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Socked for a 'single supplement' fee

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Q: I recently booked a trip with Overseas Adventure Travel to the Amazon, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. Because I had to change jobs one month before my trip, I was forced to cancel my vacation.

Fortunately, I had taken out cancellation insurance with TripMate, the travel insurance company recommended by Grand Circle Travel, the parent company of Overseas Adventure Travel. In its brochures, TripMate promised I could cancel at any time — for any reason — and said it would reimburse me for my expenses or give me a voucher.

After I canceled, Overseas Adventure Travel informed my roommate on the cruise that she would have to either come up with a $1,000 single supplement or miss her trip.

TripMate’s promotional literature says it will pay the additional cost of a traveling companion’s occupancy rate if I cancel, so my roommate should have been covered. I also spoke with an agent at Grand Circle, who confirmed this.

But when I made a claim through TripMate to recover the single supplement, it was denied. I was told that the company didn’t “approve” my reason for canceling my trip; in fact, the only cancellation TripMate would have approved was for death or severe illness.

Can you help my roommate get her money back? I agreed to pay for half of her single supplement, because I felt bad for her. I don’t really know her (we’ve e-mailed one another a few times) but I do know that she doesn’t have an extra $1,000 lying around.

— Linda Enis, Fair Oaks, Calif.

A: I’m puzzled that Grand Circle would pursue your roommate — whom you don’t even know — for an extra grand. It would be one thing if she were part of a group that booked the trip together. But she appears to be an innocent bystander. Raising the cost of her vacation seems to make no sense.

Think about it: What if you tried to board a cruise, only to be told that there was a mandatory last-minute surcharge because several passengers were no-shows, and the ship had to make its bottom line before it could sail?

Grand Circle’s policy is this: If a scheduled passenger can’t make the trip, and a traveling passenger is either unable or unwilling to share accommodations with another single traveler, that passenger is asked to pay a single supplement fee. Why? Because the hotels charge Grand Circle for the loss of the second traveler.

Then there’s the whole issue of the TripMate insurance and the way in which it was promoted. Generally speaking, cancellation insurance is a good thing, but you must acquaint yourself with the fine print.

The brochure may say, “Cancel for any reason,” but the actual terms of the contract may say something else. A TripMate policy can have exclusions ranging from psychological disorders to “nuclear reaction, radiation or radioactive contamination.” It is your responsibility to read those exclusions and to know them before signing up.

I checked with Grand Circle, and it agreed to review its call records to determine what happened. Priscilla O’Reilly, a company spokeswoman, said one of the company’s call center associates gave you incorrect information about your policy.

“They advised her to pay the single supplement because TripMate would compensate her for the single supplement charge,” O’Reilly said. “That’s not true.”

So, there’s another unfortunate lesson learned: When it comes to travel, talk is cheap. If it isn’t in writing, get it in writing.

Your roommate also made several mistakes. She didn’t buy the trip insurance (if she had, she would have received either a full refund or a travel certificate). She could also have asked about Grand Circle’s “Share Requestor” program, which allows a traveler to pay a 50 percent single supplement at the time of booking. That way, when you dropped out, she would not have had to pay the difference in costs.

Since its incorrect advice may have influenced your decision to cancel your vacation, Grand Circle agreed to issue a voucher for the full amount of the single supplement.