His SeaWorld vacation is sunk — where’s his refund?

This vacation is doomed - where's my money? / Photo by Gandalf Grey - Flickr
If you want to save a little money on your next SeaWorld vacation, booking it all in the same place might be a good move. That’s what Jim Strasbaugh thought when he found a two-day package at SeaWorld Orlando through SeaWorld Vacations.

He was wrong.

It took a personal tragedy to find out about some of the restrictive terms and conditions on his package that made it not such a good deal.

“After spending the first half day in the park we returned to the hotel, only to find that there was a death in the family that day,” he says. “Needless to say we had to cut our vacation short. The hotel was very accommodating and checked us out in the morning to show that we only used one of our two night stay.”

Kudos to the DoubleTree on I-Drive for helping Strasbaugh in his time of need, by the way.

But then things came unraveled. There was still the matter of the unused all-day dining, the tickets, two premium “adventures” and the actual hotel refund, which would be up to SeaWorld Vacations, not the DoubleTree, to refund. I’ll let Strasbaugh explain what happened next.

At first they were very accommodating, refunding the additional monies we had paid for the premium adventures and said to get confirmation from the hotel that we had checked out. We said that would not be a problem and we would like to continue our stay at a later date and we would be happy to be issued vouchers for the unused portion of our vacation or refund what ever was easier for them.

They said they would most likely just refund the hotel but the additional day in the park as well as the all day dining would be lost. They stated that the additional day in the park had to be used with in the week and the all-day dining would not be honored.

After speaking to a supervisor, we were later issued a voucher for the additional day to be used within a year.

Bear in mind that package deals are highly restrictive, and even if you buy these items a la carte, they still can’t be used any which way.

Five days later, after not hearing from SeaWorld Vacations about the hotel refund I called them.

The vacation specialist knew nothing of the request for hotel voucher or refund. She wrote an email to the hotel department for follow up.

The hotel department did call back one week after our vacation ended and said since no voucher could be issued for hotel stay we would receive a refund for the second night of the hotel.

By this time, Stasbaugh had become frustrated. All of the same people who, after he had to cancel his vacation under dreadful circumstances — circumstances that were beyond his control — seemed to be turning their back on him.

He called SeaWorld Vacations to demand an immediate refund, but it refused. When he mentioned contacting a lawyer and a consumer advocate, he says a representative hung up on him.

I’m sure that according to the rules, SeaWorld is correct — he forfeited the rest of his vacation when he flew home.

Some of you might be thinking that he should have bought travel insurance. I’m not sure if that would have covered him. It depends who died and under what circumstances. For example, if it’s a distant cousin who suffered from a mental disorder, then he might have some trouble with a claim. Many policies exclude pre-existing medical conditions and also mental illnesses. What’s more, they only cover deaths of close family members or business partners.

I asked Strasbaugh to start a paper trail. Here’s SeaWorld’s final “no.”

After reviewing this situation again, I am sorry to say that I am unable to honor your request and refund you another portion of your Vacation Package. The All Day Dining Deal is a promotional component in the package you purchased, and I am happy to offer you park admission at SeaWorld, per my previous email. Also, I would like to confirm that a refund of $84.38 has been processed yesterday on your behalf, for one night you did not spend at the hotel.

So SeaWorld finally pulled through with the promised room-night refund, but said “no” to the rest. That’s a bittersweet resolution, and not what Strasbaugh was hoping for.

“It really upsets me that I really am not asking them for anything more than to be allowed to finish the little vacation that we started,” he says. “They are very much taking the stance that they are doing us favor by even doing what they have done.”

Actually, knowing what I do about the other vacation components, I think SeaWorld Vacations has gone above and beyond what it was required to. Could it have done more? Sure. Did it have to? No.

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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  • Lindabator

    Actually, Seabourn went above and beyond for them – not only did they pay the change fees on the airfare to get them back home, they refunded the cruise portion not used.  VERY good of them.  Sad thing is, they offered her a chance to make up the drill, and she STILL refused to do so.  Can’t really blame the cruise line on that one – did NO ONE hear of the Concordia?  :)

  • TonyA_says

    He may have been checked out early by the Double Tree (Hilton) but NOT by the Tour Operator, Seaworld Vacations. It takes time for credits to make their way through a maze, especially IF the package itself is non-refundable. Also, what is the value of the hotel room if one buys a whole package? Is it what DoubleTree charges Seaworld? How many bean counters had to get involved to compute the cost of one night stay? The amount of time Seaworld spent on this case was probably worth more than the 85 bucks they refunded him. I wonder why they even allowed him a refund to part of a package.

  • Michael__K

    1) What evidence do we have that the OP wasn’t in fact entitled to (at least) a hotel refund?

    Everyone is asserting that he bought a “Non-Refundable Package” but when I click on the link in Chris’ article and try to create a package, I get all the way to the Payment / Complete Checkout screen and I can’t find anything in the Terms & Conditions or the FAQ’s that addresses the question of refundability or changes.   (For the free dining with admission — if he chose that option — it does say that the free dining is available for a “limited time only”).

    [There is non-refundability language for *park admission tickets* for San Diego and San Antonio, but I can’t find even that language for Orlando].

    2) Is it unreasonable to expect that if an agent tells you that you can expect a hotel refund — subject to their confirming your check out date with the hotel — that someone will actually follow-up accordingly?  And that you won’t be told 5 days later that there is no record of this? And how does waiting longer help solve this problem?

  • Raven_Altosk

    Another moment of people being stupid. Gah! I really don’t think they deserved any sort of refund.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Agreed.
    I am dying to know the rest of the story here.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I read several sources and am enjoying the comments on msnbc.msn.com 

    When you publish your story, I guarantee you will have lots and lots of traffic and/or comments to the site. 

    I already know how I’m voting.  Question:  Hunger Games Contestant – Yes or No?   

    Bwah ha ha ha ha!!

  • TonyA_says

    Elliott said it was non-refundable. Did I read that incorrectly?
    Both calls #1 and #2, according to the OP, confirms that SeaWorld agents were going to give him a refund. Then he threatens to lawyer up. Guess we will never know how long it will take till his lawyer sends a letter. If you want it the hard way, you’ll get it. Don’t ever threaten someone you are REQUESTING something from. I have ZERO sympathy for anyone who acts this way. So I can’t answer your question in a better way.

  • Michael__K

    If credits were making their way through a maze during the first 5 days, wouldn’t you expect there to be some record of that?  (And perhaps a heads-up to the OP as to how long to expect the process to take?)

  • Michael__K

    Where does Chris say it was “non-refundable”?  The words “refundable” or “non-refundable” appear nowhere in the article.  “Restrictive” does not necessarily mean “100% Non-Refundable and Non-Changeable”

    Does anyone care what the actual terms were (if any relevant terms were even published and accessible before purchase in this case)?

    I’m not defending the wisdom of the OP threatening to lawyer up.  Does that automatically negate any shoddy customer service that occurred prior to that?

  • TonyA_says

    You are assuming every CSR knows where to find that information in the system. It might have helped if he got the names and employee #s of the people (including sup) he talked to so he can call them back. Do you expect everyone in the call center to know your one-day (~$85) refund request winding itself through the system? Just because the CSR didn’t know does not mean nothing is happening. Why threaten a lowly CSR? Who the hell does he think he is? How about waiting longer or asking how much longer he needs to wait to check again? You know this kind of people might make for good stories here but in real life, nobody gives a crap about them. No wonder the CSR hung up on him.

  • TonyA_says

    I’m sure that according to the rules, SeaWorld is correct — he forfeited the rest of his vacation when he flew home.

    Actually the actual terms has become quite irrelevant since Seaworld CS already told him he would get a REFUND OF ONE NIGHT STAY during both calls #1 and #2. They never told him WHEN that would hit his credit card (or when we would actually get it). The issue was WHEN not IF.

    If he thinks threatening would make them move faster, then that is his call. I completely disagree with your statement that Seaworld had shoddy customer service. They offered him a refund on the the first SUP call. (Note: the SUP does not sign checks.) Try getting a refund for travel services elsewhere and see how “easy” it is :-)

  • TonyA_says

     Maybe he wanted [immediate] drive through service :)

  • TonyA_says

    If I were him, I would be cranky, too. Maybe the 3 year old wanted to seat in First Class with the Mom.

  • Michael__K

    The issue was WHEN not IF

    I’m willing to bet that it would have been never if he didn’t follow-up after the first call.

  • TonyA_says

    No Win for a 1st class cruise ship – Seabourne. I read the old (90 and 84) couple were  on the second leg of a three-leg (back-to-back-to-back) cruise It must have been very painful to kick out an old couple.

    Linda, I look at it another way. What if real old people don’t care to be rescued and would like to risk going down with the ship? Maybe as long as they were together, they didn’t care. Has anyone considered that folks live much longer now and that things we ask younger people to do, do not fit them?

    The fact that they sailed after Concordia (or Azamara Quest) probably meant they could care less about accidents. Thousands of New Yorkers take the Staten Island and NJ ferries daily. Don’t know if anyone cares about having a drill.

    Maybe I’m just crazy. But I think we need to give real old people what they wish for if they are not hurting anyone else.

  • Michelle C

    I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with any refund.  I agree that he cancelled his vacation under dreadful circumstances, but it wasn’t “out of his control”.   He chose to stop his vacation- so I don’t think it is to right to write it like he didn’t have an option.  He made the conscious decision not to continue with his trip.  To me it down plays when airlines, hotels, and other travel business really do cancel for whatever reason beyond the control of the travelers.

  • Michael__K

    If CSR #2 didn’t know where to look, I would expect them to get help or at least be transparent about it.

    What’s most likely is that CSR #1 completely dropped the ball, and CSR #2 (who actually emailed  the hotel) picked  up the pieces.

    Mentioning contacting a lawyer (to CSR #4) might be foolish and might cause you to dislike the OP, but I wouldn’t construe that as a personal threat to the CSR.

  • bodega3

    Tony have you tried to find the cancellation policy at the SeaWorld site that Chris posted?  I did and I can’t find them.  I got to a point where I went through the booking process and still no rules showed up.  I refuse to provide an email contact to go further to find what SHOULD be accessible on the first page, be it by a click to a link. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I agree with you. Not about the OPs situation, but it is very prevalent on travel boards an attitude of “tough luck”

  • bodega3

    How do you handle people who sign up to use your services then tell you they want to pay you less after you did work for them?

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hmmm. If it was a plane ticket, we wouldn’t except the airline to give him a voucher for another flight. That being said, I’m starting to come around. SeaWorld could probably easily have let him re-do Day 2. I think it all depends on who died as well. Extremely close family member? Re-do. Cousin twice removed? Sorry.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Loves it!

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I think that’s a slippery slope. Now old people don’t have to wear seat belts?  It’s a bad precedent to allow certain people to be excluded because that opens the floodgates for everyone. We’d be asking cabin attendants checking cabins during the drill to make an assessment of a passenger’s will to live? LOL… Since they were on multiple cruises, just thought they couldn’t be bothered. So wrong!

  • judyserienagy

    Is SeaWorld Vacations part of the SeaWorld Corporation?  If so, they’re just dumb to not give this guy vouchers for everything he missed.  It’s a very reasonable request and makes them look good.  If the vacation company is a separate entity, then he’s probably out of luck, they have no customer service  image to worry about.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh really? Why do you think the CSR hung up on him if he is talking nice?

  • TonyA_says

    Yes, I tell all my customers that this is a TOUGH marketplace and I am here to help them make LESS MISTAKES because mistakes are very expensive in this industry. America should be used to it since we had the wild, wild West.

  • TonyA_says

    I can’t find it. too. But I relied on Elliott’s findings. Nevertheless, since the first call, Shamu already said the refund will be given. So I don’t think the refund-ability is the issue. The problem is the OP did not get it quick enough (for his standards).

    IMO the OP simply does not understand how a tour operator and hotel/property contract works. Unlike an agency property where the hotel bills the guest (and credits can easily be given in near real time), in the tour operator scenario, the hotel is not the one giving the guest the credit.

    I kinda pity the CSRs. While they can INITIATE the refund requests, they are not REVENUE ACCT and cannot approve a check or credit card credit. They are very much like Travel Agents who act on behalf of airlines. TAs can initiate the transactions (and perhaps follow up). But TAs cannot promise dates or outcomes.
    Yes it need follow up to get your money but you cannot lose your cool.

    Bodega, I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. I am sure you are also sick and tired of impatient customers. Most of what I am saying here is for the general public to understand that most customer service people have limited power so don’t beat them up or threaten them.

  • TonyA_says

    YES follow up is often necessary. That’s normal for this industry. But threatening to sue will get one nowhere.

  • TonyA_says

     They are slow not dumb.

  • Michael__K

    You can proceed with a bogus email address.

    And I reached the final checkout / payment screen, and I STILL couldn’t find any relevant rules.

  • Michael__K

    @TonyA_says:disqus  -

    Oh really? Why do you think the CSR hung up on him if he is talking nice?

    I obviously wasn’t there, but that doesn’t reflect well on either the OP or the CSR.

  • bodega3

    Thanks. I wasn’t willing to take it that far.  This would be a concern for me and why would anyone book without knowing the rules of cancellation?

  • RafelWarner12

    Such a nice and awesome information shared here and it’s a helpful to us to go for vacation here..
    India Tours
    Thanks

  • TonyA_says

    True. But let me explain why I think there was a problem (based on my on customer service experience working for Fedex for almost a decade.)

     I have never heard of a Fedex CSR hung up on a customer call. They are ALL professionals and well paid folks. When my wife joined Fedex in the early 80’s, she took that job right after graduating from her MBA (Thunderbird in Arizona). One of her team mates (an Air Force pilot) joined as a CSR because he wanted to be a FedEx 727 pilot (he did after about 2 years). Fedex had a promotion from within policy so you could bid for other jobs after you got in. In other words, back then they were entry jobs and not dead end jobs. Everyone in the company was trained to talk to, deal with and help customers. With the kind of pay and fair treatment we got, we were glad to.

    This may or may not be the same call center environment that we have today (for airlines and travel companies). However, whenever I call Southwest, Delta, American Airlines, American Express or AT&T, I always get a professional on the phone. I don’t get a feeling I am talking to an outsourced person. I have no clue how Shamu’s call center is organized.

    Now here is the second important point. At Fedex if the customer had a money issue, the customer service initiates the request but transfers  the call to foward-facing Revenue Accounting customer service folks. These REV ACTG CSRs are AUTHORIZED to give refunds over the phone and solve problems IMMEDIATELY. Think about the case of this OP. If Shamu was not ready to deal with partially used vacation plans and packages then be ready to expect irate customers. The CSR can always initiate a request but they usually do not have the power to RESOLVE A PROBLEM since they cannot give a credit. If the company does not have a PROCESS setup to solve the problem in the first call, then you have a follow up problem. Good companies have a Do-It-Right-The-First-Time policy because it protects the REPUTATION of the company. Very few travel companies do it right the first time. They fail to understand how to make it easy for customers to COME BACK AND SPEND MORE. I am very thankful to Fedex for teaching me what that means. I have used it for my own business.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Found some of the Dad’s (nearly unreadable) justification for his kid’s behavior on this site. 

    http://www.airlinecomplaints.org/showthread.php?p=25623#post25623

    I really hope he comes here…

  • TonyA_says

    @Raven_Altosk:disqus  Thanks for the link. Boy, what a story.
    I say he should be kicked out of the flight for using the word “STEWARDESS” too many times. Where the hell is this person from? Doesn’t he know we call them FLIGHT ATTENDANTS?

  • Michael__K

    I agree. Some people might interpret the lack of posted restrictions to mean that those don’t exist.

    I’m curious if any of the resident lawyers have thoughts on this: are rules that were never visible / accessible to a customer enforceable? 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LKHWSI5H6XYINENJT6DJ2UX7E4 Wrona

    You mean the in 3 years we are going to have competition so we’re going to fire 1300 people now as a result moment?

  • IGoEverywhere

    Do it yoursefl and lose! Any decent travel agent can book that vacation, is obligated to explain cancellation penalties, and then suggest insurance. I guarantee that Strsbaugh did not read one word of the small print that he got with his confirmation. Emergencies happen every second of every day and I feel sorry that it happened during his family vacation, but he booked it, he assumed the liabilities of the cancellation, and he lost far far more than insurance would have cost. Find a travel agent.

  • cjr001

    I guess I give him some credit for at least trying to calm the kid down and everything. Far too often the parent(s) simply don’t bother.

    But swapping with the mother or grandmother should’ve probably been tried pretty early on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Kopper/1081577657 Scott Kopper

    Hotel and admission is plenty of refund.  He got more than enough.  Sea World should be the one complaining.

  • Paci ficdreams

    I feel strongly learning the topic, however I need to learn more on this topic. Carry on your updates..!!

    Pacific Dreams

  • neeneej6

    No matter who died, the fact remains that this nice family felt compelled to honor it by forfeiting the rest of their vacation. They obviously lost their airfare and now for a big company like Sea World to slap them in the face is beyond my comprehension. I live in Orlando and often go to Sea World and I am ashamed of that organization over this!

  • neeneej6

    He’s merely asking for what he fairly paid for. Nothing is ever free; you can bet there was some fee involved in the all-day dining “promotion” for sure. And dining there is not cheap by any means; they charge more for all food items than even Disney! I think Sea World was mighty unfair all the way around and I am ashamed of them.

  • Lindabator

    they covered all but the FREE dining they offered on this promo – YES, FREE!  To expect more is just another gimme pig! 

  • Lindabator

    But their families would be the first in line to sue!  Same coverages, same rules for all.  Sorry!