COVID Canceled Their $100,000 Safari Trip. Now What?

When a group of South Bay travelers didn't get anywhere on a six-figure refund for their Africa vacation, they turned to NBC Bay Area Responds.

NBC Universal, Inc.

It's one of the most-common complaints we've received at NBC Bay since the pandemic began: travelers encountering trouble when they try to get refunds for canceled trips.

We're working hard to respond to every viewer who's contacted us. Among them was a group of friends approaching retirement or already there, who had big plans for 2020. Unfortunately, coronavirus meant their dream vacations would have to wait.

We were first alerted to the problem by Tommy Lim, a San Jose optometrist who's getting ready for globetrotting adventures with his wife, Bonnie. Like so many other would-be travelers, coronavirus caught the Lins by surprise.

"This is not a good way to go into retirement," Dr. Lim said.

The Lims and a dozen friends from their church went in together on a package deal through Overseas Adventure Travel. The journey would take them to the heart of Africa, on a grand safari.

"We planned this over a year ago," Lim said. "We bought clothing, cameras, backpacks -- you name it. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime."

Things got blurry when the pandemic hit. It wasn't clear when -- or even if -- the San Jose group would be able to safely visit Africa. So they asked Overseas Adventure Travel for a refund. But Lim says months of back-and-forth with the Boston-based travel agency got them nowhere.

"All 14 of us had all these different experiences and heard all these different stories from the company, so we really didn’t know what to expect."

We took their complaints -- as well as a few from other customers -- to Grand Circle Travel, the company that owns Overseas Adventure Travel. Right away, an executive got back to us and promised to investigate. A few weeks later, everyone got their money back -- a total of $138,762.85.

They weren't alone. The NBC Responds team in Boston received similar complaints about vacations booked through Overseas Adventure Travel and its owner.

Steve Murphy called NBC Boston when he couldn't get a refund on a canceled trip to Europe.

“Because I had paid for a trip, they felt as though that money was theirs to keep," Murphy said.

We asked the company what happened. In a statement, it told us the pandemic has disrupted many of its operations, and it added: "We continue working to improve our processes to better address the needs of each traveler whose trip was canceled or postponed due to the pandemic." (See below for the full statement from Grand Circle.)

In addition to their refunds, Grand Circle offered everyone a $500 voucher toward future travel, and said it's added flexibility to trips in 2021 and 2022.

Dr. Lim says he's uncertain whether there's an overseas adventure in his near future.

"I need to let the smoke clear from this first; get my sanity back, you know?" he said. "It took a lot out of me!"

We're still hearing from travelers every week, with problems getting refunds. If that's you, read the terms for your booking. Then, call the company and explain why you believe you are entitled to a refund.

If the company won't budge or doesn't respond, consider filing a "charge-back" or dispute with your credit card company. We hear banks are more open to disputes these days.

If that still doesn't work, maybe we can help. Please click here to contact us, or call 888-996-TIPS.

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