DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: In late 2019, I put a $500 deposit on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I paid the balance of $2,550 a few weeks later. These payments were made to International Yoga, a tour operator that specializes in yoga retreats.

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

In March 2020, I received an email from International Yoga explaining that the retreat was being canceled and rescheduled to April 10 to 17, 2021.

I’m a public school teacher and can only take vacation time during scheduled school breaks. The company did not schedule the retreat for the same week as 2020 (which would have worked for me). It was rescheduled to the week before.

International Yoga refused to refund my money. They are offering a $500 credit to a future retreat, so that means I’m losing $2,550. Can you help me get my money back?

— Erin Parisi, Chelmsford, Massachusetts

ANSWER: If your tour operator cancels your vacation, you should receive a full refund. But that’s not always how it goes.

Have a look at the terms and conditions of your purchase. It says all payments to International Yoga are “non-refundable and non-transferable.” And while it does say there are exceptions — for example, International Yoga offers a refund for a retreat canceled because of low enrollment — the contract clearly favors your tour operator.

State regulation, however, favors you. Under Massachusetts state law, a tour operator must offer a refund when it cancels a trip. You could have complained to the attorney general. The form can be found at: www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-consumer-complaint. (Note: This applies to you because you live in Massachusetts. You wouldn’t be covered if you reside in a different state.)

Still, as I review the correspondence between you and International Yoga, it’s obvious the company is in a tight spot. Apparently it didn’t have the money to cover refunds and asked customers like you for understanding. Giving them a chance to reschedule was the right thing to do.

I had an interesting correspondence with the owner of International Yoga. She suggested that I should be advocating for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. I agree with her that small businesses need someone to advocate for them. But they already do in the form of local organizations and national trade groups. Small businesses also have access to lawyers who can help them during a difficult time like this. Consumers like you have limited options. And that’s why my advocacy team and I are here.

I contacted International Yoga on your behalf. It agreed to offer you a full credit, which you can use toward any future trip. You accepted.

DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: In August 2019, I booked two roundtrip tickets to Lisbon on TAP Air Portugal, using Flight Network, an online travel agency. In March 2020, two months before my scheduled departure, TAP notified me of a significant schedule change. My new outbound flight departed a day later than originally scheduled. My new return flight left two hours earlier.

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

Considering these changes, I requested a full refund, as all my travel plans were essentially negated. Almost two weeks later, Flight Network notified me that my flights were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that TAP was offering vouchers. I reminded Flight Network that my refund request was due to changes made by TAP and not the pandemic.

Flight Network again conveyed my request for a full refund. TAP responded to Flight Network with “We will advise our refund department of passenger’s decision” and “This case will be closed.” Not very reassuring. I understand these are trying times. However, I am concerned that my request may have been discarded or worse yet, that my refund may have been indefinitely postponed. Can you help me get my refund?

John Schmidt, New York

ANSWER: You’re right, this refund request has nothing to do with the pandemic. TAP Air Portugal changed your flight by an entire day. TAP’s general conditions of carriage (the legal agreement between you and the airline) address your situation. Section 8.2.1 says that if the airline cancels your flight, it will give you a full refund of the ticket not flown, in the form of travel credit or refund through the same form of payment you made when you purchased the ticket.

TAP canceled your flight and rescheduled you for the next day. Case closed.

So what went wrong? It looks like something may have gotten lost in translation between Flight Network and TAP. It’s true that you need to make a refund request through your online agent, but nothing is stopping you from also contacting the airline directly. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the TAP Air Portugal managers on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/tap-air-portugal/. A brief, polite email to one of them might have helped. Or not.

At the time you sought a refund, TAP was trying to process more refund requests than it had ever seen at once. And in that sense, the pandemic had a lot to do with your refund problem. It looks as if your case got thrown in with the rest of them, with someone deciding that a voucher was your only option. Understandable — and unfortunate.

I contacted TAP Air Portugal on your behalf. A representative called you and said a “system glitch or human error” had delayed your refund. TAP returned your money, as promised.