Stranded in Paradise? Act Fast. Follow the Money.

If you have been stranded abroad or your vacation plans have been stripped by the recent failure of Conquest Vacations, you need to start chasing after your money right away. And don’t expect to have your credit card cleared of the debt immediately. This kind of failure is messy because there are so many intermediaries—the travel agent or online booking service, the credit card company or bank, the wholesaler (like Conquest), the air carrier, the destination hotel—standing between you and your money.

There are also travel insurance companies who protect against cancelled and/or interrupted trips, but if the cancellation is caused by supplier failure, the insurer is freed from paying any cancellation or interruption benefits—check their fine print.

So what do you do?

First thing is, don’t wait.

If you paid for your holiday by credit card, contact your credit card company and ask for a refund. Card companies are usually responsive to this approach—although you will have to file a form and you may have to wait to get the charge cleared off your balance.

If you booked directly with Conquest, send them an email and include your booking reference number.

If you went through a travel agent and paid by credit card, you should contact your agent or request a claim form from the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), a quasi-government watchdog group that can reimburse travellers out of its compensation fund paid for by contributions from agencies across Ontario.

If you paid your travel agency by cash or cheque, you should request a claim form from TICO, but you only have six months to act.

In its brief website explanation, Conquest attributed its shutdown to overcapacity (of carriers and destinations), a price war among major tour operators, “unrealistic and unreasonable demands” by credit card companies, the credit squeeze, and the economic downturn. If you have noticed prices of tours dropping recently, this is one of the consequences.

In short, and this is not a new phenomenon, there are too many tourism companies in too small a market. And it’s not going to get any better—which is why if you’re planning an all-inclusive vacation to some spot in “paradise” any time soon, do your homework. Don’t let the dream of daiquiris in the moonlight get so intoxicating you lose your common sense! And don’t make plans so far ahead of time your cash is all used up by others before you have a chance to reclaim any of it.

Above all, read the fine print about who is responsible for what. The packaged all-inclusive tour business is very complex with a lot of players integrating their little pieces into one grid. The trouble is, if one of those pieces fails, all the players crash. And guess who is left out of pocket?

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