Can this trip be saved? Left high and dry by my resort

Club Med Sandpiper Bay is an all-inclusive resort near Port St. Lucie, Fla. — the perfect place to escape the cold December weather in Washington without having to spend hours on a plane. At least that’s what Jane Winfrey thought.

Back in April, she made a deposit for the week of Dec. 2 to 10 at hotel. But in late August, she received an apologetic call from Club Med representative. There was a problem with her reservation.

They were very sorry, but the entire Sandpiper has been reserved by a single client for Dec. 7 to 14 and they were therefore canceling the last three nights of our vacation, as well as everyone else’s reservations.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before.

Related: The smarter consumer: When to sue a company — and when to shame it.

The customer service agent outlined Winfrey’s options.

• Shorten their vacation by three nights.

• Visit another Club Med within the US for the same price.

• Cancel their entire vacation and receive a refund.

As compensation, Club Med offered a $100 credit per person, which could not be used toward to cover accommodations. (It could be cashed in for airport transfers or gift-shop purchases.)

Club Med also offered to reimburse Winfrey up to $200 for her airline change fees. But it wouldn’t cover any fare increases that resulted from its cancellation.

That doesn’t sit right with her.

To us, $200 to spend in the Club Med boutique just doesn’t cut it. I would have hoped the Sandpiper Club Med would preempt our complaint with a more gracious and generous offer.

I suggested that she send a brief, polite email to Club Med, letting it know she was disappointed and telling it exactly what it could do to make things right. Incidentally, I agree with her that it’s bad form to cancel a hotel reservation just because you have a better offer.

Club Med didn’t respond to her email in writing, apparently reluctant to have a written record of its offer. Instead, a representative phoned Winfrey again.

Their response was that the policy is firm – no other recompense. I feel it would have been more fair to offer a discount for the room charges on the nights which had to be changed – or to at least allow the credit to go toward room charges.

Also, $100 is somewhat paltry considering the cause of all this is that the whole club is being rented out for a week.

People with their own airline tickets will really be out of pocket. If they cancel their stay they are stuck with the tickets. If they alter their tickets’ dates to fit with the Club’s changes they will be reimbursed only for airline change fees, not any increase in fares. If a family bought airline tickets a few months ago and now must rebook them I would imagine the fares would be several hundred dollars higher.

Club Med shouldn’t have kicked Winfrey out of its resort for three days. If it did, it should have ensured she had alternate and comparable accommodations at no additional cost.

Having received two firm “nos” to her suggestion that it cover all of her costs, I’m not sure my inquiry would change the answer. If it did, then Club Med would be forced to extend the same offer to all of the guests displaced in December, which could cost it a bundle.

I’m not afraid to try, though.

(Photo: htt p2007/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Unlikely that Club Med would have sought to find comparable accommodations at no extra cost. They did give her 4 months’ notice. Was the $200 offer for change in airline fees a reimbursement or to be given, no questions asked. If so, better to have taken that and just move yourself to another hotel for the last 3 nights. A quick tripadvisor search shows Club Med to be ranked #5, with properties #1-4 significantly cheaper. If it’s an option, take the money and run! Otherwise, $100 credit is a paltry offer, and ppl will not normally curtail a 7-night vaca down to 4, even if it’s on principle. Another option would be to charge her for 4 nights and give her a voucher for the other 3 at another US property. Club Med is obviously making money by renting out the whole property. They should share the wealth…

  • ChrisY

    Obviously James did his homework and presents a viable solution.  But I will point out something important.  Generally people book with Club Med in order to have an all-inclusive, no-hassles experience.  It’s not right to place the burden of your (Club Med’s) bad planning on the shoulders of a confirmed guest, leaving him/her to price-shop for flight changes, transfer to another hotel, and do the math to make sure all the moving parts are worth it.

  • sirwired

    $100 is not enough for only four months notice.  Eight?  Sure… most people won’t have even made airline reservations by that point.

    In any case, they should be covering fare difference in addition to change fees.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Definitely mediate this one. Isn’t a hotel reservation basically a contract? And isn’t Club Med just deciding it wants out of the contract just to make more money off someone else?

    $200 in change fees and $100 in “resort credits” is ridiculous for telling someone, “Sorry, we have better people than you who want to rent the entire resort. Adios.”

  • Sam Varshavchik

    This far out, changes in airline fares are likely to be minimal. Before deciding on the next step of action, the traveler should check what they will actually be, then go back to the resort, and press them to cover it.

    Also, check whatever terms and conditions of the reservation actually say about this eventuality. Most likely they reserve the right to cancel or change at any time, blah blah, but it’s possible that there’s nothing there that covers this eventuality; in which case the traveler would be in a much better position.

  • john4868

    This is absolutely unacceptable. When you read between the lines you get, someone else was willing to pay us more for your room so you’re out of luck. I’m normally one to come down on the side of the travel company but not this case.

    She paid a deposit they owe her the rooms. Somehow I don’t think that they woudl give up their deposit if she suddenly got a better deal somewhere else. 

  • emanon256

    I’m going to make sure I never make a reservation at a Club Med after hearing this.  This is just wrong of them.  They are basically saying, “We value other people more then you and will break our contract with you because we like them better.”  It’s not in those exact words, but that’s how I would take it.

    You should mediate this.  Depending on the wording in the contract, it’s possible that under Florida law that the hotel could be required to do a lot more for them.  I also feel that should they just cut their reservation short, they should get a full refund of the canceled nights, have their change fees and fare difference covered, and get some type of additional discount for the inconvenience.

    When I have looked to stay at resorts like this, they often have specials such as “Pay for 5 nights, gets nights 6 and 7 free.”  I sure hope that this is not the case and Club Med is trying to refund the free nights.  That would make it even worse.

    Also I have noticed that when I purchase airfare 9 months in advance, as I always try to do for vacations whenever possible, it can be more than double the cost 4-5 months out.  So depending on when they purchased their airfare, the increase could be substantial.

  • Katie

    Whatever you do, don’t back down. You made the booking in good faith and they have a responsibility to stand by it. You shouldn’t be able to pick and choose favoured clients.

  • Kairho

    Cruise ships tend to do this quite a bit, especially the river boats (or so I am told).  And I am aware of other resorts doing so, although rarely.

    What is important is how Club Med covers the situation in their contract, if at all.  So I looked it up:

    “In the event of force majeure, including but not limited to strikes,
    lockouts, riots, weather conditions, techinical difficulties or for any
    other reason whatsoever, Club Med Sales, inc., and the operators may
    at anytime and without prior notice, cancel, advance, postpone or
    deviate from any vacation package and shall not be obliged for any loss
    whatsoever to any member by reason of such cancellation, advancement,
    postponement, deviation or substitution.”

    Take the deal offered.

  • ChrisY

    Force Majeure is something *not under the control of either party*.  Which this is not.

    Although the wording above contains weasel words (“…any other reason whatsoever..”) it is grammatically in reference to any other force majeure event, not a whim of the operator.  That would never hold up in court anyway.  “We decided to cancel because it’s Wednesday.  The customer is not due compensation for any loss whatsoever.”

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I don’t know I’ve ever seen such an overwhelming response to one of your polls being so strongly in favor of the OP.

    What Club Med is doing is unconscionable.  While it’s certainly good business to rent out the entire resort, to kick the existing reservations to the curb is more than a little predatory, giving preference to those who have the larger checkbook balance!

    I’d be interested in learning how this one turns out.  I feel the OP makes an extremely valid point, though, in stating the fare change fees are only the beginning of this little venture.  Airlines notoriously have higher fares when one makes a change.  Were I to be looking for the identical flight around the same time the OP was looking to make the change, I might get a much lower fare than one with an existing reservation making a change.

    How these places continue to stay in business is beyond me…

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Absolutely right, John!!!  The traveler isn’t afforded the luxury of changing their plans, why should the resort have more power to do so simply because someone else came along?

  • Guest

    I think a big point people are missing here is that she hasn’t paid for the room – she only put a deposit down.  So, the $200 credit isn’t a refund, just a credit to use in the (probably overpriced) Club Med gift shop.

  • Mel

    I presume that #1-4 are significantly cheaper because they aren’t “all inclusive” yes? That means that meals and incidentals must now be factored in if they choose to exercise this option, as well as…well just the hassle of settling into another location. Does Club Med have one of those “we may cancel your reservation for any reason up to x days as long as we do xyz …blah blah” clauses? If not, surely there’s some sort of action that can be taken.  I once had a situation where a lawyer friend wrote a company an offiical letter for me that basically said, “My client took x action and incurred y expenses based upon your contract with her and you defaulted on your side of things so pay up” (hugely paraphrased :)).   Seems if she made plane reservations etc.. based upon Club Med’s assurance that she’d have a room, any expenses incurred as a result of THEM changing the rules unilaterally should fall on them and they should be beyond gracious about it!

  • Pplaresilly

    I voted YES, simply because that offer ‘sucks’ and it is not the fault of the traveler this time.

    Club Med is greedy and really doesnt care obvisously because of their BIG FAT PAYDAY CLIENT who reserved the whole resort.

    It must be nice to be in the ultra rich category – you can completely treat people like crap just because you can afford to pay CLUB MED to act on your behalf.

  • Mel

    I agree! Realistically “our policy” and “legally binding” — not the same. 

  • Alan Kardoff

    Living not too far from this site, I feel the buyer is getting ripped off.  She booked during the prime season. The hotel seems very irresponsible. The offer would not pay for another hotel/resort in this area for one day.

    Chris,  this is one time I feel you might charge on.   Also I fear if she accepts the partial offer, this will later be withdrawn too due to a a new
    unexpected ‘convention.’

  • Beachglass

    This would not be “force majeure” – which only covers events that could not be forseen, and could not be avoided.  The paragraph you’ve given would not apply, since Club Med itself caused this event by accepting someone else’s reservation.

  • Brooklyn

    This is why I never book months ahead! Especially if you’re flexible as to your destination, you might even do better at the last minute, and you won’t get jerked around like the OP.  Club Med?  Not me, not after this!  Chris, you should definitely pursue this one.

  • Rick

    From Wikipedia:
    Force majeure (French) or vis major (Latin) “superior force”, also known as cas fortuit (French) or casus fortuitus (Latin) “chance occurrence, unavoidable accident”,[1] is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event described by the legal term act of God (such as hurricane, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, etc.), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

  • Jenny

    It sounds like she’s not going to get a better offer, and the longer she waits to change plans, the more expensive it gets. If she insists on staying with Club Med, she has to stop digging in her heels and look at her options.

    With 3 months notice (end of August -> beginning of December is 3 months) she could book another resort with the money she’s getting back from the 3 days canceled at Club Med. Also, ask Club Med if the $200 in transfers can be applied to moving to the other resort, if not, maybe look for one that includes transfers from the airport and use Club Med’s $200 to get there. Or pay the airline change fee difference if it is over $200.

    Is it 100% fair? No. But those are the conditions under which the vacation will or will not happen, so work harder to make it work.

  • Julie

    If Club Med won’t budge, where were her airline tickets to? If it’s FLL, I know several wonderful independent hotels who would be glad to make this family feel welcome instead of sold out to someone “better.”

  • $16635417

    Yes. Mediate.

    I had a similar situation. With the help of an attorney friend, I pointed out to the hotel that: 1. They made an offer. 2. I accepted their offer and presented consideration (one night’s deposit). 3. They accepted consideration and confirmed.

    Months later, they advised me they could not honor the reservation. They claimed their T&C’s allowed them to cancel my reservation, even after accepting consideration, yet I claimed a judge would probably agree that they cannot waive a fundamantal rule of law in their T&C’s. 48 hours later, they got back to me and honored my reservation.

    I may have gotten lucky, but it’s worth a try.

  • cjr001

    I’m getting sick of these stories where the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Whether it’s a hotel, a resort, a cruise, and so on.

    These places flat out should NOT be allowed to throw people out on their arse – and that is what Club Med is doing – simply because somebody else comes along with a thicker wad of cash.

  • Therese Meiel

    I have stayed at this Club Med(about 3 years ago) with a group of 19 family members.  The customer service was awful!  I also stayed at the xtapa club several years before that  and had much better service.  In light of this stiry I’m not sure I’d do it again…..Mediate!

  • sirwired

     I will point out that this (renting out a whole facility, displacing existing reservations) is not particularly uncommon in the travel industry.  Otherwise, it’d be nearly impossible for event organizers to find a venue for this type of event.  However, doing it with only 4 months notice is quite unusual, and shows poor judgment on Club Med’s part to give such small compensation for the short notice.

  • y_p_w

    It’s unclear whether or not she’s paid upfront, although it doesn’t sound as if she did.  It’s also unclear if they are offering to reduce the total price of the stay to reflect the reduction in length of the stay.  I’d be surprised if that weren’t part of the offer, with the “compensation” added to that.

    The main problem would seem to be the air travel, although with four months I would think there would still be a decent shot at getting good rates.

    This stinks all around that they’d kick a client to the curb, but it might be possible to do something.  If it were me, I’d probably take the offer, keep the flights as planned, and go to Disney World for a couple of days.

  • y_p_w

    I didn’t read that the plans couldn’t be changed.  Don’t quite a few resorts have generous cancellation policies?

  • Chelseagirl98

    While I think it’s obnoxious that her reservation got canceled, she’s getting a refund, $200 to cover change fees, and a $100 credit that can be used for airline transfers. I don’t think that’s paltry. We don’t know if the fares will be higher when she rebooks. If she doesn’t like the offer then she should vote with her pocketbook and go somewhere else. 

  • y_p_w

    I guess it’s not quite a cancellation yet.  It sounds to me as if they only money that Club Med has from Ms Winfrey so far is the deposit, which they’re willing to fully refund if she declines the other offers.  She does have the option of taking the five night stay, with credit for airline change fees.

    If they’re charging for 8 nights but only delivering 5, then there’s something absolutely wrong.  I’d be shocked if that were the offer.

  • y_p_w

    Now that I’m reading this over again, it sounds as if they’re not offering to reduce the room charges even with a reduction in the length of stay?  If that’s the case, then the offer is really bad.

  • LFH

    While it is unlikely that a court would compel the resort to accommodate Ms. Winfrey, it could very well award damages as a result of the resort breaching its contract. If there are no contract terms relating to the liquidation of damages in advance,she might want to consider suing the resort in small claims court (first check jurisdictional requirements to see where you can hale the resort into court), and try to recover incidental and consequential damages, in addition to the return of the deposit. Just getting the summons might cause the resort to re-think its offer to avoid having to defend itself in court.

  • sffilk

    I say go for it and see what you can do.  If they continue to say no, I’d suggest to Ms. Winfrey to go after this Club Med in the court of law and the court of public opinion.

  • emanon256

    This is common, but usually very very far in advance.  I used to volunteer with the conference planning committee for a national organization that held annual national conferences.  We typically looked 2 to 3 years out and always had our contract finalized 1 to 2 years in advance.

    This was a public sector organization, so we didn’t get to go to places like Club Med.  And I don’t think we ever shut down a location for just us and no one else.  But we would often block thousands of rooms at hotels and take up entire conference centers.

  • Dave

    This may be a common practice in the “hospitality” industry, but it’s a despicable one.  A reservation is a reservation, and shouldn’t be cancellable because a better offer comes along.  Those who need to book a large number of rooms should be doing so much earlier than 4 months ahead of an event (and if it’s some “celebrity” coming in, it’s time he or she learned to live in the real world — these people are not important in any sense of the word).

    On the other hand, we, the travelers, typically enjoy the privilege of canceling without penalty.  We need to be careful what we wish for!

  • Clare

    Okay, so let’s say the OP accepts Club Med’s offer and agrees either to stay in FL on different dates, or to go to a different Club Med location.  So what’s to stop Club Med from telling her later that her SECOND reservation is being tossed in the trash because they got ANOTHER person with more money than her to rent the whole place? 

    In other words, where does it end?  And more importantly, what does this tell all of us about the value of a reservation and a deposit, in the eyes of Club Med?  They’ve just announced to the world in neon lights that “Guess what!  Your reservation with us means absolutely NOTHING!”  Makes me want to run out and book with them right now!

  • S.D.

    You raise a valid point, but I should mention it was closer to 3 months notice. They waited until late August before contacting her and her vacation started December 2nd. It wouldn’t surprise me if many guests had already booked their airfare at that point. I agree Club Med should do more to help their guests (and in writing!).

  • Catader

    Obviously, someone paid them a whole lot of money to convince them to cancel all reservations for a week.  If it was not enough to appropriatly compensate all who would be effected thats CLUB MEDs problem.  Beyond the money issue the fact that they will sell out your reservation for a better offer is downright unethical. 

  • Erika

    Unbelievable.  I’d also advocate for giving Club Med lots of bad press over this one.  She had a confirmed reservation which they then cancelled because somebody else thought they were sooo important that they needed the entire resort.  An entity fully committed to customer service would have told the other client to go take a walk because the resort was already partially booked by other clients who are equally important.  

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    True about the all-inclusive option. All depends on the type of traveler. Make lemonade or eat raw lemons? Why not imbibe for 4 solid days and detox for 3 at a cheaper option? Otherwise, I don’t think Club Med has any legal responsibility to do anything more. Just trying to get the OP the best possible (ie. probable) alternative!

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    That’s why the property isn’t only offering cancellation. They’ve thrown in the extra voucher + reimbursement. That’s what makes it different from a traveler cancelling on a hotel. I’m not saying I’d like to be in her shoes, but that’s what the difference is…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    This type of thing happens more often than you’d think. When someone books out the entire property, of course it’s going to bump some people. When is a hotel completely empty? Club Med has done their math and they’ve decided that booking the entire property trumps xxx number of reservations they had for that time period. Now they’re trying minimize their compensation. I wouldn’t blanket get up in arms against Club Med. But I would try to get everything I could from them. How about $200 in cash + the other 3 nights as a voucher to be used at any other US Club Med? I think they’d go for that. They’re almost there as it is.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Club Med probably could’ve used some PR lessons in spinning the story. They should have said at the beginning: “We’ve booked out the entire resort for a xxx (bachelor party, family reunion, etc.) for part of your stay and we just wanted to let you know. It’ll probably be very loud, with the entire facility at max capacity and therefore not the typical Club Med experience we normally offer. Of course, you’re welcome to keep your booking with us, but as you may feel uncomfortable in such a setting, we’re offering a no-fee change to your reservation. We’re even prepared to offer you $200 in cash and a $100 voucher”. And if the OP didn’t want to change, then bring out the big guns. They need to hire me for their PR! It’s all about the psychology.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Then she’d get compensation from the second property too. She could hope it happens a third time and then she’d get free accommodation her entire stay. I’d totally go for that!

  • Eric

    Whew!  That was close.  I’m looking for a place to get away next spring and this one was on my list.  I think I’ll have to scratch this property from my list.  This is a totally bush-league move by the resort.  I hope she gets some sort of satisfaction.  They should offer to change her reservation to another week and completely cover her cost for re-booking flights, including any fare increase.

  • flutiefan

    sorry, have to disagree with your notion that someone looking to make a change to an existing res would not find the same prices as someone starting to look for a fare at the same time. that’s not how our computer systems work… they aren’t based on whether or not you have a flight already booked. the computer doesn’t care. the price is the price (given fare choices, dates, class of service, etc).

  • Euser101

    I will never stay there after this post.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Any updates on this one, Chris? I’m dying to know. 

  • Dana Scheider

    If it’s going to do this it should first of all cover all the expenses the traveler incurs because of its reneging on the reservation and secondly not penalize the traveler (i.e. not keep their deposit) if they get a better deal elsewhere.

    Of course a hotel is not going to be completely empty, so if someone wants to book the whole resort then some people will be bumped. But there should be a time cutoff for this–e.g. if you want to book the whole resort you have to do it a year in advance–and people making reservations should be informed of the time cutoff up front (“We don’t guarantee reservations made over a year before the reservation date,” for example). That way they’d know not to book their flights or other plans until the reservation was confirmed.

    This definitely makes me less likely to book with Club Med, not because they canceled, but because they did so with such short notice and are treating her like a second class customer (when she was most likely going to paying MORE for her room pro rata than whoever booked the whole resort, since you often get a discount for that kind of thing).

  • Dana Scheider

    Pointing to these agreements to justify the resort’s actions doesn’t make sense. The fact that it has a policy like this at all is exploitative and shows an appalling lack of respect for paying customers. Now, for circumstances beyond their control I think they should return the deposit and not be liable for more – those things happen. But for things like this, I’m sorry, but this kind of policy should be illegal.