British Columbia

Couple out $6K after travel agency folds, denied credit card refund

Consumer Protection B.C. says there's been a high volume of claims for refunds following closure of Richmond travel agency Sinorama.

Over 200 consumer protection claims following closure of Richmond travel agency Sinorama

Sue and Dennis McDonald booked a $6,000 trip to China, but their travel agent went out of business months later. Now they wonder if they'll ever get their money back. (Dennis McDonald)

Dennis and Sue McDonald had plans to traverse the Great Wall of China, and cruise down the scenic Yangtze River. The pair bought a vacation package, including two weeks at an all-inclusive resort in China, through a travel agent.

"I'd never been to China, I thought this would be absolutely fantastic," said Dennis McDonald, 77. "My wife was really, really excited about it."

They were scheduled to travel in September 2018, but just one month before their flight, their booking agent — the Richmond-based Sinorama — went out of business. Their holiday was cancelled.

Now they're not sure if they'll ever see the sun set on the Great Wall — or get back the $6,000 they spent on the trip in the first place.

The McDonalds are among hundreds of customers scrambling to recover funds after Sinorama folded last summer. So far, nearly $800,000 spent by customers has not been refunded, according to Consumer Protection B.C. (CPBC), the province's travel agent regulator.

Hundreds file claims

CPBC suspended Sinorama's licence in August 2018 following concerns the business did not have enough money to operate and honour bookings.

At the time, CPBC urged customers to contact their credit card providers to get payments refunded, so that's exactly what the McDonalds did.

Consumer Protection B.C. says that while some Sinorama customers were likely able to get refunds through other credit card providers, hundreds of people have filed claims following the closure.

The agency has received over 200 claims related to Sinorama, with a total value just over $795,000, according to CPBC spokesperson Amanda Parry.

"The Sinorama claims process may take several months due to the volume of claimants," Parry said via e-mail to CBC News. 

The McDonald family's travel plans were booked with a Capital One Mastercard, which denied a refund. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Bureaucratic walls

McDonald, who booked his trip through using a Capital One credit card, says he spent months trying to recoup the $6,418 he spent on the trip through his card provider, but routinely ran into dead ends after calling customer service.

"All the representatives on the frontlines said 'Oh, gee, yeah, you should get paid back, and I'll get a supervisor to call you,'" said McDonald. "Nobody ever did."

McDonald says he made more than 20 phone calls over several months. Documents he shared with CBC News show he was eventually denied the refund by Capital One because more than 120 days had passed from the date of purchase in January 2018.

"When you're booking a trip in January for the following September, and the company goes out of business in August, it's pretty hard to be within that 120 days," said a frustrated McDonald.

His wife, Sue, said the ordeal took a toll on her husband.

"What really upsets me is the amount of time... every time my husband would phone them, he'd be put on hold and talking between one and three hours each time," she said. "When he'd get off the phone, I'd watch, he'd be sitting there, and his shoulders would drop... that's how much stress this caused my husband."

Capital One would not comment specifically on the transaction citing privacy concerns. In a statement, spokesperson Suma Boby said the company empathizes with customers in this situation, and they should contact their local consumer protection agency to recoup funds.

McDonald has now filed a claim with travel agency regulator, CPBC, which can compensate travellers who don't receive services they have paid for through B.C.'s Travel Assurance Fund (TAF).

Hundreds of people have filed refund claims after booking through the now-defunct Sinorama travel agency. (Radio-Canada/

Consumer protection

There's no guarantee all those claims will be approved for compensation as they are currently being adjudicated. The fund can pay out up to $5,000 per person.

CPBC says it's working to ensure as many people are reimbursed as possible. It also advises anyone making travel purchases to read the fine print of the their credit card agreement.

Dennis and Sue McDonald are hopeful they'll get at least some of their money back — but the hours spent on the phone in the process has left a sore spot.

"I try to be calm and collective [in these situations], but sometimes maybe I should scream and shout," said Dennis McDonald.


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