By Travel columnist
updated 5/9/2005 5:22:57 PM ET 2005-05-09T21:22:57

The fare on the seven-day Tahiti cruise – $1,995 – looked too good to be true to Joyce Hagan. And it turns out it was. As she prepared to pay off the balance to Grand Circle Travel, she was told that the company had made a pricing error on its Web site, and that she owes an extra $1,400 – which she can’t afford. Should Grand Circle honor the original rate? How about a refund? And if not, what should it do? Find out how you can prevent this from happening to you.

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Q: Several months ago I booked a seven-day cruise through the Grand Circle Travel Web to Tahiti for $1,995. Two other couples, who planned to celebrate their 40th anniversaries on the cruise, decided to join us on the trip. (My husband and I were celebrating our 42nd anniversary.)

We each put down a deposit by credit card. But when I called to pay off my balance, I was shocked to learn that Grand Circle was asking for $1,400 more than the difference between our original deposit and the fare we had been quoted.

It turns out that Grand Circle had made a mistake and listed the wrong price on its Web site. At first they didn’t offer us a refund. Their attitude was, “Either pay the extra or you’re not going to cruise.”

Finally, the company caved in and agreed to a full refund but it refused to honor the original price. If we cancel the cruise, we will probably lose the $300 in travel insurance we bought. Shouldn’t Grand Circle give us the cruise at the price it originally quoted us?

— Joyce HaganDebary, Fla.

A: Grand Circle’s terms and conditions say that it reserves the right to correct pricing errors. So the short answer is: no.

But there is no excuse for this kind of pricing error or the way in which it was handled. As I review the correspondence between you and Grand Circle, it appears that the company knew of the pricing problems several weeks before it confronted you about the rate change.

Also, rather than sending you a notification explaining the price problem, Grand Circle apparently did nothing. It sent you no letter. It offered you no explanation. To many of its customers who later voiced their opinions on a popular cruise Web site, these actions seemed like bait-and-switch tactics.

But even if Grand Circle doesn’t honor its original price, I think the company still has a responsibility to you. For example, if you can’t afford the extra $1,400 for the cruise, it should work on your behalf to get a refund on your insurance. It should also try to find you a replacement cruise.

I think this is one vacation you should have booked through a travel agent. It was a complex itinerary involving a party of six, and a large agency probably would have had more clout in getting a tour operator to honor its original price.

In the end, even though Grand Circle expressed its regrets about the episode, I believe it fell short in meeting its customer-service obligations. A company representative sent you a package with the latest cruise brochures, offering to help you find a new vacation and apologizing for the mistake.

But you and the two couples you were cruising with have had to cancel your trip and will, in all likelihood, not get your money back on your insurance. I’m sorry that your anniversary cruise was sunk, and that I couldn’t help you salvage it.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.

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