. I’m shocked at how quickly Nationwide changed their decision. Your advocacy was invaluable. Thank you so much for all of your help! My parents and I are so grateful.
Now, we were on a roll for Vantage Travel victims, and I sensed more refunds were in our immediate future.
Why is my credit card dispute being denied against Vantage?
Vantage Travel sent Tori Housh a reminder in April 2023 to pay $12,919 on her Wells Fargo credit card for a trip scheduled for October. There is no doubt the company knew it was about to declare bankruptcy at that time and would be unable to operate the trips that it was asking customers to pay for.
But Housh didn’t know, so she paid the bill.
When Vantage Travel declared bankruptcy and canceled her trip, the company owed her a refund so her credit card dispute should have been a slam dunk. The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers from merchants who take money from their customers and don’t provide the service or product.
But her chargeback case wasn’t a slam dunk. Instead, Housh lost the dispute.
And the reason she lost that credit card dispute was quite bizarre.
A anonymous objection from someone claiming to be from Vantage Travel responded to Wells Fargo. In that challenge, haphazardly typed on a plain white background with no letterhead nor signature, the author accused Housh of somehow gaming the system and insinuated that Vantage Travel wasn’t down for the count.
I’ve been reporting on this particular situation for months now. It isn’t an isolated incident. Based on our complaint files, what’s clear is that across the industry, credit card companies are receiving similar letters from someone trying to block consumers from filing valid credit card disputes against Vantage Travel.
But Housh is a regular reader of Consumer Rescue and part of our Vantage Deluxe World Travel customer support and information Facebook group, so she was already aware of this strange phenomenon, which amounts to fraud on the part of whoever is responding to these disputes.
Although it didn’t come as a complete surprise when Wells Fargo denied her claim based on this letter, it still left her money in the hands of the bankrupt company that took her cash and refused to refund it.
Asking Wells Fargo to review this Vantage travel refund rejection
Housh hoped I might be able to convince Wells Fargo to have another look at her rejected credit card dispute. That was my hope as well.
I’ve been following the downfall of this company for several years now. It finally filed for bankruptcy on June 29, 2023 and is currently in the liquidation phase of the process. Unfortunately, prior to going bankrupt it collected $108 million from its customers for future trips that it would never operate. In fact, in April 2023 right up until the third week of June 2023, this company kept its sales team busy marketing nonexistent trips to unaware customers. Most of these customers paid with an ACH bank transfer because that was the preferred payment of the Vantage Deluxe World Travel — obviously so credit card disputes wouldn’t be a problem.
HOWEVER, your customer Tori Housh insisted on paying with her Wells Fargo credit card (s) She made one payment of $2,149 on April 7, 2023 and a final payment of $12,919 on April 19, 2023 for a trip that was to occur on Oct. 13, 2023.
Vantage Deluxe World Travel accepted money from your customer Tori Housh for a trip that never had any chance of operating and will never operate. There are currently multiple lawsuits accusing this company’s former CEO and executives of fraud. These lawsuits have been filed by the PA Attorney General and the NY Attorney General and there will likely be more lawsuits filed soon.
As you know, the Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers from fraudulent merchants. Ms. Housh paid VDWT via her Wells Fargo credit card for something that company never delivered and will never deliver. However her credit card dispute has been repeatedly rejected by Wells Fargo based on yet another fraudulent aspect of this case: Someone is sending rebuttals to various credit card companies — anonymously — claiming that VDWT did not go out of business and suggesting that there is a chance these canceled trips will operate. These letters are unsigned and contain outright untruths and it remains unclear why any bank would accept this unsigned fraudulent letter to reject a customer’s valid credit card dispute.
I’m hoping Tori’s request can be escalated to the executive level at Wells Fargo and be reviewed based on what has actually happened at Vantage Deluxe World Travel. Tori’s payments should be reversed.
Thank you for your help!Michelle Couch-Friedman, Ombudsman
Good News: Here’s your money back
As with many of our cases, the good news came quickly for Housh too.
I can’t say enough good things about how helpful [you’ve] been. If not for [your] tenacity and diligence, there is little chance we would have recovered our credit card debt even after the merchant clearly failed to deliver.
Our situation of booking a cruise, paying the cruise company in full, and having the company go bankrupt leaving us all hanging seemed like a no brainer to have credit card protection cancel our debt. But the banks and the merchant somehow managed to avoid that situation and we were not at first successful. I am very happy to say that you were able to find the right people in the right high places and our debt is now canceled and my payments refunded. I couldn’t possibly thank you enough for helping us to this successful end of a terrible situation.Tori Housh
I’m thrilled we were able to help put Housh’s $15,000 back where it belongs – in her bank account. 🙂
The bottom line
There are many other Vantage Travel refund success stories to tell, but those will be for another time.
The total refunds we’ve facilitated for Vantage Travel customers just since Nov. 1 is $93,500 – including cases from Chase, Citi, Barclay, and others. There are likely other victims of this bankruptcy who may still be eligible for a refund or approved claim. *
*Feb. 6, 2024 update: Since this article was published several weeks ago, we’ve had another surge of refunds for Vantage Travel customers. There are likely more people who are rightfully owed refunds via insurance claims and credit card disputes.
If you’re a former Vantage Travel customer and you believe your claim has been rejected in error, contact Consumer Rescue, and we’ll be happy to investigate and help you, too. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)
Before you go: Are you a Vantage customer who made a mistake and rejected your credits? Here’s what to do now.