My wife booked this trip a week in advance for me, her, and three children. We were told to arrive at 5:30 a.m. across the street from our hotel. The tour operator called my wife's cell phone the night before to confirm the time (5:30 a.m.) and place (across the street from our hotel) for our meeting.
The following morning was absolutely gorgeous. 70 degrees. Not a cloud in the sky. The nearby flags showed the most gentle of breezes, and certainly no wind. We woke our girls up very early to get dressed, eat a bite of breakfast, and get to the pick-up point. Our kids were very excited albeit somewhat tired from their unusually early wake-up call.
The operator was nowhere to be found. He never called my wife's cell phone (despite having the number and having called it the previous night).
We called the operator. He didn't pick up at first. We called again. He picked up. He sounded like we had woken him up. When we asked where he was, he told us that the pick-up time was 5:15 a.m., that he arrived and met with the other so-called family who was booked, but the weather wasn't suitable for ballooning and he cancelled the flight. He didn't offer any explanation for why he didn't call us, why he twice told us to be there at 5:30 a.m., or why the weather wasn't suitable given how perfect a day it was. Nor did he provide us with the name or contact information for the other "family" to confirm that what he was telling us was true.
He asked to reschedule. I told him that we had lost confidence in him, and that I wasn't going to ruin another vacation day dealing with him and that he needed to refund the charge on my credit card. He said he would refund us our deposit. But as of this date, he has not refunded the charge, requiring me to dispute the charge with my card-provider.
A few days later, a different tour operator in Deadwood, SD asked us how our trip to the Black Hills had been. We told her that everything was great, although we had a terrible experience with another tour operator. Without being prompted or coached, the other operator asked, "Was it the balloon guy in Custer?" We were shocked that she had heard similar stories like ours from other tourists. Obviously, this operator's reputation for doing this type of thing preceeds him.
When we arrived home, I looked again at his TripAdvisor reviews because I've never had a bad experience with a tour operator who received favorable reviews like those that appear for this operator on this website. My wife pointed out that the last review posted was September 26, 2011, and that there are no recent reviews. Perhaps I should have taken the absence of reviews as a sign that I should have avoided using this operator.
Needless to say, we cannot recommend this tour operator to anyone.