The call began as one would hope that all calls to travel advisors might begin ...
"Richard, we've been looking at an around-the-world by private jet program. We are really impressed with the small size of the group, the itinerary in Asia and the level of hotels."
There were several discussions, but it was clear from the beginning that Marvin and Catherine really wanted to do this trip. Soon it was booked, at a price of $212,000.
They were scheduled to depart in April 2021, and back on the day I booked it for them I had every reason to believe that it would operate.
Marvin had worked in Hollywood, and the couple still lived in California, although they were far away from the glitz and glamour. But Marvin was a writer, so our emails often ran several pages, and I was privileged to enter, however briefly, the doors leading to some of Hollywood's hidden sound stages.
This was to be the trip of a lifetime. There would be others, but what could possibly top this?
Somehow, this trip for Marvin and Catherine was one that needed to flow perfectly. This was a lot more than a vacation. I wasn't going on the trip, but in a sense, I felt that I was.
In "Contagion," the 2011 Matt Damon film predicated on the Nipah virus, I got a glimpse of the world we would be entering, but I never realized it at the time.
Nipah is a bat-borne virus that causes severe respiratory illness and encephalitis. It has the potential to cause widespread disease and death. It was a well-made thriller, set in a plausible real-world environmental context.
And then it happened years later, and we called it Covid-19.
The trip was canceled and set back a year, leaving this coming April. We were only earning 10% on the booking, but it would be helpful at a time when we were advising many of our clients not to travel. Our guests decided they would agree to the pushback. They did not wish to cancel.
Then, just three weeks ago, we received a call from the supplier advising us that they had decided to, once again, push the trip back, this time to a date in June.
My clients were heartbroken. They could not possibly go in June due to an important charitable board meeting and several other commitments. They asked us to cancel.
The supplier explained that the guest could get a full refund but that we would not earn any commission because "we can't pay them back all of their money and then turn around and pay you commission."
Really? I calculate that the supplier earned interest on our payment in full of almost a quarter of a million dollars. I then noticed that the price for their two canceled places was now showing online at $48,000 higher.
But we were out $21,000. And "doing the right thing" and the concept of "ethics in business" seemed to play no role. I know that this scene has played out at agencies across the country during the past two years. Hard work for naught. Commissions not paid when the guests and the advisor did exactly what they were supposed to do.
I received a brief note from Marvin and Catherine three days ago. They thanked us for our efforts. Inside the letter was a check for $10,000.