Can this trip be saved? They didn’t have my smoking room, so who pays to fix it?

Like 21 percent of other Americans, Larry Vail smokes. Having a room where he can light up is important when he travels, so when he booked his accommodations at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort & Spa through Bookit.com, he made sure it was a designated smoking room.

“This was our fifth trip to Jamaica and we have always reserved a smoking room without any problem,” he says.

Not this time.

Even though the all-inclusive resort offers smoking rooms online, and even though Bookit.com says he had one, he didn’t get one when he checked in.

Upon arrival, we were taken to our room where I later realized we had no ashtrays. I phoned the front desk to request an ashtray at which time I was rudely informed that we were in a non-smoking facility.

This is not what we signed up for and not what we were paying for. There was absolutely no mention of this being a non-smoking facility in the offer on Bookit.com’s website. If there had been, we never would have even considered staying there.

Vail asked if the Sunset Jamaica Grande had a sister property where smoking was allowed. It didn’t. He called Bookit.com, but couldn’t get through (apparently, he didn’t have the right calling card).

So he took matters into his own hands.

Frustrated, we went back to our room and called a resort we had stayed at on a previous visit and booked our remaining four nights of vacation there.

However, we had to make arrangements to get there. We arranged a ride back to the airport, which is a two-hour trip, and from there the other resort arranged the ride to them, which was another two-hour trip. We woke early the next morning, checked out and started our journey.

Vail is upset about the experience. He lost an entire day of his vacation because of the room mix-up, which he blames on Bookit.com. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

“After returning home and receiving our credit card bill, we found that the they had billed us for the full five nights [at the Sunset Jamaica Grande] at a cost of $1,243,” he says.

Vail paid $248 for his first night, but left the balance unpaid on his credit card. Bookit.com sent him a pro forma response to his dispute, asking him to state his reasons for denying the rest of the money. When the company dragged its feet, he threatened to formally dispute the rest with his credit card. In response, Bookit.com sent him an email that accused him of trying to “double dip” on his bill.

“How rude,” says Vail.

I turned to our credit card company to dispute these charges of $944. Bookit.com issued a credit in the amount of $450.

When I called them again to ask why we only received a $450 credit in lieu of the $944, I was told it was due to “cancellation charges”.

Wait! There would not be any cancellation charges had Bookit.com done due diligence in their handling of our business as their booking partner. I told them this was their oversight and they did not agree.

Finally, Bookit.com made him another offer: A refund of another $225 if he agreed to a “non-disclosure and acceptance” clause stating total confidentiality in the matter.

No way, he said.

Since then, Bookit.com has sent him terms and conditions that say the room type isn’t guaranteed and that it’s up to the hotel to honor a request for a smoking room. But Vail says it’s the first time he’s seen the fine print, and had he known a smoking room wouldn’t be guaranteed, he’d have never made the reservation.

This has turned out to be a really bad deal for all involved. Can you please help us recover our losses? I still believe this is a complete oversight by Bookit.com and their lodging partner, but we should not have to pay for their mistakes. It has already cost us more than enough.

I have to admit my bias: I don’t think people should smoke in their hotel rooms — ever. But if a hotel offers smoking rooms, then they should honor that promise.

No, my issues are that 1) Vail has already recovered a lot of the money in this dispute and 2) the online agency doesn’t guarantee it room types.

From the Bookit.com terms:

We do not guarantee the accuracy of the ratings and make no guarantee about the availability of specific products and services that may be offered. We strongly recommend that prior to any booking each user do their own independent review of any hotel, resort, or activity offered on our Website.

I’m put off by the apparent attitude of the resort and the online agency. That whole business with the non-disclosure was too much. Should I help Vail get the rest of his money back?

What do you think? A survey of nearly 700 readers this morning found that a majority (74 percent) want me to mediate this case.

(Photo: AM agill/Flickr Creative Commons)

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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