No one expects to cancel a long-planned anniversary trip due to a pet's illness. But when it happened to clients of travel agent Lisa Fitzgerald, she got to work and saved the day.
According to Fitzgerald, her clients, in their middle 30s, had booked a river cruise about ten months prior to a June 13 departure. About a month before their departure, Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald Travel, Spofford, N.H., received a desperate phone call.
"She was clearly crying on the other end of the line, with despair in her voice," Fitzgerald remembered. While they were away, their dog Bella was badly injured and needed extensive, expensive surgery. The recovery time was very lengthy and Bella would require constant supervision.
There was no getting around it. The couple needed to cancel the cruise they had planned to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
While the clients had purchased travel insurance, their policy did not cover the illness of a pet. "The cancellation penalty was hefty and a sick pet is not a covered reason," Fitzgerald said.
In discussion with the client, Fitzgerald asked if she was open to any other travel dates from now until the end of the year.
Asking for what seems impossible
"When she said 'yes,' now I realized I had to figure out how to convince a river cruise company with very black-and-white terms and conditions, to listen to our story," she said.
First, Fitzgerald requested vet bills, the dog's diagnosis and any other statements from her vet, so she could review them and build her compelling case. "Then, I called our BDM to discuss the issue of cancelling and rebooking. While they listened, even they had a grave outlook," she said.
Fitzgerald requested that Travel Market Report not provide any details about the client's name to protect their privacy, or identify the cruise line, so as not to burden the company and her BDM with other similar requests.
"But my glass is always half full, so I spoke with my BDM further and asked her to please consider the situation. To make it personal, I asked if she owned any pets." She said yes.
While the call didn't generate immediate results, Fitzgerald's BDM offered to submit a written request.
"So I compiled a very compassionate letter to our BDM so that she could read the documentation and then raise the situation up a level to an executive. I included everything I could think of, a photo of Bella and her humans, vet bills, you name it," Fitzgerald said.
"I didn't need to make up an elaborate story or fabricate anything. I just told the truth and asked, with the backup documentation, if my clients could please change their cruise dates to any cruise before the end of the year. They would take anything and they would be very grateful."
Honesty is the best policy
The next day, Fitzgerald received an 8 a.m. phone call from an executive at the cruise line. "They thanked me for reaching out and that because of the compelling message and documentation, they would rebook my clients," she said. "They said it was pretty unprecedented."
"The happily ever after is that my clients sailed and Bella is healing nicely, and I will be forever grateful for two things: 1) Always using a reputable and amazing river cruise supplier; and 2) To my father Frank who always taught us that honesty is the best policy. Only good things can come from honesty."
For her efforts, Fitzgerald won the American Society of Travel Agents' "Go the Extra Mile" award at the association's annual conference, this past August in San Diego.