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Excessive fees for Washington state high-school music trips canceled due to COVID-19 will be refunded

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 31, 2020

By Christine Clarridge Seattle Times

A company that illegally charged Washington students for a COVID-canceled trip to Europe will have to pay nearly a half-million dollars in refunds, according to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office.

In a consent decree filed this week in King County Superior Court, Voyageurs International is legally required to pay $464,000 after it violated the Sellers of Travel Act and the Consumer Protection Act by charging 235 Washington high-school students at least $1,900 each in cancellation fees, according the complaint against the Colorado-based company by the attorney general’s office.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to cancel its July European travel tours for music students.

In a statement released Wednesday, Ferguson’s office explained that travel agencies like Voyageurs can recoup some legitimate cancellation losses if the company has been transparent about the possibility of those losses.

But the agency cannot charge penalties greater than those incurred by third-party vendors as Voyageurs did, the statement said.

According to the attorney general’s office, Voyageurs deceived customers by claiming the company “paid out more than $1,900 per student for the upcoming tour season that it cannot recoup.”

“That statement was false. In reality, the company was able to recoup more than 60% of what it charged consumers,” the attorney general’s statement said.

“Avoiding travel during a worldwide pandemic is the right thing to do,” Ferguson said in the statement. “Deceiving consumers about the costs incurred is not. Today, we ensured these hardworking families will get their money back.”

The attorney general’s office launched an investigation into Voyageurs after receiving 23 complaints from Washington families describing the burden of this fee during a pandemic.

“I can’t understand the punitive fees families are being charged through no fault of their own,” wrote one Washington resident to the attorney general’s office. “Many families are struggling to pay bills and keep their jobs and should not be additionally burdened with overreaching cancellation fees at this time.”

The tours had cost music students a minimum of $6,345 for a 16-day trip to Europe.

The money will go to the attorney general’s office, which will contact the students to set up their refund.

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