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Vacation Booking Warning

A Chino Hills couple says their European vacation of a lifetime went bust and they ended up with no trip, no memories and so far, no refund.

As Karen Swope prepares lunch, she's dreaming of a vacation where people are cooking for her.

“I've always wanted to go to Europe. Never dreamed we could afford it,” she says.

Swope and her husband travel. but need to stretch their dollars. In January they received a call from Arch Vacations.

“They told me they had a ten-day cruise to the Mediterranean,” she recalls.

Swope booked the trip, and with taxes it cost a total of $6457.57. She says the vacation package included an option to spend five additional days in Europe before or after the cruise, and Swope told the Arch agent she wanted to fly into Rome early.

“And then he said ‘OK, you owe another $2,550’ and my jaw just fell,” she says.

The extra money was supposed to cover airfare surcharges.

“I said, "We can't do this. We can't afford it. I'd like a refund,’" she says.

Swope says she was told she was beyond the 60-day window to cancel, but Arch Vacations contacted her again.

“She said, ‘We cannot refund your money, but we can give you an offer you another cruise to take,’" Swope says.

Swope reluctantly agreed to book a new cruise.

“So, I found a 21-day cruise departing from Vancouver, Washington going through Alaska,” she says.

The cruise was supposed to extend to Mexico. Swope says Arch Vacations booked it, gave her her cabin number and told her to make airline reservations.

Swope says the cruise was set for September, but by August all she had was a reservation number, and she says Arch Vacations stopped responding to her inquiries, so she contacted the cruise line.

“There was a message from Norwegian Cruise Lines that your reservation is a courtesy hold. It has not been paid for. They've had our money since January, and they haven't paid for it,” she says.

Swope says Arch claimed a glitch in financing and was no longer promising the same cabin amenities but said it would re-book the cruise.

“So, I finally called Norwegian directly, and they said there have actually been three reservations made for you. All three cancelled due to lack of payment,” she says.

Fed up, Swope filed a claim with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB intervened and Arch Vacations responded to the complaint saying they would be in contact with the customer to arrange a refund process.

That was September 2015. Arch Vacations also sent a letter to Swope detailing the refund of more than $6,000 was on its way, but to date Swope hasn't seen a dime.

“Depending on the amount of money at stake, you'd have to go to court,” says consumer attorney Stuart Talley.

He says Swope may have to sue in small claims court to get her money back, and that it's not unusual for a company that's conceded it owes a refund to continue to hold the cash until forced to pay up.

“You have to go to court. You have to serve them with a lawsuit and that's the only way to get them to do anything for you,” he says.

For Swope, trying to sail the Mediterranean has proved quite a journey. No vacation, no relaxation.

“I've had trouble sleeping at night, I've had headaches,” she says.

The NBC4 I-Team has reached out through phone calls, emails and Arch Vacations’ website.

The company, which is based in Arizona, has not responded to a single inquiry and again it's been six months since it agreed Swope was due a refund.

In California, disputes up to $10,000 can be filed in small claims court. To download the forms and learn more, you can visit Los Angeles County’s website.

For Ventura County, you can visit its site here.

For Riverside County, you can visit the site here.

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