All is not Sunshine for operator

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NEW YORK -- A Staten Island travel agent is suing a tour operator in small claims court to recover $216 in out-of-pocket expenses that he incurred chasing after a refund.

Sherman Gottlieb, owner of SMG Travel, said the case involves a booking at Sunshine Vacations, a Caribbean operator in Westbury, N.Y., that took a $1,000 deposit in May 2002 for a client trip in October.

Gottlieb said Sunshine did not pay the hotel, so the client ended up at the destination without a room. Gottlieb said he refunded the money to his client, but incurred so many delays getting a refund from the operator that he went to small claims court.

Earlier this month, after what he called "an unbelievable amount of wrangling and going back and forth," Gottlieb said he picked up a check for $1,000 from Sunshine's office.

But Gottlieb said he is not dropping the case because he wants to recover the expenses he incurred running back and forth to the Sunshine office trying to retrieve his refund.

Andrew Cummings, marketing director at Sunshine Vacations, said he considered the case closed.

"We paid him his $1,000; we're not going to pay him any more," he said.

Gottlieb appears to be one of a number of agents involved in money disputes with Sunshine.

Irina Gruman, a travel consultant with Travel World in Philadelphia, said Sunshine owes her $7,962 for a hotel reservation that was not paid for.

Linda Rosenberg, office manager at the Travel Store in Trenton, N.J., said Sunshine owes one of her clients $4,758, plus her commission.

Darlene Sheppard, an agent with Paradise Travel in Lincoln, Neb., said Sunshine owes her about $600 in commission and owes eight clients about $6,500.

Meanwhile ASTA is wrangling with the operator over a statement on the operator's site that it is an ASTA member.

Rick Schoen, the Society's senior manager of consumer affairs, said in a letter to Cummings last September that "Sunshine Vacations is not and has never been a member of ASTA.

"Although you have applied for membership, we have not received payment. If there is an error in our records, please let us know."

As of Feb. 25, Schoen said the claim about ASTA was still was on the operator's site at www.sunshinevacationsfun.com and Sunshine still was not a member.

According to the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York, Sunshine Vacations has "an unsatisfactory record."

The bureau's Web site lists five unresolved complaints in the last 12 months concerning credit and billing issues, failure to provide service and failure to provide promised adjustment.

Queried for a comment, Cummings told TravelWeekly.com he would resolve those issues.

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