SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - All-inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic – Jon and Tiphanie-Nicole De Vargas couldn’t wait!
"We're doing this!" Tiphanie-Nicole said. “Then we saw everything on the news."
Reports of American tourists, dying while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, along with the shooting of former Major League Baseball player, David Ortiz were too much to take. The couple decided to cancel.
They called Risa Travel, their travel agency, and spoke with a representative.
"He's like, ‘okay, no problem, your full refund, everything is going to be great," Tiphanie-Nicole said.
Tiphanie-Nicole said last September, her mother put down put down a $200 deposit with Risa Travel Travel toward the couple's $2,498 trip.
The trip was paid in full, June 7th.
Under the original terms agreed to when the deposit was paid, the couple could cancel for a full refund, minus their deposit, if they canceled 61 days, or more prior to their departure date.
The trip was scheduled for August 11th. The couple said they called to cancel on June 10th, after learning of, yet another, suspicious death in the Dominican Republic.
The couple tells the Leave it to Layron team an agency representative tried getting them to reconsider.
"I'm, like, ‘no, we want to cancel our trip’. That's when she says that we have a totally different contract!" Tiphanie-Nicole said.
The couple paid the trip off in installments. In March, a $1,400 payment was made. In the invoice that followed, the section referencing the refund/cancellation terms had changed. They now had to cancel 91 days prior to their departure date.
"It's all in how they played us, and how they changed the terms,” Job said.
When we visited Risa Travel’s Coral Way address in Southwest Miami Dade, the owner refused to answer any of our questions and asked us to leave the property.
His attorney, later, sent us a statement:
“Risa Travel Agency is no longer offering trips through Charters. We made the change to provide our customers with a better flight and service experience. As a result, there were new terms and conditions related to this upgrade that we must follow. The Agency provided the new Terms and Conditions to Mrs. De Vargas in all correspondences after the new terms were effective. In addition, our agent explained the changes to Mrs. De Vargas when she contacted our office. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause and will investigate this matter thoroughly to assist Mrs. De Vargas in any way within our office’s policy.”
“The thing about a contract is that any modification to a contract requires mutual assent of both of the parties to change the agreement,” said Ishaq Kundawala, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University. “And mutual assent doesn’t have to be someone saying, or writing, or ‘clicking a box’ saying, I agree to these changes.”
Kundawala said, sometimes, people who continue to pay, or use a service agree to that modification, but the notification must be given.
“In fact, some courts have even said that a party has no obligation to keep checking the terms and conditions to see if the other party changed them. The other party has to notify the other party to the contract and let them know there’s been a change.”
Kundawala said refund terms are critically important because they could determining if a customer chooses a particular agency over another. He said changing the terms, mid-stream, is not going to be binding unless the De Vargases were properly notified.
"I think a change like this by a business without notifying their customers is, at best, an unsavory business practice," Kundawala said.
The couple did get half of their money back. That came after her mother, who put down the original deposit, signed a terms and conditions form to receive the refund. Interestingly enough, the form Risa Travel asked her to sign shows the original 61-day refund terms.
Tiphanie-Nicole said that’s further proof she’s owed a full refund. She and her husband are now looking into filing a small claims suit.
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