We all have difficulty saying no to our children. And Worldstrides takes that guilt trip right to the bank. A review of their web sites will find many references to their school accreditation, focus on value and safety, and their all around generosity. But they are nothing if not a high-pressure travel agency trying to nickel and dime families and schools.
Companies like this make capitalism look bad. They court schools and offer tours for children under the banner of education. While I wouldn't go so far as to call them a scam, they are certainly a rip-off.
The setup is important because it makes the situation all the more sinister. Our child's school wants to offer education trips to certain grade levels. Nobody wants their children excluded from an opportunity to see our great country and learn while doing it. And our initial reaction was an enthusiastic "yes".
The schools don't want to manage this sort of thing so they hire Worldstrides to make all the arrangements. Great, they have proven agendas and should have adequate contacts to purchase the needed travel in bulk. So the first shocker is the price tag. Everyone needs a profit, so we expected a mark-up. And they provide all the travel in addition to room and board, so the convenience factor ups the ante a bit more.
But now things get disappointing. We signed up for a trip to Sacramento from Los Angeles. The average fair for this route is less than $200. They use Best Western on this trip and the typical room price is under $100 per night. Of the three nights, one of them is in a campground so the rates are even less. Apparently they cram four kids into a room so the per child cost is less than $50 for then entire trip. They provide board and tours so I'll generously assume an extra $300 for the four days. With the typical cut for a travel agent, they are making a handsome profit at $600 per child. They have to pay their coordinators so maybe another $100 is fair if the experience is really good.
The total price per child is over $1,000 for this trip. So they basically mark up the travel 100%. I could fly my son first class and put him in the Le Rivage for $1,000. Ah, but how can we say no to our dear child. Everyone else is going and it is a good educational experience. Naturally, we cave and sign him up. My wife wants to go so now we have $2,100 on the table. We have to sign up over six months in advance. That's a long time for them to hold our money and travel agencies are the most reputable lot. But their web site insists that they are available for questions or issues and they even offer a sort of "payment plan" where you can make five or six payments on your credit card. Of course, this approach will cost you an addiitonal $6 per payment. We have to have all our money in their hands more than 60 days prior to the trip or we lose the cash and the trip. Obviously they don't front the money to their vendors until after the cutoff. So the payment plan is a sort of layaway. They have zero risk in the deal and get to collect interest on my cash.
So I sign up for the payment plan thinking $30 in fees is simply covering their credit card fees on my $1,000. I sign up for their auto-payment and paperless notifications which requires a registration on one of their sites. Of course, they also ask you to register on another of their sites to get information about the trip and your schedule. But then they ask you to do it all over again for the other traveller. So four different registrations are required. We think they are unorganized, but maybe they don't spend much on their web sites. After two payments are charged to my card, I get a paper invoice. I thought that strange so I try to call. Their 800 number doesn't work. So I log into both of their systems with all four registrations and discover that they have charged me an additional $35 per traveller twice because I didn't pay the paper invoice. But I thought they were going to automatically charge my card. So now I'm down another $140 on top of the $60 on top of the $2,100. So I call corporate, but they can't transfer me to customer service. But they give me another number and I wait on hold for an hour.
Now we're frusrated, but they finally credit us back the $140 because it is obviously unreasonable. But now I'm thinking the company is somewhat shady for trying to make these extra fees stick. I can only imagine how many people just pay them without reviewing the details.
They promise to send us details on the rooming arrangements because we are under the impression that providing our own chapperone will get us a private room. But the coordinator at our school indicates this is not accurate. To get a private room we have to pay another $300. Of course, that only applies to the two nights at the Best Western because the first night is roughing it. Again, for $300, I can get my own rooms for both my son and my wife.
The short version of this is simply that Worldstrides will do everything they can to bill as much money as possible. They squeeze every dollar they can out of the families and hope that nobody pushes back. And when questions arise, they disappear behind empty web pages, vague emails, and non-functioning phone numbers. I've not had a single interaction that was accurate and honest. They obfuscate, hedge, and blunder in order to avoid difficult discussions.
I will never participate in another trip managed by this firm, and recommend extreme caution when working with them.