Q: Does Seller of Travel have deceptive business practice in my case? Should I take a legal action? What do I do?
I booked a full tour package for my family of 4 members in Jan 2020 for Jun 2020 (to 3 countries in Europe). I paid ~5700$ (50% of total cost) as deposit. The flights got cancelled in Apr 2020 due to COVID 19 by the airline. The Travel Agent withheld that info, didn't notified us about the cancellation. Instead in May 2020, the Travel agent advised that the trip still goes as planned and provided very misleading info along with more options. None of the options work for us. I started raising concerns and asking questions right after lock down, but never got straight answer for our questions. We sent a formal letter to request for refund, but the Travel agent refuses do refund, insist that we continue with 1 of the options without our acknowledgement. They even sent invoice for remaining fee ~5700$ (50%). Does withholding and providing misleading information considered material misrepresentation (violation of Seller of Travel law).
A: Very sorry to hear your travel plans went poorly. No one can give you a definitive answer on how the case will be decided. Typical Attorney Answer: It depends.
First of all you have special protections and rights under the SELLER OF TRAVEL STATUTE, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONS CODE, SECTION 17550-17550.59. Of which the most important thing is that a seller of travel in California is required by law to post a bond to cover losses such as you are describing. You don't have to chase down an internet company if they are registered in California, you can make a claim against the bond.
Before you do that, you must send written demands to the agents for a refund of your money and for the information on the issuer of the bond- the name of the bonding company, the bond number and the amount.
In addition to the bond, there is also a Customer Restitution Fund, maintained by the state of California, against which you can make a claim for any unrefunded money.
The California Attorney General maintains a website listing registered travel agents. The agent should have provided you with lengthy information at the time you signed up that said whether they participated in Traveler protection programs in Cal. or not. They were also legally required to provide you with their physical business address.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NOW- you need to send demands for cancellation of the travel due to inability of the providers to provide the services. (actually the agents were required to refund money to you within 3 days of when they found out that air transport was cancelled by airline)- you should demand information on their bond- you need to send this certified mail, RRR. BE SURE TO STATE A DATE BY WHICH YOU EXPECT THE PAYMENT RETURNED TO YOU. If you paid by CC, file a dispute with your CC company to get the charge reversed.
Finally, about your question about misrepresentation, yes, they misrepresented, but you did not act in reliance of that misrepresentation, meaning you did not pay money because they concealed the information that the airline had cancelled the travel. So you were not damaged by that misrepresentation. There may be civil penalties in the code cited above, you can research it for yourself on the internet.
If they have not refunded your money or your CC company won't cancel/reverse the charge, file a Small Claims Action for "Conversion" and ask for punitive damages. Go for the max- $10,000.00. Hire an attorney to ghost write you a brief citing the travel statutes above and the statutory duty to refund your money within 3 days. It would be worth it in court to have organized evidence and a brief.
THE OPINIONS STATED HEREIN ARE BASED ON THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THE QUESTION,WITHOUT ANY INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION. DO NOT RELY ON FREE LEGAL ADVICE IN A PUBLIC FORUM, EVEN MINE. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY OF YOUR CHOOSING IN YOUR LOCAL AREA TO PROTECT YOUR IMPORTANT PERSONAL RIGHTS.
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