Credits offered to ‘Vantage’ travelers who paid for trips that never happened

Shirley and Ben Vega were packed and ready for their three-week European cruise when Vantage Travel Service canceled the trip, then went out of business.
Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 9:18 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Shirley and Ben Vega love traveling, and they were excited to share some of their favorite spots with their daughters. The couple planned a three-week European adventure. “We figured this will be a once in a lifetime experience for all of us,” Shirley said.

The family was packed and ready to go, but days before they were supposed to cruise, they received an email telling them their trip was canceled. “I was just totally mad. I was almost physically ill, I was so mad,” Shirley told On Your Side.

They were given a choice; rebook a future trip or get their money back. “I said we want a full refund,” Shirley said. But the refund was never issued, and Vantage Travel Service, a Boston-based company with a long history in business, declared bankruptcy. “We lost close to $75,000,” Ben said. “We planned this trip and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Michelle Couch-Friedman, the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue, has covered Vantage Travel’s demise. “In the middle of the pandemic, we started seeing the writing on the wall that something was going seriously wrong with this company,” she said. “There’s no money. There’s nothing. The total debt that this company was able to accrue before it went out of business was $170 million.”

Many creditors won’t get anything, but a company called Pacific Travel Partners bought Vantage Travel’s name and client list for $2 million. Now they’re offering travel credits to Vantage’s customers. “If it’s a $20,000 cruise, they can use up to $10,000 of their credits to pay for the cruise,” Couch-Friedman explained. Travelers can go on as many trips as it takes to use up all of their credits. The credits can also be gifted to someone else.

The deal is good for five years, but travelers likely won’t be able to book a new dream vacation just yet. “There are no river or land excursions at this time. Pacific Travel, which is now named Vantage Exploration, they are just getting up and running,” Couch-Friedman said. “They have a small customer service team. They are taking opinions from their customers to find out what they’re interested in so they can create this company from the ground up.”

According to Couch-Friedman, Vantage Travel customers who paid for trips that never happened should have received a notification from the new company about travel credits. Customers who haven’t may not be on the bankruptcy court’s list. “There are nearly 10,000 customers who have been impacted by this bankruptcy, and some of them don’t even know yet that they are part of the bankruptcy proceedings,” Couch-Friedman said.

Shirley and Ben aren’t sure if they’ll ever use those credits. Right now, they’re still focused on getting answers. The attorneys general in New York and Pennsylvania have filed lawsuits, claiming Vantage Travel and its founder, Henry Lewis, defrauded customers. The Arizona Attorney General’s office told On Your Side it is aware of the issue.

“We believe that this man took this money knowing that he was going to file for bankruptcy,” Shirley said. The couple said their trip was supposed to be insured. Records show they bought an Allianz travel insurance policy through Vantage Travel, but they say it appears it was canceled the same day it was purchased. Allianz did not respond to our questions. The attorney for Vantage and its founder also didn’t respond to On Your Side.

Despite the frustration and the lost money, the Vega family still scrambled together for a getaway. It wasn’t the once-in-a-lifetime trip they had planned, but they still made memories to last a lifetime.

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