More customers step forward accusing bankrupt travel company of pocketing refunds

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A growing number of customers of a now-bankrupt travel company are wondering what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds.

Advantage Cruises and Travel abruptly closed and declared bankruptcy earlier this month, less than a week after it collected refunds from vendors such as a cruise company and airline.

Karen Cooper and her husband Cliff are among those out their money. They were excited about their upcoming bus trip to Savannah and Charleston. They eagerly signed up at a Hillsborough County Recreation Center and paid more than $2,100 after listening to a pitch from the Pinellas Park-based company.

Numerous other customers from Pinellas and Hillsborough County turned to Better Call Behnken to add their names to the list of confused customers.

A group of 39 senior citizens paid tens of thousands of dollars for a British Isles trip aboard a Princess cruise ship. When the trip was canceled because of COVID-19, they say they were promised a refund, but it never arrived.

Instead, they received a letter from an attorney representing Advantage Cruises and Travel, based in Pinellas Park. The company is filing for bankruptcy and the attorney said his office would not be handling any refunds.

Claire Gorman, one of the seniors, tells Better Call Behnken that both American Airlines and Princess Cruises issued refunds in late May to Advantage. Just days later, the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Since then, three women turned to Better Call Behnken for answers saying they, in part, blame the city of Largo because they signed up through the Community Center. The trip was organized by city staff and the travel agency was chosen by the city.

“We don’t know where to go now because no one will tell us anything,” said Linda Rowe, who paid more than $8,800. “No one will communicate with us. And it seems very, very suspicious that within six days of getting the money, thousands and thousands of dollars from Princess, suddenly, they are going bankrupt.”

Joan Byrne, a director with Parks and Recreation for the City of Largo, said the city has no liability because they did not collect any money or receive any money for this trip. They were supposed to receive a sales commission, but that did not happen, she said, since the trip was canceled. She said some seniors have had luck getting money back from their credit card company.

But Gorman said she and her friends have had no luck with their credit card companies or the company they paid for travel insurance.

Princess Cruises sent this statement to Better Call Behnken:

“Princess Cruises provides refunds back to the original payment made for the cruise vacation. Princess did refund the full amount of $6,518 back to the original form of payment (the travel agency’s Amex card) on 5/29 for Claire Gorman. Princess has been in regular communication with Ms. Gorman and is working with her to provide the necessary documentation for her credit card company and to the lawyer handling the travel agency’s bankruptcy.”

The women want to know why the travel agency accepted their refunds if company leaders knew of the upcoming bankruptcy.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office says it is reviewing four complaints about this company.

A spokesman for Hillsborough County says there was no relationship between the county and Advantage.

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