Retired army veteran and wife left $25,000 out of pocket after travel agent denied refund
In 2019, Dave Russell completed 40 years in the military, and he and his wife Christine were ready to celebrate in the best way they know how — by taking a series of cruises.
The couple have booked three Carnival cruises through travel agency Defense Escapes, an agency that claims to offer the best deals for serving and non-serving staff.
“We have booked a whole bunch of trips in 2019, for a cruise from August 2020, to celebrate my husband’s end in the military after 40 years. It was our party, ‘let’s go and have a big trip,'” said Christine Russell Cruise Passailant.
However, the celebrations did not go as planned.
The couple have booked a number of cruises, accommodations and domestic flights in America. But when the pandemic hit, like hundreds of thousands of cruisers, their plans were put on hold.
“So obviously the world caught a cold – everything was called off.”
Ms Russell understood her refund might not come right away, but did not anticipate the coming struggle she faced two years after booking their dream holiday.
“We received formal confirmation in May 2020 that everything had been cancelled, so I sent the travel agent an email asking ‘Can you cancel everything, we would like our money back, we don’t know when we can go to the United States and so on.
“I remember my very first email, I was like, ‘I understand it’s going to take a little while for the refunds to come back, that’s all good’.”
“It was back and forth, back and forth and now we have radio silence. She won’t respond to any emails, calls, texts, anything. We haven’t even heard of her. her since late 2020 or early 2021.”
Currently, the Russells have $25,000 out of pocket.
“The one big trip was about $23,000 and we also had deposits for another cruise, which are also lost.
“The three cruises she booked alone were about $18,000. We have written confirmation from Carnival that a $250 deposit was the only money given to them and refunded to them in October 2020.
“I also contacted the two hotels we were to stay at in America and neither had been paid for either.”
Ms Russell did not take the situation lightly, fighting through multiple avenues to try and get her money back.
“I went to Fair Trading, I contacted the ACCC, I contacted the Consumer Law Center here in Canberra. Fair Trading in Canberra contacted her on our behalf earlier this year and she told them she hadn’t gotten the money back.
“After telling Fair Trading they hadn’t gotten the money back, they told us they couldn’t go any further and couldn’t help us.”
The missing money has also had an impact on the couple’s wider financial situation, with the couple forced to dip into their mortgage and seek additional work.
” It’s horrible. You can’t prevent the trip from being canceled, the world got sick, we couldn’t do anything right. Not too long ago we bought a house (early 2020) so we decided to do some renovations, thinking the money would come back. But since we never received a penny of our refund, we had to take money out of our mortgage to pay for the renovations.
“Dave, now in the Army Reserves, had to go get work, work extra days to try and get some of those funds back, because we didn’t get them back.
“Stress is just, you can’t even explain it.”
For now, Ms Russell must continue to follow government agencies and consult consumer advocate Adam Glezer, and heartbreakingly doubts her and her husband’s future with cruises and travel.
“We love cruising. We’ve been doing it for several years, it’s our time when we’re together, we’re relaxed and it’s fun. It’s time away from reality.
“Now I don’t know if it will ever be the same. Until we get our money back, this will always be on our minds.
I work full time, because I have to. But Dave should be able to take advantage of his pension, which he cannot. We just want to know what’s going on and get our money back.
This destroyed Ms Russell’s trust in travel agents. “I will never use a travel agency again. How am I going to trust someone who books a trip again, it hurts a lot. If we want to travel, we have to save very hard.
“I left her tearful voicemails begging her to give us our money back. I said we weren’t going to be unreasonable, we know you will have a hard time too. Pay in installments, tell us what’s going on, be transparent and let us know what you’re planning on doing. Not telling us what you’re doing gets nowhere.
“I don’t understand how anyone could do this to anyone.”
Ms Russell had also previously recommended her travel agent to friends, who have now suffered the same fate as her.
“We are not the only ones in this case. I know at least four or five other people, if not more, whose travel agent has also done this.
“I feel guilty because we recommended it as a great travel agency to other people. I think that’s why I fight so hard for all of us, I guess I need it. To try get their money back too.
“That, on top of everything else, hurts a lot.”
cruise passenger has contacted Defense Escapes but has not yet received a response.
According to the Defense Escapes website: “We have worked tirelessly to obtain refunds for our customers with zero revenue for the company, $0. We thank our customers for their patience as it has not been easy for them.
“As we all know, travel was the first affected by the pandemic and will be the last to recover. Reimbursements from suppliers around the world have been extremely slow and there is still a lot to come. Australian travelers had at least $4 billion invested in pre-booked holidays when our borders were closed. We understand that at least a billion is still unpaid.
“We are in the process of rebuilding a new website with up-to-date tours as well as new terms and conditions to reflect this new era of post COVID 19 travel.”
And he adds: “If you are confident to commit your hard-earned to a vacation in the future and your booked trip is canceled due to COVID 19 border rule changes domestically or internationally, you must be prepared, at a minimum , to wait for these spent funds to go into credit or a very long wait for a refund.
Adam Glezer of Consumer Champion said: “What I find particularly disappointing is that the agent blamed Carnival for not returning Christine’s funds when it appeared they had the majority of them the whole time. time.
“Travel agents should never mislead their customers. Customers need to be able to trust that their travel agent will always do their best.
“It’s situations like this that give travel agents a bad name.
“The travel agency industry desperately needs regulation. This has been proven by the amount of issues exposed on COVID.”