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There's a secret fund with millions to help resolve travel disputes that nobody knows about

March 30, 2021
4 min read
There's a secret fund with millions to help resolve travel disputes that nobody knows about
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Resolving disputes with travel agents can be frustrating, time-consuming and often, fruitless.

For people in California, however, there is a state-formed commission that handles consumer complaints against travel agencies and tour operators that can help get travelers a satisfactory resolution. It's called the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation, and it can offer customers a security blanket that's almost unmatched anywhere in the country.

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Here's the catch. Almost nobody has ever heard of it. A story by NBC's San Francisco affiliate shed light on this hidden asset for travelers. The TCRC has been around since 1995. It was originally funded by fees travel agents and tour operators had to pay when they registered with the state. According to Diane Embree , it was established by California's state legislature as a way to protect consumers when travel agents don't deliver the services they were paid for, or if they go out of business.

Related: California lifting mandatory stay-at-home orders

"The [California] attorney General's office wanted some kind of consumer protection written into the law. And this was a plan that was unique to California," says Diane Embree, an independent seller of travel who took part in the original legislation and actually served as the TCRC's first president. "I don't even think it could be duplicated in a lot of other states because California's a large state. There are a lot of sellers of travel here, travel agencies, tour operators based here…and you need to have enough of them to keep the fund going. Because the idea behind it was to have this funded entirely by the travel industry in California, no taxpayer dollars involved."

A board comprised of six people, four of them travel agents, oversees the TCRC. The board gets results for travelers, too. According to NBC Bay Area's analysis of claims filed since 2013, the TCRC has ruled in favor of customers 73% of the time in complaints filed, and paid out an average of $3,002 per claim.

But you have to know about the TCRC to file a claim, and clearly, not enough people do. On average, it receives an average of just 57 claims a year. In 2016, it received just 13 claims. Considering the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3,000 travel-related complaints from Californians, that number seems absurdly low.

Related: State-by-state guide to coronavirus reopening

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(Screenshot courtesy Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation)

Why don't more people know about the TCRC? Well, outside of a website, the commission has very little public identity. It doesn't have a Facebook page or Twitter account, and no YouTube channel. Embree notes there was a big publicity push around the TCRC when it came into existence in the mid-90s, given that it was a travel protection policy no other state had. She emphasizes that it's not like anyone's trying to hide the existence of the TCRC from consumers.

"Secret probably isn't the right word, even though that's the word people use. It's not a secret," she says. "No, one's trying to hide [the TCRC] from anyone. I would say part of it is that more people are using registered sellers of travel, rather than fly-by-night agencies who are questionable. And part of it is, the last couple of decades has been good for the travel business. There aren't as many agencies going out of business."

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After looking at the TCRC's website, the process for filing a claim seems fairly straightforward. Keep in mind, this claims process is only available to California residents. One important caveat: Airlines are exempt from claims made through the TCRC, because they are regulated by federal guidelines.

Related: Disneyland planning CA expansion

One recommendation Embree makes to any traveler in the state is, before they book travel with an agent, to check the TCRC's site to see if that travel agent has a "Seller of Travel" registration number with them. If they do, and you file within the eligible time frame, then you will have an extra layer of protection in case your travel plans go awry.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees