Mary Paulson was already out a trip to New York City to see Ellis Island, the Chelsea Market, the 9/11 Museum and other points of interest. She didn’t want to be out $115, too.
Paulson, 80, of Madison, reserved her seat on the Van Galder New York City 2020 trip with a $50 down payment, plus $65 for travel insurance, on Oct. 14, and was set to leave from Madison’s Dutch Mill Park and Ride on May 14.
On March 23, the Janesville-based bus line called to say the trip was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, and she was surprised to learn that instead of crediting her credit card for the $50, Van Galder was providing the refund by way of a snail-mailed check.
“I was told at that time that a refund would be in the mail in four to eight weeks,” Paulson wrote to SOS on May 26. “When it didn’t come I called their office in Janesville, and (was) told that the person who answered was the only one working in the office. Two weeks ago I wrote the CEO and so far have gotten no response.”
Paulson said the woman she spoke with at the Van Galder office said it could be another eight weeks before her refund arrived.
SOS contacted Van Galder parent company Coach USA on May 27, and heard back from the company’s director of corporate affairs, Sean Hughes, that same day. On June 1, Hughes sent SOS an email saying the check would go out the week of June 15, but Paulson said it arrived much earlier than that, on June 8.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coach USA has a skeleton workforce, which caused the delay in the refund,” Hughes said.
As for the travel insurance, Hughes said refunds are purview of the company’s third-party insurer, Travelex, but he did not believe Paulson was eligible for one because she had declined to reschedule the date of her trip to this fall. Paulson said she has been planning to take the May trip with her sister, but she couldn’t go in the fall.
When SOS appealed to Travelex directly via phone on Tuesday, the company’s customer service department put the onus back on Coach USA, saying any refund was up to them.
SOS relayed this information back to Coach USA, and Hughes shared an internal email chain between the two companies that indicates refunds are indeed up to Travelex, and in Paulson’s case, the company, according Travelex regional sales manager Michael Ray and account manager Chaniesha Garrett, was prepared to make an “exception” to its policy and would look at future refunds on an “individual case by case basis.”
“So since Mary Paulson went to the newspaper Travel Ex will refund her?” Kim Dooley, director of tour and travel with Van Galder and Coach USA, responded. “It feels as though Travel Ex is throwing Van Galder under the bus due to pressure from a newspaper reporter.”
Hughes on Thursday sent Travelex vice president of marketing Christine Buggy emails saying that given the company’s change of heart in Paulson’s case, it was demanding refunds for all Coach USA customers in similar circumstances, or “easily more than 50 of our valued clients.”
All of which goes beyond the scope of this particular SOS column, which was informed late Thursday night by Paulson of an email she’d received a few hours earlier from Travelex.
“As an exception, Travelex has cancelled your policy in our system and Coach USA will be issuing you a premium refund,” “Ann” from Travelex customer service writes.
On Friday, Buggy said Travelex will be refunding premiums “for all Coach USA clients who have not scheduled a date transfer, received no penalties for the cancellation of the original trip, and have no intention of traveling at a later date.”
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