Trips Get Canceled, So Beware

The New York Times Travel Section

By MICHELLE HIGGINS
Published: July 12, 2009

As tour operators cancel trips amid soft bookings, travelers are paying the price. But it’s possible to avoid getting stiffed if you understand the system.

Operators set dates and prices as much as 18 months ahead so they can be printed in brochures. “Everybody in this industry takes a risk,” said Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel in Jenkintown, Pa. “You make an assumption that people are going to want to take that trip and enough of them will travel to justify what you’ve done.”

Before the economy tanked, this wasn’t much of a gamble. Tour operators didn’t have to worry about finding enough paying customers to cover costs. With demand outpacing supply, trips filled up fast and travelers were trained to book early.

But the recession has changed all that. Besides taking fewer trips, travelers are holding out for last-minute deals. This is forcing tour operators to revise their calculus and cancel more trips.

Tour operators are protected by fine print that basically says: We reserve the right to cancel any trip because of low enrollment. Consumers, on the other hand, face a double standard. While companies are free to cancel anytime, customers who want to back out are usually offered zero refund.

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