DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: I paid $7,590 for a Modern Mesopotamia tour to Iraq through MIR Corporation for last fall. I also purchased insurance from AIG Travel Guard at a cost of $766, which offered 100% coverage for trip interruptions or cancellations. Just 14 days before the trip was supposed to start, I received a letter from MIR Corporation that they were canceling the trip because the United States government raised the security risks. They offered a voucher, which was only good for a trip to Iraq in the next two years — if there was any travel allowed to Iraq. I believe it is a worthless voucher.

Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter ...
Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter 

I filed a claim with AIG Travel Guard, but it denied my claim. I also disputed the charge on my credit card, but my credit card company sided with MIR Corporation. I’m very frustrated by this and hope that you might be able to help me recover this money.

— Diane Gottlieb, Chicago

ANSWER: It doesn’t seem fair for a tour operator to cancel a trip and not offer a refund. But the terms of your tour say otherwise. They allow MIR Corporation to keep your money and issue a voucher for a future tour, which is exactly what they did.

Let’s break this one down. MIR Corporation specializes in tours of “under-explored destinations” (those are its words) like Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. The paper trail between you and the company shows that it warned you of the risks of traveling to Iraq and urged you to buy travel insurance. It also clearly disclosed its terms, which were that it offers an expiring voucher when it cancels a tour.

A representative explained the reason why MIR Corporation has this policy. The tour operator had already paid its vendors and could not get a refund. But the arrangements between a tour operator and its vendors are none of your concern. The only thing that matters is the agreement you have with the tour operator.

MIR Corporation did the right thing by recommending travel insurance. But the policy you bought through AIG Travel Guard, which MIR Corporation helped facilitate, did not cover a cancellation by the tour operator. You could have bought a “cancel for any reason” policy, although it was considerably more expensive. This would have given you a refund between 50% and 75% of your prepaid, nonrefundable trip costs.

MIR Corporation also did the right thing by canceling. The U.S. Department of State had issued a warning against travel to Iraq. You wouldn’t want to be there during an armed conflict.

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