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Ambassadors boosted

BBB upgrades People to People to B+

The regional Better Business Bureau has upgraded its rating of the People to People student travel program from D to B-plus.

In May the Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana BBB reduced the Spokane company’s youth travel program rating to D. The bureau’s rules say a company that receives lower than a B rating loses its accreditation – the BBB seal of approval.

The student travel program lost the BBB’s accreditation after the company signed a voluntary compliance agreement in late 2010 with Iowa’s attorney general to halt allegedly misleading promotional efforts in that state.

The People to People program, managed by Ambassadors Group, provides supervised student cultural exchange trips overseas. The price for trips ranges from $1,000 to nearly $10,000 in some cases.

As a business-integrity and reliability ratings service, all BBBs offer grades for companies that generate complaints or that are involved in governmental or legal action. Companies are graded from A to F based on 16 factors.

Companies that are paid BBB members get both a grade and an accreditation – or in some cases lose accreditation.

The change from D to B+ doesn’t instantly restore accreditation, said Jan Quintrall, president and CEO of the regional bureau.

Regional board members will meet within a month to cast a vote on reinstatement, she said.

Among the 16 factors used, government actions or penalties are viewed as major concerns and typically sink grades below B, Quintrall said.

Ambassadors Group officials appealed to the national BBB council, arguing the Iowa concern should not be viewed as major. The national council then notified Quintrall that the original downgrade should be re-examined.

Quintrall said the group’s local standards committee reviewed the earlier grade and revised the Iowa concern from major to moderate.

She noted that the BBB grading system’s 16 factors are specific in what they cover, but their application is “subjective.” Ambassadors Group spokeswoman Meredith Banka said, in an email, “We appreciate the efforts on behalf of the BBB in considering the review and are very pleased with the outcome.”

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