This is a plausible excuse if the prospect is out of town (non local). Or the job or deliverable fee will not be sufficient to justify the time and expense of an in-person meeting.
Usually, for projects of several thousand dollars and up, most customers will expect face time at the start if you're in the same metropolitan area.
Let's say you are bidding a project of $2000, the prospect is in California and you are in Florida. Reasonably they should not expect you to prospect in-person. But then let's say the same sized job is in a different borough of NYC from you: YES, you should meet the client face to face.
Another factor is the possibility of repeat business. One area where you can stand out from the pack is to meet face to face for a relatively modest project, which may lead to ongoing business.