NEW YORK — American European Travel's nine-day ancient Turkey tour looked like the perfect birthday gift for David Olson's wife, Barbara. With stops in Istanbul, Ephesus and Pamukkale, it fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the old Ottoman Empire.
The Olsons learned about the trip through a brochure in The Washington Post. The AET insert bore the newspaper's logo, so they assumed that The Post endorsed the tour and would stand behind it if something went wrong.
And then, something went wrong.
Just a few days before their departure, the couple received an apologetic email from the tour operator, explaining that it had encountered "unexpected software problems" that had caused it to overbook flights with its preferred airline. Their Turkey trip had been canceled. AET offered them a new tour or a full refund - a refund that, in their case and several others, took far longer than expected to arrive.
This incident and others like it underscore the importance of researching a tour before booking and knowing who will help if things go sideways, as they sometimes do.
A cursory online search might have sent up a few red flags. The Better Business Bureau says that it's reviewing AET's rating after receiving "numerous complaints." A lengthy thread on the online review site TripAdvisor, where some of the content had mysteriously been deleted, might have raised eyebrows. And a posting on a popular forum for frequent fliers from 2012 asked, "Is this a scam?"
Ala German, an AET spokeswoman, said that the company exercises "no influence" over its online reviews. "We totally understand that a customer who is unsatisfied about a situation starts working on a way to be heard," she added. But she pointed out that there were also many positive comments about the company.