Do I deserve a refund after volcanic eruption? By Christopher Elliott | February 27, 2012 When Chile’s Puyehue volcano erupted last fall, prompting airlines to cancel numerous flights, Donna Vogeler-Boutin decided her planned Christmas vacation in Bariloche, Argentina, would be too risky. She canceled her flights and asked her hotel, Lirolay Suites, for a full refund. But instead of offering her money back, she says Lirolay quietly pocketed $700, the amount she pre-paid for her accommodations, without explanation. Vogeler-Boutin wants my help with a refund. But I’m not sure if I can — or should — get involved. Here’s her side of the story: More than 40 days our from our reservation I had to cancel because of volcanic activities. It would have even be doubtful that LAN would fly into Bariloche if the problem continued with the volcanic ash an we would have lost the entire amount of our stay. Our stay was for December 24th to December 29th, maybe the 30th. I cancelled on November 13th and they took $700 from our Visa. Outrageous! But did they tell her the hotel was nonrefundable? Actually, yes. I did sign a guarantee that I would be coming. And I had NO DOUBT I would be there. But I had NO IDEA we would be having a volcano problem. Vogeler-Boutin emailed the hotel, asking it to consider an exception to its policy. She sent me the correspondence. While the property appears to have responded quickly to an earlier inquiry about whether it was pet-friendly, it did not acknowledge her request for a refund. “I have heard nothing back from Lirolay Suites and I’m sure they could care less,” she says. “They have my $700 because of a volcano.” I’m conflicted about this one. The hotel should have responded to her request one way or another, no question about it. But is she entitled to a full refund? A look at the location of her hotel on the map shows that it’s quite a distance from Puyehue — a nine-hour drive over the mountain range. What’s more, there’s no evidence the hotel was out of commission during the holidays. Vogeler-Boutin appears to have canceled her vacation as a precaution, not out of necessity. If she’d bought travel insurance (anything except a “cancel for any reason” policy) she wouldn’t be able to make a successful claim. The Lirolay may not owe her a full refund under its policy, but it does owe her an answer. It could have also offered her a partial or full credit for a future stay — although that’s not necessary. Vogeler-Boutin seems to want more than her money. She wants the world to know what the Lirolay did to her. “I pity your bad Karma in your business,” she wrote to the hotel. “I shall be reporting this to a travel ombudsman and will ask them to publish this for the world to see as well as put my comments on your business practices on the Internet.” I don’t know if that motivates me to get involved in this case. (Photo: Puyehue/Flickr) Christopher ElliottChristopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at email@example.com. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google PlusFacebookTwitterLinkedInGooglePinterestReddit Related DavidYoung2 Pass on this one. The OP jumped the gun out of an abundance of caution. Certainly a good move if she didn’t feel comfortable about going, but she’s not entitled to anything (well, a response would have been nice.) A reasonable person would have called the hotel BEFORE cancelling to see if they would make an accomodation, and then made a decision after finding out what they would (or would not) do. y_p_w The dates seem a little bit odd to think about canceling. “Fall” seems like a stretch, since the eruption started June 4, 2011 and evacuees were allowed to return by June 19. They did apparently close the airport in Bariloche in October due to high winds kicking up previously deposited ash, but it wasn’t an ongoing eruption. The AFP story doesn’t mention that was the reason for the airport closures in October, and it would have been easy enough to realize that it wouldn’t have been an issue in December. djp98374 Based on me looking at a map it appears the Volcano is about about 75 miles from the city in Argentina. that :”a nine-hour drive over the mountain range” is irrelevent. The 9 hr drive is because there is no direct pass through the mountains there. To put this in perspective…this is about the same distance Mt St Helens is from Yakima, WA. The only issue are the prevailing winds in the area. If the volcano went off it tends to scatter ash all around the area. As we have seen with Redoubt in alaska and the iceland volcano a volcano erupting affects airtravel near/trough the area. If she had her flight going into the Argentine city the airport may have been affected with the airquality and concern of airplane safety. She may have had doubts/concerns over this which were very valid. There needs to be policy in place for something like this to happen. If you cant fly in should hotels be much more understanding? She seems to be proactive and canceling her travel plans early enough that the hotel could have rebooked her rooms and not lost money than if it was aited till right before she was to travel and the risk that comes with last minute flight cancelation and people getting trapped. Citizentraveller Over many years I have tended not to worry too much about events that ‘may’ make my travel unsafe. While I would not intentionally travel to a dangerous place, I tend to trust the professionals to determine what is safe and what is not. Our travel was affected by this volcanic eruption as the trade winds had carried the ash over New Zealand and Australia, causing many flights to be cancelled as a precautionary measure. We were rerouted by Virgin Australia to avoid the closure of Perth airport at that time and our only inconvenience was a half day change to our schedule. http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly Not sure how much the $700 represents. Chris, in the future, please provide enough details for us to make a judgment. A simple “$700, the full amount of the stay” would be helpful. I can’t believe she wouldn’t have gotten some info from the hotel before canceling. Would they have been amenable to moving the dates? That being said, the OP calls the hotel not refunding a non-refundable rate, “outrageous”… Sucks for her, but unless flights are cancelled, I’m siding with the hotel on this one. Well, maybe except for them not answering her. That would drive me nuts… http://www.dreamtravelblog.wordpress.com sirwired No, she absolutely does not deserve a refund. Fear of something that might happen (months after it previously occurred) is not a valid excuse to cancel a nonrefundable reservation and expect a refund. Especially only six weeks out. If her flights actually HAD been canceled, she might have a case of expecting the hotel to do more. andrelot I think costumers should bear some responsibility when they buy non-refundable fares in unattached tourist products and services. Let’s put it the other way around: suppose a resort in the Caribbean closed for 2 weeks due to some food disease outbreak. Then, assume the OP had bought separate non-refundable flights to get there (not part of a package). Should the airline be expected to waive non-refundable fare rules because the hotel the OP were going to is closed for 15 days? Unless the hotel were unable to operate, or it were inherently dangerous do go there (which was not the case) by any other means of transportation, I don’t see why she’d have a case. The fact is most people like the cheaper part of non-refundable fare, but forget about the flips they carry. finance_tony “I shall be reporting this to a travel ombudsman and will ask them to publish this for the world to see as well as put my comments on your business practices on the Internet.” The travel ombudsman shall forthwith put forth to his readership yet another inane, entitled ninny unable to comprehend the bounds of a contract. The aforementioned entitled ninny shall also be uninformed of her lack of meteorological and vulcanological skills by attempting to predict atmospheric events in an alternate hemisphere two months into the future. The definition of ‘nonrefundable’ notwithstanding, the mere idea of booking accommodations with a refundable or even one-night cancellation policy shall not cross ninny’s mind, instead attempting to visit the financial cost of her whims upon the hotelier. Said travel ombudsman shall again lose readership by picking and choosing the most ridiculous cases to offer to the viewing public as options for mediation. finance_tony Exactly. And maybe I’m just reading more often, but it seems like we read more and more of those people here. If you buy at the bottom of the barrel, you get bottom of the barrel. There’s nothing wrong with getting the lowest fare, but make a fair and honest calculation of your loss should something happen and you lose it, and don’t go complaining about the “business practices” of a company who is doing exactly what they said they would in the contract! Raven_Altosk I say pass. She definitely jumped the gun and her last paragraph is definitely not endearing me to her “cause.” Did the airline give her a refund? I’m curious how she pulled that one off. More internet blackmail? http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott Your comments are like a jolt of espresso on a Monday morning. Keep ’em coming. And thanks for reading! $16635417 I’m actually glad this case is here. I have to add this location to my travel bucket list. I’ve noted the name of the hotel as a possibility as well as it appears to get excellent reviews based on a quick glance on a couple of sites. $16635417 First thing I questioned…what about the airfare? Is it possible she never had air booked and then saw fares much higher than expected (Christmas Travel) and played the volcano card? (Not saying she did! Just speculating on missing information!) Kathleen Proud Keyte 40 days before the travel date and a 9 hour drive away from the volcano?? How could she possibly predict that her flight wouldn’t operate? Pass! BrianInPVD I believe 40 days is the standard period of time to wander in the wilderness or be barraged by a flood of biblical proportions. Even Noah came out on dry land at the end of 40 days. This is akin to not flying to Amsterdam because of the underwear bomber or not going to California because they had a small earthquake last week. If the OP can predict the future, let me know–I need some stock tips. emanon256 The proximity is irrelevant when the volcano erupted 6 months before her stay, and she canceled as a precaution. She actually canceled 5 months after the eruption was over and everything was back to normal. I think she just wanted to cancel, and was looking for a good excuse. If she wanted to re-book, she would have called, and most likely the hotel would have been accommodating. emanon256 At first I was leaning towards a yes and assuming her flight was canceled too and she was traveling during the eruption. Then I Google news about the volcanic eruption, and saw her black mail comments, both with changed my mind to a strong no. She canceled 5 months after the eruption and long after everything returned to near normal. I think she just wanted to cancel, and was looking for a good excuse. If she wanted to re-book, she would have called, and most likely the hotel would have been accommodating. Also, if she was concerned about the volcano, I think she would have tried to cancel when the volcano was a problem, not 5 months after thing returned to normal. “And I had NO DOUBT I would be there. But I had NO IDEA we would be having a volcano problem.” Why does she need the caps, unless it’s to try to overcompensate for the fact that she did have a doubt, and had another reason for canceling? Maybe I should try to cancel my trip to Boston next week because there was a hurricane in the area 6 MONTHS AGO! Edit: Seeing TonyA’s post, I recant some of my above statement; the articles I found said everything was back to normal within a few weeks. However, Tony’s articles also say a bus service was provided from alternate airports. I wish Chris would post some more about her airfare, and how if that was refunded? I still think if she truly had the intention of going, she would have called and re-scheduled rather than demanding a refund and making threats. I still vote no even with the new facts simply because of her behavior in this. BillCCC Based on what I see here I am not surprised that the hotel did not respond to her. I can only imagine what she had written. They have her $700 not because of a volcano but rather because she signed a guarantee stating she would be there. Another expensive lesson in travel planning. I think that most reasonable travellers would not think that the TT was helping himself if he got involved. http://twitter.com/pulvdiggity Adam P Please stop encouraging this behavior. She cancelled a nonrefundable rate and now the name of the property will be indelibly tarred because they outrageously did not refund her? Her message about going to an ombudsman is a result of your continual posting of frivolous complaints, and suggesting customers are owed the sun, moon, and stars when they make bad choices. Guest Hmmm. Your readers appear to have mediated. And they vote against her. MarkKelling No. She bought a non-refundable hotel room and the hotel was open as well as the airport and other transportation options. Besides, the eruptions had calmed down six months before her trip. The only reason she should have received a refund is if the hotel was closed and it wasn’t. I feel something else came up that prompted her cancellation and she wants to use the volcano as an excuse. I flew to Europe a couple years ago while the Iceland volcano was erupting. The eruption was in full on mode when I took off from here and the chances of me getting to my actual destination in Ireland was about 60 – 40 against. I made it, but just barely, in between windows of flight operations. Was I worried about not getting where I needed to be? Of course. Did I cancel everything because I might not be able to get there? No. I did have refundable airfare and the tour was being flexible enough to allow full credit for a future tour, but I went anyway since I didn’t know if things would get any better. I had a great time, and would have really regretted missing the trip. http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott I don’t mind. I’d rather have it voted down here than write a troubleshooter column and have everyone second-guess my decision to mediate. S E Tammela Yet another entitled customer who CHOSE to cancel without a reasonable reason and believes they deserve to be treated as though their backside is gilt. http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly Actually, the Israelites wandered for 40 years, not days, and even tho it rained for 40 days/nights, Noah wasn’t able to come out onto dry land for almost a year after. Just sayin’… Alan Gore Did this woman have “I’m clueless about geography” insurance? Captain Consumer Regardless of the intention, non-refundable tickets is an example of another scam that enables business’s to profit without doing anything to earn it. TonyA_says I don’t like her threat to use an ombudsman. Make’s her look bad and not genuine. However, the facts are still the facts so what are they? Apparently there are quite a number of posts in the internet that many people were in the same situation last December. The Bariloche airport remained closed till AFTER her proposed trip. Here is an official statement released today (Dec. 12, 2011) from airline Aerolineas Argentinas regarding flights, closure and alternative travel: The Bariloche airport was originally scheduled to reopen later this month but will now open in late February 2012. Bariloche passengers are being protected on flights to/from Esquel (EQS) and/or Neuquen (NQN). Ground transportation between Bariloche and these two cities will be provided. The travel time between Bariloche and Esquel is approximately 3 hours. Travel time between Bariloche and Neuquen is approximately 6 hours.* When passengers disembark in Esquel and Neuquen there will be a bus that will take them to Bariloche. When in Bariloche they should check with AR locally to find out about the transportation to Esquel and Neuquen. *Travel by bus between Bariloche and Neuquen can potentially take up to 9 hours. http://blog.adventure-life.com/2011/12/12/argentina-travel-update-bariloche-airport-closed-until-feburary-2012/ There were newspaper articles that even said it would be close till June. http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/70371/bariloche-airport-to-remain-closed-until-june-30-due-to-ashes Sure Bariloche hotels were still left standing. But could one get (fly) there easily last December? I think the answer was NO. Any traveler put in the same position as the OP last November would have cancelled because of the UNCERTAINTY of the situation. I am sympathetic to Mrs Vogeler-Boutin case (though not her antics). Bariloche looks like heaven on earth and the boutique Lirolay suites look wonderful. There is no reason not to want to go there in the near future. Perhaps Chris Elliott can work out a deal like a full voucher for a year. I voted with the minority – I think Chris should consider mediating this. And the OP should really have an attitude change. REQUESTING and NOT THREATENING will get you further in life. BTW, I suggest to those who want to see the devastating effects of a large volcano eruption can be should look at what happened to the US Air Force’s massive Clark Airbase in the Philippines after Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991. http://geography.about.com/od/globalproblemsandissues/a/pinatubo.htm Not sure how big Puyehue was compared to Pinatubo. Today many people trek to Pinatubo’s crater, They say it is a beauty. But can be very treacherousness when it rains (as 2 Frenchmen died there not too long ago). S363 Ms. Vogeler-Boutin: What part of “non-refundable” don’t you understand? Apparently the “non” part. Chasmosaur As someone who – once upon a time – did volcano research and field work? She doesn’t deserve a refund. It was a nonrefundable deposit. She knew it was a non refundable deposit. Yes, the resort should have answered her, but I’d like to see the language she used to ask for the refund. Because despite her assertions that she had NO DOUBT she would be there, she obviously did. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have canceled the trip. Traveling to any part of the world where there are active volcanoes (like, say, The Andean Volcanic Belt) is always going to be a crap shoot. $700 is a small price to pay against the geological fraction of a blink of an eye that may have left her stuck in Argentina if the eruption started during her vacation. TonyA_says Didn’t feel comfortable? Looks like the airport there WAS CLOSED for a very long time past the June 5 eruption. She could not have flown to Bariloche last December. Please read the BBC article below. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16587541 A reschedule would have been a good settlement. TonyA_says Sorry but Bariloche airport was officially closed during her planned vacation (last December). Michael__K everything was back to normal —– Really? What gave you that idea? All I had to was Google “Bariloche travel advisory” and look at the very first 2 search results: Nov 7 2011: “That’s not snow, it’s ashes from the Puyehue volcano” http://www.mapplr.com/2011/11/07/travel-advisory-argentina-volcanic-ash-cloud-in-villa-la-angostura-bariloche/ Feb 24 *2012*: “Bariloche and the surrounding area of Argentina continue to be affected by volcanic ash following the eruption of the Puyehue volcano in Chile. We advise anyone in the affected area, or anyone planning to travel to this area, to follow the advice of the local authorities. We recommend that you contact your airline/travel agent for the latest information.” http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/south-america/argentina —– None of this means she is entitled to a refund, but her hotel should have been especially sensitive to responding to the inquiries of paid customers during this time-frame. djp98374 Let me explain to you how volcanos work….once a dormant volcano becomes active there is a level of uncertainty of whether it had died off or not. Yes it erupted in June and the weather caused a dust cloud to close airspace in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil in October for a few days. How do you not know it will happen again in December when she was to travel ??? What if it did happen? What would the hotel policy be then? Some travelers dont like that roll the dice type of trip. You are seeing similar type of reaction in the cruise industry now given the recent sinking in Italy. The pieces I dont know is when she booked relative to the eruption and did she realize how close she was to the Volcano when she booked it. for example did she find some sort of post eruption deal. I agree there is a possibility she wanted to use the volcano as a “get out of jail free card” if for whatever reason she needed to cancel. Like I said— the hotel should either give her a credit or refund if they re-booked the room. She gave them about 5-6 weeks notice on cancelling. djp98374 Some hotel reservation systems are not clear that this is a non-refundable rate. I dont know how she booked this. Did she know it was a nonrefundable rate when she booked it? Even if nonrefundable there are some circumstances a person could cancel it and get credit or refund. the uncertainty of being able to travel there would be one of them. djp98374 Based on geography the city is about 75 miles from the volcano. The 9 hr drive has to do with the roads and having to circle around the mountains. There may be a “National Park” type of road that makes this drive shorter but most driving direction programs think this road is not a border crossing or is not connected on both sides of Chile and Argentina. A close example in the USA would be saying living in Fresno, CA and wanting to get to the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You cant cross the mountain range so you instead have to loop around either north or south. In colorado if you look at hotels say in Ouray the system will pull Telluride hotels. Those may be only a few miles away on the other side of the mountains but its more like an hr drive away. IGoEverywhere I would have allowed my “travel agent” worry about this problem. Oh, you are the travel agent!? TonyA_says I dug up the hotel’s policy and it reveals this – (1) The hotel charges a NON-REFUNDABLE DOWN PAYMENT. Up to five-night stay: one-night down payment. Up to eight-night stay: two-night down payment.Up to fifteen-night stay: three-night down payment. (2) The rest of the hotel fees is subject to a cancellation clause: According to season and proximity of check-in date, the following penalties will be calculated as compensation and indemnification expenses based on the total amount of the agreed stay. Mid/High Season (22/12/11 a 17/03/122() Up to 45 days in advance: no penalty 44 to 15 days before: 40% 14 to 7 days before: 80% Less than 7 days / No Show: 100% (3) Furthermore: Down payments are nonrefundable. In cases whereby there is no cancellation penalty, the down payment will be credited towards future reservations, valid for a year from the cancellation date. If due to private reasons, the guest leaves the Apart Hotel before the agreed period of time, this act will be considered a cancellation to the effects of the above stated policy and the corresponding penalty will be executed. Cancellations – Any and all cancellations due to the absence of direct flights shall not be considered force majeure whenever there is a viable alternative to arrive to our city, and therefore the terms of our Cancellation Policy will be upheld. (Note: I don’t know if this clause was added after the volcano eruption because this is the first time I’ve seen this in a hotel clause.) Therefore, if the OP cancelled 40 days from the date of stay, she would have had to pay 40% of her total bill (for the whole stay); and she would have lost her down payment, too. Anyway, if the hotel is willing to apply the down payment (when there is no cancellation penalty) as credit for future reservations then they might be kind enough to make an exception to those affected by the volcano eruption and give them the same benefit. Incidentally, the hotel is now offering 40% discounts for the season. The last thing they want is bad publicity today. TonyA_says Read on S363, I don’t think the complete details were disclosed correctly on the article. Only the down payment (one night stay I believe) was NON-REFUNDABLE. The rest of $700 or so (minus the down payment) is a PENALTY! emanon256 I added a note to my comment below. My search resulted in quite different articles. TonyA_says The airport (Bariloche) was closed. Her flights were obviously cancelled. No need to check Flightstats if so many news articles said the airport was closed till Feb. 2012 or later. https://me.yahoo.com/a/5eKbZXoptotAyXTBCL8iE7XZ#ae6ff J I read airport was closed for planned renovations and reopened in December. http://es-us.noticias.yahoo.com/abren-ma%C3%B1ana-aeropuerto-bariloche-meses-cierre-002701929.html Even if the airport was closed, if there was an alternative offered by the airline, I don’t see why the hotel should refund a nonrefundable rate. And, as another commenter pointed out, was $700 the entire cost of the stay, or just a deposit? emanon256 “How do you not know it will happen again in December when she was to travel ???” I suppose anything could happen. How do you know her plane wont crash head on into an Embraer with its warning system off like a flight did in Brazil, should she cancel because of that? How do you know her Pilots won’t be drunk? How do you know she won’t get sick and not be able to travel? Canceling a hotel stay because of “what ifs” should not entitle her to a refund of her non-refundable deposit. As was mentioned below, there was alternate transportation and the hotel policy said she could use her deposit for a future stay. In fact, per their policy, she owes them more money, she they didn’t charge her. She chose to cancel, and already got more than she should have. TonyA_says Read on. I posted articles that the Bariloche airport was ACTUALLY closed till Feb 2012. I also explained that her hotel policies. To repeat, the ~$700 is composed of 2 parts: (a) the NON-REFUNDABLE down payment (one night) (b) the 40% penalty charge (based on total stay’s amount) for cancelling the reservation. The RATE itself is NOT Non-Refundable. I wish people here just go to the hotel’s website and read. Philippa_FRA This woman has no one to blame but herself. She could have booked a package deal trip… but instead she decided to play her own travel agent and book transport and accommodation separately. She could have booked a refundable hotel… but didn’t. And she was clearly aware of this, per the article. She could have gotten travel insurance… but didn’t bother, apparently. Oh, and she could have decided not to go to an area with massive volcanic activity… if she was worried about being inconvenienced by volcanic activity. Philippa_FRA Oops. Philippa_FRA Shouldn’t that be Elliott’s job!? TonyA_says @Philippa_FRA:disqus Oh detail, details… They are just for travel pros (those who make a living selling travel) who will need to clean up later. TonyA_says I have no clue how old this person is or what their “bottoms” can withstand. A 9-hour rough bus ride can be insanely painful for some people,especially those with hemorrhoids. Also without knowing the area well, I would not advice it, especially after a volcano eruption. Remember, Mt Pinatubo’s eruption eventually led to the closure of a huge air base of the mighty USA. The ash and subsequent lahar (mud flows) is the real problem. That said, her best option was to be NICE to the hotel and ask for a re-schedule. The airport is now open I believe. We were able to reschedule our whole trip to Tuscany when that Iceland volcano erupted. No fees, nothing. Just ask nicely. gritchie Let me see… the OP cancels a nonrefundable reservation SIX WEEKS ahead of time, and now she wants you to go to war for her? How do you keep your breakfast down, Chris? The chutzpah of people who enlist your assistance never ceases to amaze me. Tell her to take a hike. y_p_w There’s a certainly level of (how should I say it?) unpredictability when making travel plans near volcanoes. Technically, there are multiple active volcanoes on the West Coast, from Mount Rainier down to Lassen Peak. If one were to go off, I could easily imagine serious loss of life, especially Mount Rainier as the Nisqually River floods. They would probably flood ash into the sky, which would ground most jet aircraft (ash will fuse into glass) and would probably be bad for other types of engines. I don’t know if many hotels would cancel non-refundable deposits unless there were an actual evacuation order. SooZeeQ Since when do guests have to sign a contract saying come Hell or high water they will be there? She wants the world to know what the Lirolay did to her and I think she is right in letting us know about this stupid guarantee and to not book anywhere that has this policy. Too many things could keep anyone from going. They should get something back since it was cancelled 40 days from the date of arrival, ash or not. Carchar While I voted that this case should not be mediated, I do like to read about them and am still entertained. So, this reader will not be lost as yet. Joel Wechsler The best way to guarantee a non-response is to threaten a property with public exposure. TonyA_says Exactly. Perhaps a kinder and gentler approach would have worked. TonyA_says I agree. Threatening behavior should never be condoned. We can all deal with problems better without screaming and threats. lorcha I can’t believe you even published this. Vogeler-Boutin withheld information from you, that the reservations were non-refundable, to lure you into getting involved. With so many actual victims out there, I can’t believe you devoted your time and space to this. Seriously, if someone wanted a refund on a non-refundable hotel booking in Washington, DC because of an incident that happened in Toronto, Canada, would you do anything beyond laughing at them? Because, seriously, that’s what we’re talking about here. TonyA_says Well there actually was a contract – the terms and conditions of booking the room. And, Lirolay was legally within its rights to enforce it. The reason people use an Advocate like Chris Elliott is to try to convince the vendor to become more lenient in enforcing the penalty provisions of contracts especially under unforeseen and natural events (like a volcano eruption or airport closure, etc.). This is a good case. Any reasonable person would considering cancelling a vacation under similar conditions. No one is questioning the rights of the hotel. All I am asking for is for the hotel to more considerate of the situation and offer guests who couldn’t or were too afraid to make it a chance to come back later when things calm down. They can keep the money and simply give vouchers. That won’t affect business much since vouchers are only good if rooms are vacant. But the case was poisoned from the get go by the OP’s bad attitude. That makes Chris’ job harder to do. lorcha So if I’m interpreting your research correctly, the hotel followed the agreement correctly, and there is nothing further to discuss here. Is that a correct understanding? TonyA_says There is something further to discuss. Elliott might be able to persuade the hotel to give this woman a voucher for future use. Why wasn’t that option discussed at all? dsliesse While a response certainly should have been provided, I voted no simply because more than 40 days before her stay she has no way of knowing whether the volcanic activity will be risky. It might have been too risky for her comfort level, which is legitimate, but nobody knows that far in advance whether or not there will be volcanic activity to actually have an impact at that time. I’d be much more sympathetic if this were, say, 7 days before. lorcha Fair point. Sounds like she just wants her $700 back though, and did not request that the hotel apply the credit toward a future stay, but maybe she’d accept a credit. Anyway, she rubbed me (and many others) the wrong way with her obnoxious, self-entitled attitude. When the counterparty to your agreement behaves as agreed, it is not “outrageous”, and that “ombudsman” rant was over the top. Doesn’t conjure up a lot of sympathy, does it. TonyA_says I didn’t have much sympathy for her at first. But I am trained to ignore my emotions and just do my job. We get insulted everyday in our profession. Selling Travel is a hard job. You just have to love it and hope you have enough passion to continue. Coming to this site is therapeutic. At least a customer is not shouting at me. TonyA_says I am assuming the OP dealt with the hotel directly. That said, the hotel itself posts standard rates (meaning it is not prepay and therefore refund-ability is not an issue except for the down payment which is NOT refundable.) Chris Elliott did not mention that the OP bought the rooms from an agent or hotel aggregator. If she did, then the Terms and Conditions may be different. I checked the contract rates of an aggregator. It is pre-pay and that 40% is not refundable. If I were Chris, I will make sure the OP showed me the email confirmation of the hotel so it will be clear to me what’s what. wiseword People who say they “. . .could care less. . .” should never be refunded anything, ever! pauletteb Are you somehow affiliated with this property? Your strident defense of it seems a bit over the top. pauletteb How is this a scam? Nonrefundable tickets/hotel rooms are sold at discount rates to people whose primary motivation is the cheapest possible price. Their ignorance of the definition of “nonrefundable” is no one’s fault but their own. TonyA_says In the OPs case prepay or postpay would NOT have mattered. The hotel has a postpay PENALTY clause that makes the cost similar- at least 40% of total cost is gone to the wind unless she calls and talks nicely for a reschedule. NO REFUNDS. PERIOD. TonyA_says I think the 40 days before arrival was made to reference the amount of penalty (or refund IF she prepaid) that was due. Unfortunately 45 days was the cutoff. So she screwed up. She didn’t have to guess what would have happened 40 days from that time. That’s not the issue. finance_tony I’m not traveling to South America soon, but I guarantee that any “bad publicity” from this case is going right off me like water off a duck’s back! ;) gratianus My initial response was that the hotel could be faulted for not responding but that it’s answer should have been, sorry but we can’t refund your deposit,which was non-refundable, because you are anxious about whether volcanic ash will prevent your travel. It seemed reasonable that by December matters would have worked out. HOWEVER, according to Argentinian news, the airport, though it had been scheduled to reopen on 12/20, would not open until March 2012 (http://www.clarin.com/sociedad/Bariloche-estiman-vuelos-marzo_0_605939494.html). And now that date has been rolled ahead to June (http://www.patagoniaskitours.com/bariloche-airport-to-re-open-july-1/). So the somewhat shrill traveler does have a case to make, though I doubt that a full refund should be the answer. Let the hotel shift her reservation. Let the hotel make a partial refund. By signing the no-refund contract, she assumed part of the risk. . TonyA_says Me too since when I saw the hotel I LIKED IT! Heck I might just go there with my wife for our anniversary. Also the price is right. But I’m sure people believe negative reviews in TripAdvisor. The economy is still bad so every customer counts. When I worked for an airline they told me that unhappy customers tell bad things about you to about 45 people. So don’t piss off customers. But that was in the 80’s. TonyA_says She does not have to have a reason to cancel. She just has to cancel ON TIME (at least 45 days before) so she will not get penalized. Please people, read the Terms and Conditions of the hotel. The Volcano is irrelevant to the Cancellation Policy. It is only relevant to her story and what motivated her to cancel. bodega3 TonyA, I am not familiar with this location and I don’t have time to research it as you have. We don’t know where she was flying from for this stay so we don’t know if her flights were canceled or rerouted with ground transportation handled to get passengers to this locale. Cancellations are usually not made more that a few days out. So besides by air, could this location have been reachable another way by the OP had she waited? Where others able to get to this hotel? Was it full for the holiday? As you and I know, just because you cancel due to nervousness doesn’t cover your expenses. If the money she is out matches their cancellation policy, based on what she said in the last part of her letter, I wouldn’t write her back either! Michael__K You mean like: Vogeler-Boutin emailed the hotel, asking it to consider an exception to its policy. ? Maybe Chris can clarify but my reading of the article is that her threats came AFTER the hotel apparently decided to completely ignore the “kinder and gentler approach.” TonyA_says She emailed and asked for a REFUND and not a reschedule. When she did not get a REFUND she started threatening. IMO she should have requested a RE-SCHEDULE when the hotel refused to REFUND or from the get go. The hotels T&C did not require it to give a refund. Please note I use the term REFUND rather loosely since it seems she really meant she wanted NOT TO BE PENALIZED for CANCELLING. Linda136 I think it is a little disappointing that the hotel didn’t (so we are told!) offer an apology, but I’m 100% behind the decision not to refund. The tone of the complaint leads me to wonder how pleasantly she approached the hotel in the first place! I have a no-refund policy for the letting of my chalet, but guests are always advised from the outset that they have the option of an alternative date (subject to availability) if for any reason they can’t travel when they had planned. I struggle to believe that the hotel wouldn’t have been recepetive to a request to change travel dates. TonyA_says I read the whole area’s tourism suffered immensely after the eruption. We travel agents should PUSH this area now since it is not only beautiful and cheap but it is a very unique place in the foothills of the Andes. The only thing the town needed to do is clean up the ash (nothing else broke). I’m thinking of going there now that I know this. As far as the hotel is concerned, the OP missed the 45 day prior NO PENALTY CANCELLATION. That is why she is pissed off. The hotel penalized her 40% of her TOTAL stay. Had she cancelled a few days earlier FOR ANY REASON then there would not have been a problem. Even her one-day down payment could have been used for another later reservation. As far as flights are concerned, the Bariloche airport was closed till Feb 2012 and then further extended. So if she held tickets for December they were easily refunded or cancelled. No mention of it in Chris’ article though. She could have used another airport with long bus ride, but that is really irrelevant since the hotel policy specifically excluded Bariloche airport closure as part of force-majeure. IMO if she had better ADVISE earlier, this would have not escalated to this level. As I said, our own family trip to Tuscany was affected by the Iceland volcano eruption. All hotels okayed our request to re-sked. But we were not stupid enough to cancel and REFUND because the hotels were already hurting. People need to be REASONABLE. This is definitely OP error for not acting earlier and losing her temper. Best she can beg for now is re-sked. Philippa_FRA But the thing is, it really doesn’t matter if the nearest airport was open or not – or if she had to rent a donkey, a camel and a sherpa to get there. She booked the hotel and her flights separately; ergo it’s not the hotel’s problem if there’s an issue with the flights – and vice versa. If you want that kind of protection then you need to buy a flights-and-hotel package deal trip. Or travel insurance. Michael__K If she wanted to re-book, she would have called, and most likely the hotel would have been accommodating. —– If the hotel can’t even acknowledge her written correspondence, then I highly doubt that they would have been accommodating. And if she had “called” to re-schedule, wouldn’t any verbal commitments made to her over the phone be worthless? Why is that when someone gets promised something verbally they get ridiculed for “not getting it in writing”….. but when they try to communicate in writing and are ignored, then they get ridiculed for not picking up the phone and calling? bodega3 No, not necessarily. Travel insurance wouldn’t have helped her based on the date she canceled. She panicked. The carrier would have had to cancel, but then they refund so no insurance would have paid on a refunded ticket. The hotel would then could have refunded but 40 days out, the OP is being unreasonable. Travel insurance wouldn’t pay on her canceling this way, either. The OP, as TonyA showed, missed the cut off date, which was her doing. She agreed to the rules. At 40 days out, there may have been ways to get to the hotel that the OP didn’t want to deal with. Were other guests there or was the place inhabitable? That would be something I would want to know. If nobody else could get there, then the hotel should have refunded it regardless. But we don’t know this and right now, based on the tone and threat of the latter part of the letter, they are saying nothing, which I don’t blame them. Michael__K If the hotel actually communicated its refusal and either made a counter-offer or at least tried to make the case why she shouldn’t cancel her trip, then I’d probably agree with you. The problem here is that (AFAWK) the hotel simply refused to communicate. I beg to differ that we should expect her to (kindly and gently) negotiate with herself at that point. Philippa_FRA Bariloche is a largeish city; it’s not isolated or inaccessible and there are other airports in the region plus roads and rails and normal infrastructure… basically, the OP could easily have gotten there without a donkey/camel/sherpa solution. And the area was also not evacuated during the Puyehue eruption or afterwards – it’s not that close to the volcano. The only real issue was the possibly closed local airport (confirmed, apparently) but IMO that’s on par with ending up at JFK instead of Newark. Sure, it’s an inconvenience but not exactly on an armageddon level. And I don’t like her tone, either! BrianInPVD I was referring to Jesus wandering in the wilderness, given that Lent has just started. TonyA_says For some cultures (not obvious to No. Americans), ignoring you means NO. Over and out. TonyA_says NO WAY! Neuquen to Bariloche is farther that JFK to Boston! http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1172493516 Abigail Rose Wysocki I’m only a yes because they didn’t offer any answer. I don’t think you can get a resolution, but with that much notice, at least they could have assured her that they were far away from the volcano and told her at that time she would not be receiving her money back when she made the cancellation. These natural disaster ones are tough. scapel I voted right again. Whoope She signed a guarantee. What if she got sick and couldn’t make it. Travel insurance would pay if the area she was going to was relatiely uninhabital, but not if it was inhabital. I would have probably gone on the trip. I had a similare episode with the Tsunami in Japan. dthe Insurance com did not want to pay since the cruise line changed the embarkation point. The insurance did eventually pay after an initial refusal. If she didn’t cancel and then could not get there because of the volcano, then they should refund. Michael__K Particularly in this case, it would be extraordinarily cynical and bad form to ignore inquiries from paid customers while visitation is down dramatically and massive new discounts are offered to lure new guests. I would almost begin to wonder if the lack of a reply means that the (remaining) staff was overwhelmed dealing with the situation on the ground. TonyA_says Bodega, here is the link to LAN’s memorandum to TAs http://www.lan-airlines.co.il/CommercialBRCvia%20NQN.pdf LAN added a BUS/LAND segment from NQN to BRC. Refunds were allowed when required by the laws of the countries were the tickets were sold (i.e. USA, Europe, etc.). Was Bariloche or the hotel inhabitable last December? Probably yes but not desirable. Definitely not for those with weakened respiratory systems. IMO any decent hotel should have allowed a re-schedule under these circumstances. REFUNDS are a different story. The OP should have cancelled immediately as soon as the volcano erupted. Had she done it earlier, this problem would not have happened. (I hope she did not book the hotel AFTER the volcano erupted or that would have been crazy.) Bad timing is the bottom line to this case. bodega3 At 40 days out, it isn’t a given that travel insurance would cover this. Did the hotel close because of the volcano? If not, were other guests able to get to it? If the hotel was open, it was habitable. If the carrier was able to redirect the flight and provide ground transporation to the city, it was habitable. These are details we don’t know about and don’t apply because the OP panicked. Yes, a city covered in ash isn’t a place you may want to spend your vacation, but if you decide to cancel, not waiting until the carrier and hotel notify you that you can’t utilize your reservation, then you take your chances on penalties. bodega3 Different stokes when you are rudely attacked as the OP did in that letter. I wouldn’t respond either as she was informed of the cancel penalty. End of story but she had a hissy fit in that letter. TonyA_says Good speculation Mike. That was certainly PEAK season for airfare. Lowest on AA would have been at least ~1650 each. And, that’s if S class was available. Otherwise it costs more. So 5 nights for 2 would be around $4.5-5K for air and hotel only. Is that expensive? DavidYoung2 But she didn’t know that 40 days prior to departure. And if she did know that, please have her contact me. I need the six Powerball numbers that will be drawn 40 days from today…. :-) Philippa_FRA Yeah, but there’s no Manhattan in between ;-) Also, I think Esquel is closer. andrelot There were other airports open, she could have flown there and taken a drive of 6-8h to Bariloche. TonyA_says The airport HAD been closed for a long while since she cancelled in NOVEMBER. Since her first night was 24DEC then 45 days prior should have been 9NOV. So here’s an article on the web that could have changed her mind earlier. Sunday, November 6th, 2011 The Volcano Observatory of the Southern Andes (OVDAS), National Service of Geology and Mining (SERNAGEOMIN) – reports Caulle cord activity in the last 24 hours. The volcanic alert level is red: minor eruption. Eruptive process of low intensity and stable trend. The dangers listed in the current volcanic warning levels are reduced to fine ash falls that can cause some problems in air traffic, depending on the atmospheric circulation and possible lahars side, with the occurrence rainfall and / or melting processes. The main channels that can be affected by lahars are Nilahue northeast rivers and buttresses southeast basin and channels Gol Gol National Park Puyehue. Nearly five months of activity has covered the high plains of Argentina in gray ash. High winds can lift this ash back into the air, occasionally disrupting air travel in Argentina and Uruguay. The usually chilly river temperature of six degrees has been raised to an average of around 45 degrees by the eruption. The eruption also forced the evacuation of 3,500 people from around the site, while a ten kilometre exclusion zone was also set up. Flights have been canceled, and at least 7 regional airports closed. She cancelled 40 days prior, or on 14 NOV, 5 days late. So yes, you don’t need to be clairevoyant. You just have to know you had to cancel 45 days before your stay to AVOID penalty fees. Operator FAIL here. TonyA_says But she didn’t want to. That is tantamount to INVOL REROUTE. Look below at my post to Bodega. I have a link to the airline memo that allowed cancellations with refunds. Also she was not the only tourist that CANCELLED going to that area. Many, many others did and devastated tourism in the area. So a lot of tourists refused to take the 9 hour bus ride from Nuequen to Bariloche. TonyA_says Try to route a flight from the USA to Esquel. Good luck finding one. The re-route was AEP-NQN-BRC where the NQN-BRC is over land (on a bus). I posted the LAN memo. TonyA_says The OP probably never read and understood the hotel cancellation penalties. It’s like buying a gadget and throwing away the manual and read me first pamphlet immediately without reading. You know it’s suppose to be idiot proof; but it ain’t. emanon256 How do we know they didn’t acknowledge her? What if she just didn’t like the response she got? The fact that she made threats and contacted Chris over wanting a refund of a non-refundable deposit already makes me doubt her. A few times I have had to re-book a hotel, where it was after the cancelation deadline. Each time I have called, asked nicely, and have never had a problem. I always have them e-mail me a confirmation of the change. In this case, the OP simply canceled and did it by e-mail. In some cases a phone call is warranted, and can be followed up with writing. I don’t get why you feel the need to bash this property for following its own policy. emanon256 Perhaps they don’t want her as a customer. I sure wouldn’t after that threat. I’ve mentioned on here before, I used to supervise a customer service center. We had an occasional e-mail where it was simply in our best interest to not reply to the customer. If someone is unreasonable, and it is clear they are just a complainer and will probably never even be a future customer, it is not always necessary to dignify them with a reply, it only adds fuel to the fire. Just like she can take her business elsewhere, sometimes business need to fire their customers. Lindabator She made the decision to cancel out of fear, not necessity. It is NOT a requirement that the hotel refund her when the travel was over a MONTH later! Seems like she was just using this as an excuse to cancel. Lindabator Sounds like she cancelled BEFORE contacting them – not a smart move, as she incurs any penalties in that case. What she should have done is contact them first – she had PLENTY of time! Lindabator But she still purchased a nonrefundable and cancelled BEFORE asking for a refund or other arrangements. This was due to fear, and she failed to use common sense. Nonrefundable bookings are a debt assumed by the traveller, and if she wanted a refdund or something else, she should have asked for that BEFORE cancelling – she DID have plenty of time! Lindabator ONLY if that is part of the contract – not just because you ASSUME it – and she should have ASKED for a refund or accommodation BEFORE cancelling – once a nonrefundable is cancelled, you have no recourse to ask for anything! And she did have plenty of time to negotiate. Lindabator That is a good point – and again, folks – always negotiate BEFORE cancelling – BEFORE penalties are incurred. Lindabator Yes, I think she could have gotten some relief by ASKING before cancelling. Most companies are more flexible than some believe – especially in cases like this. Lindabator She had 6 weeks – she could have emailed a request – but instead she cancelled, and THEN goes back to them for something – they are probably far less interested after the fact – but would likely work with her beforehand. Lindabator We get insulted everyday in our profession – Tony, truer words were never spoken. And as someone who goes to bat for a client, I learned a long time ago you are NOT entitled just ’cause, and the nicer you are, the farther you get – perhaps she might want to consider that in the future! Lindabator Then don’t choose the hotel in the first place. BUT – if you did, do NOT expect them to have to void the contract because YOU feel entitled to a refund! Lindabator Absolutely – and if she claimed any legal action, they would NOT respond at all – so who knows just how nasty she got??? Lindabator You are only ASSUMING, based on HER word, that she was kind in the letter, and that it was even sent to the correct area. How did she cancel? That was where she should have started – asking for options BEFORE cancelling. Not going back to them afterwards, and expecting a refund she was not entitled to. Michael__K Chronology fail. Are you suggesting they didn’t respond because they knew she would be rude LATER? Edit: Maybe it’s me but one of us is misinterpreting the sequence described by Chris Michael__K she could have emailed a request —– You mean like this: ?? Vogeler-Boutin emailed the hotel, asking it to consider an exception to its policy. Are you questioning Chris now? TonyA_says Yes definitely her fault for not cancelling ON TIME. She had plenty of time after 5JUN eruption to do this. Michael__K How do we know they didn’t acknowledge her? —— Because Chris says so: Vogeler-Boutin emailed the hotel, asking it to consider an exception to its policy. She sent me the correspondence…. [The property]… did not acknowledge her request for a refund. Michael__K You mean you can read her mind and you determined that the airport closure and 6 to 9 hour bus ride had nothing to do it? And are you suggesting that if she waited to the last minute to make 100% certain that the airport was really still closed (as it was) that you would have supported her request to cancel and get a refund at that point? Are you suggesting that the fact that the standard cancellation penalty climbs from 40% to 100% as time passes should have had no bearing on her decision? Michael__K For someone who is suggesting we shouldn’t make any assumptions about her email, you’re making lots of assumptions about what was and wasn’t in her email (some of which are even contradicted by the article). FYI, we don’t have anyone’s word about whether or not the email was “kind.” FirstClassRogue I did sign a guarantee that I would be coming. She said she would be there, she could have traveled another way. end of story. emanon256 Because she told Chris. Its just hear-say. Michael__K Makes no sense. No motive and the hotel could easily show otherwise. I don’t get why you feel the need to assume wild hypotheticals to bash the OP: * “i think she just wanted to cancel and was looking for a good excuse” * “if… she would have called… most likely the hotel would have been accommodating.” * “she told Chris. Its just hear-say.” When I merely shoot down your hypotheticals, you seem to think I’m bashing the hotel (I’m not, I just think she deserved a response). TonyA_says If you read the article carefully it never told us that she could have avoided all of this nightmare had she contacted the hotel 5 DAYS EARLIER. Th OP made a mistake and now she wants REVENGE on the hotel. The hotel has NO OBLIGATION to refund or return the PENALTY Charges. The hotel can legally choose to IGNORE the OP, too. Who wouldn’t if they are being threatened? Therefore I agree with you. Your points are REASONABLE. Ask nicely and you might get something. Well said. TonyA_says Mike, the OP probably didn’t read the cancellation policy EARLIER. IMO (given the fact the airport had already been closed), she could have made the decision much earlier. There are actually websites out there that show the Puyehue Plume on a day to day basis. FYI that volcano has never stopped spewing ash since 5JUN. I have no idea why she waited that long to change her mind. IMO any reasonable person would have cancelled or rescheduled (for a long time later) their vacation to Bariloche if they see the animated map below. http://puff.images.alaska.edu/watch/movies/Puyehue/movie20000.shtml Michael__K Too much stuff we don’t know, such as when she learned she could cancel her flights w/o penalty because of the airport closure. I’m amused that there are Monday Morning QB’s / experts here who (apparently continue to) think that she was jumping the gun by cancelling 40 days prior (or just looking for a convenient excuse) at the same time that you are pointing out that “any reasonable person” should have cancelled even earlier. [I really appreciate your research on this case BTW. Without it we’d probably still have our heads in the sand arguing from incorrect assumptions] TonyA_says Thanks for the kind words Michael. Here’s the way I internalized this case. I try to put myself in her shoes. What would I have done if I was in her position (given the limited information posted here). First I would have read the cancellation policy so I know where I stood. Then, I will make a judgment call if the vacation was still worth having. Bariloche airport closure and the 9 hour bus ride (airline re-route) from Neuquen was well known at that time. The continues spewing of dust by volcano was also well known (it still is spewing today). So no need for Monday Morning QBs. There was enough there to make me say NO WAY to continue with this trip even before November. If I can get out w/o penalty I will. In this case it must be done at least 45 days before the first day of stay. If I don’t have 45 days, and knowing I will be penalized 40%, I would have asked for a voucher (reschedule) good for a year. I would not have just cancelled knowing it was already too late to do that without a huge penalty. Mike, as I said, we went through a similar situation when that Iceland Volcano erupted. We rescheduled our trip 6 months later. The hotels and rented private transportation companies all acceded to our request. This (volcano eruptions or natural disasters) is normal for the travel industry. You just have to ask nicely and never threaten anyone. So next time, it’s all please and thank you. Bill Armstrong It was non refundable. She already knows that. She asked them to make an exception, they should have replied, but then again, she knows it is non refundable. Sadie_Cee We know when the OP cancelled, but as you said, we need to know the date she actually made the bookings. Is there any chance that the hotel would be able to rebook the room? Sadie_Cee Disinterested professionals, I hope. Sadie_Cee Would you believe that your response made me laugh for the very first time today? I just couldn’t help myself. Thanks!