A new online company helps people traveling in the European Union submit claims for compensation for transportation problems.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the August 2013 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Swallow’s Nest, a castle near Yalta in Crimea, Ukraine, was built on top of a 130-foot-high cliff overlooking the Black Sea. Photo ©mikekiev/123RF

Welcome to the 450th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. 450. Wow! That’s 37½ years — without ever missing an issue. 

Let me take a moment to acknowledge some of the people responsible for producing this magazine.

The publisher, Armond Noble, and his staff were working on the fourth issue when he hired me in 1976, and I took over as the Editor two months later. Sadly, Armond died last year in February, but  ITN continues.

From almost the very beginning, none of this would have been possible without the long hours put in by Armond’s wife, Helen, who handles all of the bookwork and advertising and runs the business.

Our Graphic Designer, Debi Shank, started out here in 1993 as a typesetter, and as the technology of putting the pages together for printing changed, her job description changed, but she’s still behind all the mechanics of getting the text, pictures and artwork onto the pages and to the printer.

In addition to editing and fact-checking all of the text in each issue, there is a tremendous amount of correspondence, research and record keeping that goes on. This work is shared mostly by our Assistant Editors, Mary Beltran, who has been with us since 1998 and now also handles our online advertising, and Jane Albusche, hired in 2000. Editing the Feature Articles and also designing those pages is our current Features Editor, Beth Habian, who has worked at ITN almost continuously since 1994. I edit, as well, and coordinate everyone’s efforts.

In 2006 we were lucky to find someone as proficient with computers as Arthur Hanna, who eventually, became our Web Designer (and helps with editing as well). Lately, he has been implementing several changes to our website to make it easier for visitors to find information.

As you can see from the number of years we’ve all worked at ITN, we kind of like it here. I know I do. It’s a pleasure to spend the day with people who are always giving 100 percent and not just going through the motions. And we’re proud of the magazine we produce.

Through this forum that we carefully manage, travelers share their experiences and knowledge, helping others to better enjoy their travels and encouraging people to try new destinations. 

I don’t think I’m overreaching to say that travel, itself, can increase understanding between peoples around the world. When we’re rushing around trying to make our monthly deadline, changing the world may not be at the forefront of our minds, but we do recognize our responsibility to try to make ITN’s content constructive, whether it’s by printing a traveler’s insight into another culture or someone’s recommendation for a hotel or simply a tip on some new shampoo for travelers.

ITN is a publication that prints articles and letters written by its subscribers, international travelers. That was a new concept when Armond thought of it decades ago. It’s one that has held up over time.

Tell us about your latest discovery or travel issue. Something you know or wondered about, even seemingly insignificant, is sure to help another traveler. Write in.


Okay, from the world of travel, I have some news and comments to share, myself. Here’s the last word on something I gave details about in my May and June columns.

The US Transportation Security Administration announced on June 5 that it was dropping its proposed rule change that would have allowed small pocketknives in carry-on luggage aboard commercial airliners.

All knives as well as the sports equipment mentioned in the proposal (billiard cues, ski poles, etc.) will remain on the prohibited-items list.

The TSA confiscates about 2,000 small folding knives each day.


Those of you in or heading to Europe, take note.

For anyone traveling WITHIN the European Union (EU) or TO an EU nation aboard transport operated by a company registered in the EU and for anyone LEAVING the EU aboard transport of ANY company (regardless of where it’s registered), Refund.me (phone +44 203 290 77 61 or, in the US, 917/688-4338, www.refund.me) will help submit a claim for compensation for any transportation problems that occur. 

By transport, I mean any plane, ship, train or coach, and “company registered in the EU” also applies to any company registered in Iceland, Norway or Switzerland, which are not members of the EU.

The EU has specific rules about when, how and how much a transportation company must pay a traveler inconvenienced by a problem attributed to a service failure. (See Feb. ’11, pg. 2, and Feb. ’13, pg. 2.)

For instance, the rules state that if a plane reaches its destination late by four hours or more, its passengers are each eligible for compensation of $400 to $800. 

Many travelers who encounter such delays or cancellations do not submit claims, however, because they are intimidated by the paperwork required. Refund.me, a company started in Potsdam, Germany, in August 2012, specializes in filing those EU claims on behalf of travelers. 

The company’s website walks you through what you need to know, using question-and-answer forms that you fill out online. Each step of the process explains whether your particular experience continues to qualify for a claim. At the end, a claim letter is generated with all of the required details. You then scan and upload any documents required (i.e., tickets), and Refund.me takes over from there. 

For a fee of 25% of the total compensation you are eligible to recover, Refund.me handles the paperwork and sends you the refund (less their fee and any applicable taxes), if the claim is settled successfully.

The company is not a law firm, but its representatives will act on your behalf, even going to court, if needed.

Refund.me also plans to provide service regarding mishandled luggage, according to the principles of the Montreal Convention. 

To read the full list of European Union “Passenger Rights,” visit http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air.


Years ago I took a call from a subscriber, and after I answered his question he said that he and his wife enjoyed ITN, had used readers’ various travel tips and had traveled with companies that advertised in ITN. He added, “We tell others that whenever ITN prints a reader’s complaint about a travel company, they never carry that company’s advertisements again.”

“But that’s not true,” I said. “We never made such a promise.”

Recently, another subscriber expressed a similar expectation of ITN. In our Travelers’ Intercom section this month, on page 24, is the account of a subscriber who returned from a tour of the Caucasus region displeased with the tour company.

“Mr. Z” had traveled with Kutrubes Travel, an ITN advertiser, and in his letter to ITN he outlined succinctly his particular complaints. After receiving from Mr. Z the answers to a number of questions plus copies of assorted materials, ITN sent the company copies of Mr. Z’s letters and asked for a response, beginning a lengthy course of correspondence with the company owner to establish all that occurred. 

A little over three months later, Mr. Z wrote to ITN, “Words cannot express how deeply saddened and disillusioned I am after seeing the advertisement for Kutrubes Travel in the May 2012 issue of ITN… . There is no possible explanation that I’d find satisfactory at this point in time for your accepting the advertising from Kutrubes Travel.” 

I wrote back to Mr. Z to explain our process for dealing with company complaints, saying, “Once we have given Kutrubes Travel a chance to defend itself, ITN staff will decide whether or not to print your letter, along with any response from the company, for our subscribers to read. It has never been ITN’s policy that we refuse to run a company’s advertisement while an investigation is under way, just as this country’s court system does not execute someone before the trial is over.”

But, unusual circumstances aside, neither would we blackball a company about which someone had a grievance.

As I explained to Mr. Z, to put the issue into perspective, consider Grand Circle Corporation. Between its sister companies Grand Circle Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel and (new) Grand Circle Cruise Line, they run tours for more than 100,000 people each year. It is not fathomable that they could do that without a certain percentage of those tour members finding reasons to complain, and, indeed, over the years we have received and printed several letters of complaint about Grand Circle Travel and OAT. 

I think it is to Grand Circle’s credit that that company retains a professional relationship with ITN, always responding to the letters of complaint that we have forwarded to them from our subscribers.

Grand Circle has not advertised with ITN lately, but we would not refuse advertising from them, just as we would not ban Kutrubes Travel from advertising, based on their having had a complaint lodged against them by an ITN subscriber. Nor would we rule out printing, if it were warranted, another complaint letter about either company — or about any company, whether an ITN advertiser or not.

Though Mr. Z didn’t want his name used in any report, he consented to our completing our research into the matter.

Since ITN began publication, there has been only a handful of companies whose ads our advertising manager has stopped accepting. In a couple of instances, it was clear that the companies could not pay money owed to tour members as well as to ITN, and in one case an advertiser was barred because of subscribers’ repeated complaints about unacceptable behavior on the part of the tour guide and company owner (one and the same).

With any tour operator, and sometimes within the same tour group, some people will love a trip and others may never trust the operator again. Every company receives complaints, and each problem can be the result of systemic error, willful misconduct, simple bad luck or even a misunderstanding. As the late Lei Chatfield, ITN Features Editor from 1981 to 2003, used to say, “How the company responds is often more important than what went wrong.”

When sent a scathing account, ITN treats all parties with respect and fairness. We do not allow the “flaming” — the unchecked sniping and criticism — that can occur on the Internet. It is ITN’s job not to choose sides but to print subscribers’ vetted accounts and let the public decide how they feel about dealing with the company in question.

By the way, sometimes we’ll have a letter of complaint about a travel firm whose employee definitely did something wrong but then the company not only apologized and compensated the tour members but made a change in policy so that the problem would be less likely to happen again.

In such a case, ITN staff may be eager to print the letter to show how responsibly the tour company reacted, but we worry that simply publishing the letter of complaint will lead people to categorize the company as one to avoid.

In making decisions about anything, the best recourse is to be informed. At ITN, we do our best to present information accurately. You take it from there.


Wayne Wirtanen, who writes the column “Eye on Travel Insurance” which appears in ITN occasionally, has a message for one of our subscribers: “To the reader who sent me an email inquiring about a travel insurance company’s ability to withdraw funds from a ‘Medigap’ policy’s 50,000-dollar lifetime overseas medical emergency fund, please resend the email (to wayne@innercite.com). I accidentally deleted it.”

Wayne has another revelatory article in the works and wants to credit the person who started him on the trail.


I want to credit Jon Lafleur of Kent, Connecticut, for a suggestion he made: “Put both the crossword and its solution on either even or odd pages, not one even and one odd.” 

Debi made that change a couple of months ago, and I wanted to acknowledge here whose idea it was. Thanks, Jon.


Connie Doty of Orinda, California, wrote in June, “When I went to the monthly meeting yesterday of my Stanford Women’s Club of the East Bay Travel Group, I passed around a signup sheet for people who would like to receive a sample copy of the magazine. I have raved about ITN to them many times before and a number of us now are subscribers.”

Connie sent the names and addresses of 21 people, who each will be sent the next-printed issue (this one).

Steve Plotkin of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, took it a step further, writing in April, “I will be at a meeting on April 20-22 which will be attended by 30 international travelers. On May 19  I will be at a meeting of the Travelers’ Century Club in Philadelphia with about 20 attendees. I would be glad to distribute your publication at these events.”

We were pleased to send a number of back issues to Steve.

Don’t forget, a subscription to ITN makes a great gift for a family of travelers. And, for the value received, it’s still ridiculously cheap, working out to only $2 per issue or even cheaper for multiyear subscriptions. Call, toll free, 800/486-4968 or visit www.intltravelnews.com and click on “Subscribe.”

Get the word out!    — DT