Avoid Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) like the Plague

OAT is not to be trusted. They have lied to me. Repeatedly. Plus they are not complying with their own “Passenger Agreement”/Terms and Conditions (which they make you agree to in order to confirm a reservation) in honoring my request for a trip refund. And finally, they have very, very poor customer service.

I discovered this the hard way. And I hope to save others the same aggravation and issues I am now experiencing. And based on reviews on tripadvisor and other sites, I am not alone.

This is the first time I have ever complained about a travel company, having previously used OAT’s small group competitors Odysseys Unlimited and Road Scholar with great success. This was to be our first trip with OAT, but we will never book with them again. Once burned is once learned.

The rest of the story:

In November of 2019, I booked an October 2020 trip to Sicily with OAT for my wife and I, and we prepaid the trip in full, ~$11,000 (huge mistake knowing what I know now, notwithstanding the 5% discount).

In May 2020, with the COVID pandemic showing no signs of letting up, I called OAT to see what my options were if I cancelled. The agent told me refunds were not available and I would have to accept a voucher and book another trip in 2021 or 2022. But I read her their own Terms and Conditions which clearly provide a refund procedure for any cancelation, and says the refund will be processed within 30 days of their receipt of a cancelation by phone, online or certified letter. (NOTE: their Terms and Conditions have been very recently modified to say refunds in most cases will be processed within 90 days; which is just awful). She suggested I email one of the owners of the company, Harriet Lewis, to request a refund, saying she did not have authority to issue one.

So the OAT agent lied and tried to mislead me when she said refunds were not available as a matter of right, when clearly they are under their Terms and Conditions. I wonder how many of their clients were duped into accepting a voucher with this lie.

In May 2020 I sent an email, and a copy of it by certified mail return receipt requested, to Harriet Lewis, canceling the reservation and requesting a refund, less their $300 per person “administrative fee” (what a ripoff).

When 30 days passed without seeing hide nor hair of the refund, I called OAT and was told I could only cancel a reservation by phone, not by letter. Another lie. Again I read the agent their own Terms and Conditions all while holding the return receipt card documenting the day they received the certified letter in their Boston office (June 1). The agent apologized and said not to worry because the refund had been approved and he “100% guaranteed” I would have it within 30 days (which would be more than 60 days from when I had originally requested it).

Turned out his “guarantee” was simply another lie. Not knowing that, I patiently waited his 30 days, but no refund.

So I called OAT on his 30th day (yesterday) and spoke with a supervisor who said she could not tell me when the refund would be issued, but hopefully in a couple of weeks. She could not even assure me I would receive the refund. Plus she said there was no one else I could talk to about the refund, as it is all in the hands of their Finance Department and those 4 individuals do not take calls. Ridiculous.

Upshot, I have been lied to, misled and deceived by a company that touts itself as having great customer service. Another lie. BTW I never received the courtesy of a reply from Ms Lewis, or anyone else at OAT, to my May 2020 email/certified letter specifically asking for confirmation they had received that email canceling the trip and requesting the refund. In fact, I have never heard a word from OAT about my refund. I am the one who has to make all the contacts.

Folks there are much better options when it comes to selecting a small group travel company.

Thanks to some helpful posters on TripAdvisor telling a similar story, I have submitted a consumer complaint to the Massachusetts Attorney General seeking their assistance, and have also posted my troubles on the Boston BBB, where there are many similar horror stories. Some folks have received their refunds after doing that, which is great but we shouldn’t have to be doing this. Shame on you, OAT.

Does oat travel adventures have age requirements

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Road Scholar vs OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel)

October 12, 2020

Trying to decide between Road Scholar or Overseas Adventure Travel for your next trip? These companies are often compared and share many similarities in travel style and outlook. Our ultimate guide is here to help you make the best choice for you!

In a hurry?

Or read on for our detailed breakdown!

Road Scholar vs OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) – Ultimate Guide

Happy older couple enjoying glass of wine while traveling

Travel Styles, Tour Types, and Brands – Road Scholar vs OAT

Both Road Scholar and Overseas Adventure Travel – also commonly referred to as “OAT” – have catered to the 60+ age group since the 1970s. And they know what they’re talking about. Road Scholar – previously Elderhostel – was founded in 1975, OAT in 1978.

These tour companies are ideal for travelers seeking culturally immersive experiences with plenty of opportunities to learn and expand the mind. Active travelers will also find itineraries to their liking with each, though this type of travel is more the OAT style than Road Scholar.

Traditional Karen long neck woman with rings around her neck in Thailand

The Road Scholar brand is all about giving travelers hands on experiences – continued learning is at the heart of their values as a tour company. Their strength is in building unique itineraries and learning opportunities around the world. If you have a niche interest, there is probably a Road Scholar tour for you. Think a 10 day trip studying World War II at Oxford through 19 lectures given by professional scholars or 5 days learning to watercolor in the Ozarks.

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This also means it’s highly likely you’ll meet new friends on a Road Scholar tour! While Road Scholar is very specific about their age range, they also have a number of tours dedicated to grandparents and grandchildren.

Road Scholar in general is less “adventurous” in travel style than OAT. They provide a wider range of physical levels and you’ll typically be exploring one very specific region in depth as opposed to a multi-country or multi-city trip.

Older couple exploring Europe

If you’re looking for a more traditional travel-y focus, OAT takes the idea of learning and education a bit farther afield than Road Scholar. They are known for remote and exotic destinations, and provide ample opportunities to gain an in-depth look at local life, history, and culture.

OAT describes their trips as adventure but don’t let that scare you. It doesn’t imply thrill seeking per-se, rather their travel style is ideal for people who want to stretch their comfort zone and try new things. However you should be physically fit and able for their trips, which involve a lot of walking.

Almost every trip with OAT features one night at a homestay where you can enjoy a meal and have a chance to engage with the locals on a true and authentic level. They also frequently include visits to schools as a part of their involvement with the Grand Circle Foundation.

Traditional indian meal on deck overlooking rice paddies

OAT caters heavily to those travelers who enjoy the power to customize their trip. While the group aspect is a large part of the OAT experience – they understand that the older traveler values a freedom of choice.

Both companies are among the best for truly authentic culturally immersive experiences. Road Scholar is more on the niche interest side – book learning in the destination – while OAT crafts their educational itineraries like a more traditional tour.

Accommodations

Tradition bed and breakfast in UK

Travel with OAT or Road Scholar is about the full experience of the destination. This means they strive for authentic or local accommodations. With both companies, you’ll typically stay in simple but comfortable hotels with above basic, but not flashy, amenities.

OAT accommodations tend to be more consistently unique and a homestay for a night or two is incorporated into almost all their tours. Travelers should be open minded and willing to put up with a few quirks here and there when it comes to comfortability.

In general you should expect mostly 3 star hotels with both Road Scholar and OAT, with more emphasis on traditional accommodation during the itinerary from OAT.

RS Tours Compared with Overseas Adventure Travel Tours: Update

Today I came upon a now-closed travel forum about the differences between Overseas Adventure Travel tours and Rick Steves tours. People who posted discussed hotel quality, group sizes, and other issues. These are now moot given the differences in responses to Coronavirus cancellations between the two companies. Overseas Adventure Travel originally offered refunds to travelers whose trips were cancelled or who cancelled their own trips within published cancellation policies. Overseas Adventure Travel is now reneging on promised cancellations and offering travel credits only. They essentially changed their policy and then retroactively applied that policy to all cancellations. A quick scan of reviews on Tripadvisor and the Better Business Bureau will tell the awful truth. Given Rick Steves’ ethical and compassionate response to Coronavirus cancellations, there is no longer a contest between the two companies.

I can testify to the truth of this post as I am one of the victims of their change of policy. Note, OAT is no longer cancelling tours, they are “postponing” them and people are automatically reassigned to the same tour in 2021 with the option to change tours.

I was lucky (or stubborn as my wife says) in that I did not take “no refund” for an answer. I complained to the Massachusetts Better Business Bureau and State Attorney’s Office. I finally got my refund as a result of those complaints. So, if you are owed a refund by OAT, try these two avenues. It has also worked for other people.

I still had an ace up my sleeve in that I was processing a charge back on my credit card. I ALWAYS use my credit card no matter what the cash discount is (even for Rick Steves Tours which I have taken).

They’re probably running out of cash.

Odysses Unlimited is still giving refunds on their cancelled tours and now lets tour members make final payments up to 45 days prior to their tours rather than the regular 95 days. If cancelled by that 45 day limit, deposits will be refunded.

I can’t help but think that all these businesses that are dealing with refunds vs vouchers, are having to make the choice of writing you a bad check or stalling until they get more cash flow.

Be careful with the chargeback route. Many companies are not fighting the chargeback so you get your money, but then they send you to collections and ding your credit report. It is always better to let the refund process work itself out to a final answer no matter how slow it seems to be going and only then pursue the chargeback if you don’t like the answer.

It’s a pity but it cements my loyalty to RS. We attended an OAT meeting a few years ago in Sacramento. Huge attendance, many, many repeat customers giving testimonials. They had several tours which looked appealing. But, they have their share of negative reviews which you really don’t see with RS. RSE is bound by Washington state laws regarding prompt refunds but I trust his personal moral compass here. You would think, companies that take deposits and have published refund policies would have some reserves, but I guess not.

OAT is bound by Massachusetts law which has about the same requirements for refunds as Washington. That is why my appeal to the State Attorney’s Office had traction.

These are unheard of circumstances indeed. I had booked 2 tours with a Pennsylvania company last year. With the news of a virus issue in Feb. I decided to cancel. Yes I lost a lot of $S. However it was my choice. Never knowing how bad it would really become. I cannot expect the company to absorb the loss of a decision I made. But if the future is conducive to travel again then I will happily book with them again. I received 50 % back on my trip promptly. No complaints here.

I can only assume that getting their money back is not one of the adventures the customers signed up for.

I do feel sorry for companies that are caught in a cash-flow squeeze. And I feel very sorry for their customers, especially those who have lost their job and need that refund to survive. My guess is that the cash to refund payments is not there and they can’t get any money. OTOH, aren’t they the kind of small business the Feds are supposed to be propping up?

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Apparently, RS manages his assets better than many. Good for him!

I just ordered the RS Guide to Belgium, Bruges, Brussels etc. I want to go back on my own next year if possible. Reading it will be fun and I can start my planning a bit early. In the meant time the few extra dollars will help RS to continue to pay his staff.

One time friends asked us to join them on an OAT tour. When I called to ask a few questions before booking, I was treated so rudely by their agent that I will never travel with them.
I know that would never happen with RS staff!

” I was treated so rudely by their agent”

That was not my experience with OAT. I have traveled with both OAT and RS and have found both of their agents to be very polite and helpful. Even when the OAT agents had to deny me my refund, they were very polite. In fact, I believe the felt embarrassed by the whole situation.

Apparently, RS manages his assets better than many. Good for him!

This article implies he is (or might be at some point) digging into his pocket to cover staff salaries.

Lots of anger about OAT and their change of policies on the Trip Advisor Senior forum.

“Lots of anger about OAT and their change of policies on the Trip Advisor Senior forum.”

OAT shutdown their own forum because of all the anger being expressed on it about the denial of refunds.

It has been my experience that OAT advertises many tour departure dates, but will cancel departures if not enough people have signed up,and then assign you to another departure without consultation. If you have made your own flight arrangements, this sudden re-scheduling can present many problems. Their choice of airlines can also be less than ideal. Prior to an India trip, the representative told me she had just returned from the India tour. I asked her opinion of Air India, the carrier OAT was using for this trip. She said, “Oh, I didn’t fly Air India. I flew Emirates.” When I found Air India’s safety record was dismal, I ,too, chose my own carrier. Finally, if i ever travel with OAT again, I will skip the “home visit.” While this is billed as an authentic view of local life, you are, in fact, experiencing a local home business. OAT advises bringing a gift for these home visits. Offered a book of photographs of the USA, the home owner said, “Oh, we have a lot of these,” and threw the book on a shelf without further ado. And, unlike RS tours, shopping is definitely on the official schedule.

This thread has been really helpful.

I’ve briefly considered OAT in the past. Some itineraries looked really good, but after seeing their true colors, I will pass regardless. I appreciate how RS takes care of their customers and isn’t out to simply make a buck.

I have to say that I liked my experience with OAT. I traveled to Peru and Ecuador with them and plan on going to Costa Rica as well. I was scheduled for the Grand Circle trip to the UK which died with the virus. I was testing the waters to see if I liked them. I do like the itinerary and so I’m planning the UK trip in May 2021, fingers crossed. I like the no single supplements but it has been a while and I was unsure of the companies now. I am also planning trips in the future with RS and will gladly pay the single supplements if need be. I want some of the adventure in Europe that I don’t think I’d get with GCT. Bottom line, I’m not unhappy, yet. We shall see.

I’ll just add some information I have gleaned from the Senior Forum on Trip Advisor regarding OAT and refunds. Several people have posted they’ve had success with OAT giving them refunds after they contacted the BBB and/or the MA State Attorney General office and/or their credit cards. I’ve no personal experience, just read that forum every day and thought the experiences there might be helpful to folks on this forum.

I cracked up at one poster who indicated he’d gotten his money back and then got an apology letter from OAT offering $500 off his next trip. “As if” he says.

For those who got their money back from OAT, did you also get the travel insurance refunded as well. We bought their expensive CFAR policy which is a misnomer as it does not apply to this situation apparently.

According to an article today in the NYTimes

Overseas Adventure Travel is part of Grand Circle Corporation, a family of travel companies based in Boston. Massachusetts happens to be one of only a handful of states with specific laws that guarantee consumers protection against travel sellers, including requiring that tour operators offer the option of cash refunds.

As Adam Anolik, a San Francisco- based travel-industry lawyer, explained over email, that’s why oversight — forcing a company to comply with state laws — can feel like an uphill battle. “The outcome can often turn on who cancels, which is why a lot of suppliers and travelers are playing chicken right now. In reality, many of these statutes are seldom enforced. This pandemic could cause some of them to be dusted off,” said Mr. Anolik.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/travel/coronavirus-refunds-overseas-adventure-travel.html

So the advice earlier about contacting the BBB and the MA State Attorney General office sounds like it could help

Thanks, John. If they fail to give me a refund, that is what I will do. I am a former MA paralegal and very familiar with the AG demand letter. I just heard from a poster on TripAdvisor that they also got a full refund of the trip insurance as well.

What would be truly awful is if companies go bankrupt and out of business because so many of their customers request cash refunds. Rick seems to have deep pockets and can afford to give cash refunds, but he is also having to reduce salaries for his employees, and he is accepting no bookings at all for any trips. (And I assume that’s just the ones who work directly for him, not the tour guides who probably have no income right now.) From what I’ve read, some of those who were scheduled on trips this spring and summer were wanting to rebook rather than get the cash back, but he is not offering that option. Deep as his pockets may be, what if he can’t stay in business? I think a lot of us would be heartbroken.

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OAT is postponing trips (rather than canceling them) and offering pretty generous incentives ($500 per traveler) to keep people from canceling altogether. They are also offering a no-risk booking policy, allowing travelers to rebook any tour for 2021 or 2022. If that’s what they need to do to stay in business, I’m not so begrudging. But I do wish they would offer at least the option of a cash refund.

I have a tour scheduled with OAT this October/November, which I booked in early January. I think there is only a small chance it will happen, and even a smaller chance that I will go if they don’t postpone it. I’ve only paid the initial deposit; the balance is due in early July. Before I pay the balance, I will most certainly have a conversation with them about my options.

This would be my second OAT tour. The first one (to South America) was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had.

Lane, I agree with you. I am not demanding a refund as I’d like to go still. They treated my sister very well on her many trips with OAT and I enjoyed my only trip with them but have been looking forward to more. I think for Europe, I would prefer going with Rick Steves but for other areas, who can we trust? I’ve enjoyed the experience I had and feel willing to try them again.

Mary, you may also have recourse thru your state’s Insurance Commissioner regarding the refund of your insurance premium. It’s worth a try.

I’ve not traveled with OAT but based on the Senior Forum thread on TA, I think the discouraging thing is they promised some people cash refunds up front (and early on) then reneged and changed their policy. Nope, cannot change policy in midstream. Now people are getting refunds who have filed with BBB and/or the AG’s office. So. are they refunding everyone or just the folks who are the squeaky wheels? What about the people who may not be internet savvy and may not be on forums like this one and TA? From a neutral, non-customer view of the posts, it seems like they are not treating people the same across the board and that would make me think twice.

Thanks, Pam. I saw your reply on TA. I will explore all avenues and will be persistent. We are out of pocket close to $3,000 for the deposit, flight upgrades and CFAR insurance. If it was just the deposit I wouldn’t be so angry and would take a voucher. This is just plain wrong what they are doing and they may be ok in the short term but the bad publicity they are getting will have people thinking twice before booking with them. In the long term this is not a good business practice.

In my first post on this topic (the first response) I reported that I got a full refund for my tour after contacting the BBB and State Attorney General. That refund did include the travel insurance.

It is well and good for some people to accept a voucher. However for some of us that are elderly and not sure when, or if, they will travel again; whose 401k has taken a significant hit; and my wife lost her job, the tour cost is just too much to absorb. When we signed up for the tour the Terms of Agreement stated that if OAT canceled the tour you would get a full refund. I will not do business with a company that does not live up the the terms of their contract (i.e., they lied to us).

While it would be sad if these companies go bankrupt because of cash refunds, those customers are entitled to refunds. If the company is going to demand that its customer follow its laws — and you can bet they’ll be sure we do — then if their own rule says you can get a refund, then you should be able to get the refund. It was shady of OAT to go against their own contract.

Personally, I don’t like the thought of credits when something is either so far in advance and/or is of a significant value. Many travel agencies, musicians, etc. are postponing instead of cancelling because their insurance doesn’t cover COVID either. That’s not only money I could be building interest on, but depending on one’s age or circumstances, they may not be able to travel next year. What if they can’t get time off work? What if they’re 80 and this is their now or never chance? What if a couple would have travelled now then is not able to next year because they have a baby? It’s not as easy as simply getting a credit to the local shopping mall and being able to use it whenever.

Yes, Rick does deep pockets, but he is giving refunds under WA State law. Furthermore, I believe the reason he is no longer accepting bookings/transfers for later trips is not because he doesn’t want to, but because his staff is so swamped right now with refunds. I believe if you want to book a new tour beyond August, you still have that option once you get the refund. In the end, it’s the same result, just a little less work for the staff, which is understandable.

This popped up on the TA forum from OAT. Are they softening/seeing the bad press they are getting and damage to their company’s reputation?

“Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to emails and calls. We understand the frustration this has caused. Please email us your details at request@oattravel.com and we will look into your refund status. Thank you!“

Mary! I just read that TA post and was coming over here to PM you with that bit of information!

I have enjoyed 5 OAT tours that were excellent. Just took their Galapagos and Michu Picchu trip in January this year. Just lucky timing. With the uncertainty with the timing of future overseas travel I will not make plans and advance deposits for any trip. We make several trips a year around the world, often on our own. All travel companies are feeling the money crunch right now. We got caught in a bankruptcy with a local company a few years ago. Will not pay with a check again.

Source https://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-and-trip-ideas/avoid-overseas-adventure-travel-oat-like-the-plague-1686225/

Source https://www.travelstride.com/blog/road-scholar-vs-oat-overseas-adventure-travel

Source https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/rs-tours-compared-with-overseas-adventure-travel-tours-update

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