Frustrated families are still fighting for reimbursement for their school trips months after the start of the pandemic

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Ben Wickens had dreamed of visiting Rome, so when the opportunity arose as part of his graduation trip, he worked hard for over a year to cover part of the $ 3,800 for the trip. .“I have never been to Europe. I was really looking forward to it, ”said Wickens, 18, a Saint John High School graduate in New Brunswick last spring.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and his school trip to Spain, Italy and France was canceled.

“It was understandable, but it was still quite disappointing,” said Wickens, now a science student at the University of New Brunswick.

The pandemic has wiped out travel plans for tens of thousands of people, including students who were planning to go on a school trip. Six months later, many have not seen a refund despite purchasing insurance.

So, in August, Wickens’ mother-in-law started a la page Facebook to connect frustrated families.

Anne Nichol has already heard from hundreds of parents in more than 55 schools across the country and estimates they are owed over $ 6 million.

Reducing the cost as a loss is not an option for most

“There are very few people who can write off $ 4,000,” Nichol said from his Saint John home.

“For us, that would fundamentally lighten some of the burden on the university. Times are a little tough right now with COVID and all that is going on. It would be really great to get the money back. ”

Depends on the time of cancellation, the Explorica Canada travel agency made partial refunds. The closer the trip was canceled to departure, the less it was refunded.

“Some parents, if their trip was canceled 30 days or more in advance, they received a 25 or 30 percent refund. Our trip was canceled the night before. So we got $ 100, ”Nichol said.

WATCH | Anne Nichol describes the frustration parents felt when trying to negotiate with two companies to get reimbursed for their school trips:

Anne Nichol says parents of children whose school trips have been canceled because of COVID-19 are caught between insurance companies and the company that sold the trips when they try to get a refund. 2:27

Many families are in this situation, she said.

Travel insurance was compulsory and all policies were underwritten by Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada or Arch Insurance.

Some parents paid by credit card and were reimbursed the full amount of their credit card insurance policy. But others paid cash or wire transfer to save credit card fees and didn’t have that option.

Explorica says it has fulfilled its obligations

Explorica declined an interview request through its public relations agency.

“We understand that this has been an incredibly frustrating and confusing process for our customers, so to keep them as informed as possible about this issue, we’ve also launched a webpage with the latest information, which you can check out at learn.explorica. ca / travel-refunds, ”Samuel Lessard of Edelman Montreal wrote in an email to CBC News.

On the website, Explorica maintains:

  • Explorica has honored its share of customer refunds in accordance with its program terms.
  • Explorica sent all information to Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada and Arch Insurance in order to process the claims.
  • ORIC and Arch Insurance are trying to use the unique circumstances around COVID-19 to redefine their rights and obligations under these travel policies and return the losses from this pandemic to you.
  • The way these insurers characterized Explorica’s involvement is categorically wrong and leaves the impression that the insurers’ goal is to obstruct the process at the expense of students and families.

Insurance companies say they need more information

ORIC and Arch Insurance did not respond to multiple interview requests.

However, in correspondence, the two companies told parents that they did not receive the information they needed from Explorica to review and process claims, such as any reimbursements that Explorica received from airlines or airlines. ‘hotels.

“Unfortunately, we had difficulty obtaining the information necessary to assess your request,” ORIC wrote to one of the parents in a letter dated August 21.

“The policy is clear; it covers non-refundable prepaid expenses for travel arrangements, less credits or refunds, including replacement travel options.… As a secondary payer, we are not able to determine the amount owed until this information are not received. from Explorica. ”

Explore legal options

Newfoundland and Labrador lawyer Travis Payne sent a letter to Explorica, ORIC and Arch on behalf of the parents last Friday.

“And the tone of the letter is basically, ‘Get on the same page. You have a duty to your insured to fulfill your contractual obligations in good faith and to pay these reimbursements so that the money goes into the right pocket. And the fight between them – it can happen afterwards if necessary, ”Payne said.

He gave the companies until Friday to respond and warned in the letter: “We are exploring all possible legal options, including class actions.”

Some schools also wrote letters on behalf of parents.

Complaints to regulatory bodies

Meanwhile, members of the Facebook group are writing complaint letters to regulators, Nichol said.

Explorica Canada is based in Toronto and is therefore a registered member of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).

TICO has already received dozens of complaint letters from across Canada, said Dorian Werda, vice president of operations.

“We are aware that this is a frustrating situation for consumers. Our priority is to reach a fair solution. TICO’s mandate is to ensure consumer protection, so we take complaints very seriously, ”she said.

Dorian Werda says the Travel Industry Council of Ontario will review complaints against Explorica Canada to see if there are any violations or contraventions of the Travel Industry Act. (Photo by Michael Willems / MVW)

TICO has launched a review to see if Explorica has violated Travel Industry Act regulations and will follow up accordingly. Its most serious enforcement tool is to revoke a company’s registration, but that is only done in the most “egregious” cases, Werda said.

The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (ARSF) has also received complaints about travel insurance that families have purchased through Explorica, issued by either ORIC or Arch Insurance.

A spokesperson for ARSF said it appears to be a contract dispute, and although ARSF regulates insurance companies, if the matter is related to a contract dispute, it is beyond its authority.

“As the insurance policy was sold as part of a tour organized by Explorica, the travel company has a role to play in ensuring that the conditions, before submitting a claim, are met,” Serina said. Yau, FSRA Senior Corporate Communications Advisor.

‘I don’t think I’ll get my money back’

None of this leaves much hope for parent Patrick Tietz.

“I don’t think I’m going to get my money back. It’s the truth, ”he said from his home in Redcliff, Alta.

Lochlan Tietz, right, and his mother, Dannette Tietz, did not go to Quebec for his French immersion school trip last spring. They are still waiting for a refund. (Submitted by Patrick Tietz)

Tietz paid cash for two trips to Quebec as part of the French Immersion program at St. Mary’s High School in Medicine Hat, Alta.

A trip was for her son, Lachlan, 15, with type 1 diabetes; the other was for his wife, Dannette, so that she could monitor her health.

Now unemployed, Tietz said he could really use that $ 4,700 to pay for his residential property tax.

“They are doing everything they can to break everyone’s morale so that they don’t have to pay anyone a dime,” he said.]

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