Is this enough compensation? A voucher for a “completely forgettable” honeymoon

We’ve had plenty of “honeymoon from hell” stories on this site, and they never get old. So let’s hear from Ben Barnhart, who just returned from his post-nuptial vacation at the Riu Guanacaste in Costa Rica.

Just to set your expectations, the Riu describes itself as a “five star” property with “a superb range of leisure possibilities, the hotel offers five modern, fully-equipped conference rooms, and fine restaurants.”

It look like a nice place for a honeymoon. That’s exactly what Barnhart thought when he booked it through his travel agent and Funjet Vacations.

It wasn’t.

When the honeymooners checked in, they found out that the Riu was the “exact opposite” of what they’d been told, and in so many ways.

“I have stayed in a lot of hotel rooms and would compare the rooms to those of a Best Western or Red Roof Inn,” he says. “Which is to say about two-star quality, at best. The rooms were dingy and old, with cracked paint and mold in the showers.”

The couple had been promised an ocean-view room. But they could only see a sliver of ocean from their room.

Then things took a turn for the worse.

I pulled back the sheets to reveal that our pillows had little curly hairs on them, so I called the front desk and they promptly sent a maid up to our room. She was a manager of the maids and she looked at the sheets and brushed off the hairs, she was just going to remake the bed.

I had to tell her to replace the sheets and she was not going to replace the comforter. I had to tell her to promptly change the comforter.

The sheets and comforter have definitely been there since the hotel opened.

Could it get any worse? Yes.

The couple asked for a different room, but encountered the same problems. The ocean view? Blocked by a large palm tree. The bedspreads? Stained. And now they had to deal with a noisy fan and a refrigerator that hummed so loudly that they had to unplug it at night.

Barnhart and his new wife began to understand that this was “how the hotel was” so asking to move to a different room didn’t make any sense.

There seemed to be no way out of this “all inclusive” nightmare.

The one restaurant we ate at each day (because we had to) was terrible to say the best. The food was bland and overcooked. Nothing had flavor. It was cheap, low-grade food.

Snacks, which were not all-inclusive, cost ridiculous prices. We bought a small bag of cashews and a small can of Pringles for $25. A hat at the souvenir shop cost $30. Luckily I did not buy it, because on one of our excursions the exact same hat cost $7 on the beach.

The remoteness of the hotel left you with little to do. Yes they have a casino and a dance club, but those are more like the size of a room. If we were not on an excursion we were stuck with nothing to do.

You get the idea. It was, according to this honeymooner “a completely forgettable trip” and he wants every penny of his $2,000 back. So he asked for a refund.

Not possible, said his travel agent. How about a voucher for the amount of the trip? Also not possible, he was told.

Finally, Riu agreed to offer a three-night voucher at another Riu resort.

“This is far from what we asked for as we had such a bad experience with the resort we do not want to ever stay in another Riu resort ever again,” his wife, Shannon, told me.

No doubt, the Barnhards had a bad honeymoon — a very bad honeymoon.

Is Riu’s offer adequate?

(Photo: aemi nphilly/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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  • Don Brown

    I had same experience in Honolulu with Aston chain .. same experience and same offer of compensation .. “if you didn’t like that hotel experience let us offer you another bad experience!!”

  • Anna

    I agree. This sounds very much like a case of too high expectations, too little investigation. The question is whether to blame it on the travel agent or the unhappy happy couple?

  • LeeAnneClark

    And they have them most nights.  The hotel has everything in their brochure – just on a smaller scale than other, larger, more U.S.-centric resorts.  The casino was open every night – the couple just didn’t like it.  The disco was open every night – they just didn’t like it.  It sounds exactly like several of the AI resorts in Costa Rica I’ve stayed at.

    I’m not sure what they were expecting in terms of activities.  Unless they just wanted to hang at the pool all day, watch a brief (usually all in Spanish) show at night, and then go hang in a casino…what did they want to do there?

    When I’m at a resort in Costa Rica, I go on excursions most days (because that’s what Costa Rica is best for), then go back to the hotel, eat dinner, watch the show if I still have energy, have a drink or two with my beloved, then go to bed and get up early the next morning for another exciting excursion.  The possibilities for adventure are endless – but you won’t find them at a hotel.

  • Anna

    Google “I went to Costa Rica and it sucked” vs “I went to Costa Rica and it rocked” and see what you get. 

  • LeeAnneClark

    Methinks “Guest” is the couple themselves – or a friend of!  LOL!  This “Guest” is among the few people posting on the side of the couple.

    When I research a property, the FIRST thing I look at are all the bad and average reviews.  That’s where you’ll find the truth about the place.  If you read the reviews with a discriminating eye, you can tell which ones are just precious princesses expecting perfection (a la this honeymooning couple) vs. reasonable, rational travelers with valid opinions and reasonable complaints.

    The “average” reviews are where you will find the most truth.  The “terrible” ones are often overwrought and dramatic and based on absurd expectations.  The average ones will usually  include a good balance of what was good about the property, and what was not-so-good. 

    All the information about this property (minus the unchanged sheets!) is there to be read among the many average-to-bad reviews on TripAdvisor.  Also, there are massive amounts of information to be found either on the web, or in travel guide books, about what resorts are like in Costa Rica.  I personally never go on any vacation without doing my own research, and getting a feel for the place first, so I’ll know what to expect.

    And while I do cast some blame on the travel agent, I would never in a bazillion years leave any important trip, least of all my HONEYMOON, up to the judgement of a stranger – especially one who makes money on commission.  I would listen to what they said, then do my own research and make my own decision.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I think the blame is shared.  The travel agent didn’t do her job…but then, I NEVER leave my vacation decisions entirely up to the judgement of a paid salesperson who is making a commission off me.  I take input from the agent, then do my own research.

  • DavidS

    I would love to hear from the Travel Agent. Specifically I would like to know why they sold a cheap Costa Rica package to someone on their honeymoon rather than a more expensive, tested, tried and true Honeymoon destination like Hawaii, Tahiti, Jamaica or even a cruise. They would have made a higher commision!

    Did the traveler balk at other options? Was he/she looking for a “deal”?  

  • Rose

    That high a percentage of very negative reviews would be a big red flag for me. Just glancing at them shows that a lot of people are unhappy with the food, which is a big issue for an all-inclusive resort.

  • guest

    Sorry but I’m NOT the couple in question nor a friend of them and I post here all the time, most usually under the name my log in automatically gives me, “guest”.  I just don’t see where this couple, who are likely not well traveled were supposed to do all this research and get all this information PRIOR to going on their honeymoon.  Lots of people who post on this site are well traveled and I think many times people forget what it’s like to NOT be well traveled.  To be a bit clueless and trusting of a travel agent and a site like TripAdvisor to help them out because it’s that what they are there for? 

    I don’t know jack about cars so when my car breaks I go to a mechanic.  Now if one shop gives me a super high price I might get a second opinion but I’m sure if I posted on a car site all the car gurus and mechanics would have a laugh at how I got screwed and how I should have known to do this and check that and read between the lines here.  But as someone who doesn’t know anything about cars how am I supposed to know to do all this? 

  • Allison

    Wanted to point out that although there are a lot of positive reviews on TripAdvisor, even some of the 4 star reviews point out some negatives like the lack of quality beverages, bland food, hard beds, smelly bathrooms, etc.  Some people will have problems but still rate the property rather high for whatever reason.  I read the first 30 or so reviews and more than half (closer to 3/4) pointed out problems that would cause me to pause.  That’s not such a good sign.

    I do think the debate about the effectiveness/efficacy of travel agents merits some discussion.  Do they read consumer review sites? Do they get special incentives to push certain properties?  If I was a travel agent advising a honeymooning couple, it wouldn’t take more than ten minutes to find some important detractions on this property–things I would want to discuss with the couple.  Sounds like none of this happened.

  • Anna

    Your point is valid, but the OP suggests at least the male half of the unhappy happy couple is not a complete travelling novice: He has “stayed in a lot of hotel rooms” and he “would compare the rooms to
    those of a Best Western or Red Roof Inn”. He may not have been to Costa Rica before, but if he frequently stays in hotels… is this really the first time he’s noticed a slight discrepancy between the brochure and reality!?

  • LeeAnneClark

    I agree with Anna – valid point, but as someone who has stayed in that many hotels, he should not be quite so clueless.  I also think it doesn’t take a veteran traveler to know not to hand over one of the most important vacations in your life to a salesperson on commission.  That’s just common sense.

    Making a vacation destination choice is a very important decision.  Add the honeymoon aspect, and that doubles the importance.  I know there are infrequent travelers out there for whom this all seems very challenging, but with the internet today, it’s really not that hard to find out what you need to find out to make an educated decision.

    As I said in earlier comments, I do put some of the blame on the travel agent, who did not do her job well – and I feel she should be refunding a large chunk of her commission to the couple.  But people need to assume responsibility for themselves as well, and not expect everyone else (especially commission-based salespeople) to take care of them.

    To use your car analogy – would you go to a car dealership and buy a car based solely on what the salesperson says?  Or would you visit the dealership, listen to what the salesperson says, then go home and do some research of your own, comparing features, reading reviews and making your final decision based on education, rather than trust?

  • LeeAnneClark

    That is exactly what TripAdvisor is best for.  You can’t look at the numbers – you have to drill down and read.  I recently made a decision to stay at an all-inclusive in Cozumel based on a detailed reading of dozens of reviews.  While the vast majority of the reviews for this property were positive, most of them did point out some of the negatives.  Ultimately I decided that I could live with those negatives, and the positives of this resort outweighed the positives of the other resorts.  In the end I was satisfied with my decision – I knew exactly what to expect, and was not surprised by the few negatives I encountered – which were precisely what everyone wrote about!

    It’s all about setting expectations.  I NEVER go on a vacation without having a good idea of what to expect.  That’s how you avoid unpleasant surprises like the one that happened to this couple.

  • Anna

    When I read the part about the maid, what played out in my head was a Very Unhappy American speaking in a stern voice, gesturing, complaining… to a Costa Rican maid who barely speaks English. Maybe it was because of the phrasing “I had to tell her to…”, maybe it was because he used it twice? I mean, obviously you have to tell her what you want her to do… if she were a mind reader, she’d probably have a better job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1618127540 Guy VanDell

    i searched tripadvisor and lots and lots of reviews are good, and there are 900 reviews, so i can’t imagine they all fake, maybe the person cannot be satisfied?  also 2000 for all inclusive?  is this for a week for 2 people, that seems like a pretty good deal.

  • Charles B

    $2k for 2 people, all-inclusive, 7-nights, 5-star resort… is too good to be true. Clearly it wasn’t true. A good travel agent would have offered better alternatives knowing that “deal” was unrealistic. A good customer would have taken that advice when given. Not sure which side dropped the ball.

  • Charles

    Well said. The previous post to yours reminds me of the old line about “I can’t believe so-and-so won the election, everybody I know voted for the other guy.”  A huge chunk of people are in no financial condition to take trips overseas and another chunk doesn’t want to. (And really given all there is in this gigantic, glorious country, it is a tradeoff. You could travel your whole life seeing wonderful things and never need a passport.)

  • Guest

    “all inclusive” in Costa Rica.  I mean come on. 

    “The couple had been promised an ocean-view room. But they could only see a sliver of ocean from their room.”

    Welcome to the third world.

  • Charles

    I didn’t really get why they asked to have their room changed. I guess it was the view, because once the bedding issue was addressed, I’d have thought they’d have been happy to have that ordeal behind them. Instead, they were surprised other rooms had the same issues…and they picked up some noisy appliances to boot. 

    The ocean view issue is really a non-starter. They could see the ocean, just not very well, but absolutely everybody knows that still counts as an ocean view in hotel speak.  If there really only was one restaurant when they’d been told there were five, that’s a valid gripe. 

    Bottom line, if you want to assure a great stay (or come as close as is humanly possible) you need to go with known commodities that offer unquestioned excellence. And that means booking places that are accredited 5-star properties, not places that just claim to be. 

  • Strizis

    $2000.00 for 2 people for a week. All inclusive? Exactly what did they expect? The wife never wants to stay in a Riu resort again. Where’s Riu’s motivation to do anything. Sounds like they Wanted a Ritz style vacation for a Holiday Inn price. I wouldn’t get involved at all with this, Mr. Elliott.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Ours was a timeshare swap as well.  Ours was cancelled because our connecting flight in Miami got cancelled.  Although after talking to people down there, they got a little bit of rain, but nothing that should’ve cancelled or delayed any flights…
    Where did you guys stay down there?

  • Christine

    Aruba Beach Club.  It was… fine.  When we landed, it was grey and kind of muggy, but the following morning, it was like nothing had ever happened.  Blue skies and beautiful.  The irony is that we picked Aruba because all the information said they NEVER got hit by hurricanes.  Locals told us that’s not true – they do get hit, just not as severely as the rest of the Caribbean. This storm just skirted the north shore of the island, no damage, just rain like you said.

  • http://thestockhome.com/ Josh S

    I can’t speak to the couple’s experience (the level of service certainly seems below par), but looking at TripAdvisor, it seems perfectly wonderful (see the photo below). 4 of 5 stars by user reviews.

    It shows 3 restaurants available all day, a massive pool/swimming complex, and beachfront property. I’m not sure what these people expected from the facility, but unless the place has been damaged or something, I’m not sure what more you’d want from a resort?

    http://www.riu.com/en/Paises/costa-rica/guanacaste/hotel-riu-guanacaste/hotel_fotos.jsp?categoria=010

    I’m usually one to stick up for the consumer, but in this case it seems that perhaps they were expecting perfection on their honeymoon, rather than an adventure (and if we’re honest, every moment from “I do” onward is an adventure)!

  • Lindabator

    Too bad the travel agent can’t respond.   It sounds like the client wanted “cheap” and got it — I’ve been an agent for over 20 years, and could say 2 things about a honeymoon in Costa Rica off the bat — they could have chosen a FAR better hotel in that area, and I would have recommended a split between the beaches and rainforest to really experience the destination.  I would have compared hotels they already stayed at that they liked, and disliked, and why.  I would have advised them as to the area they were travelling to (Central America’s standards are NOT the same as ours), and I would have compared a different destination for the fare if they WERE only looking for a beach getaway.  I know better than to assume the client is savvy about the destination, and look to trade publications, consumer review sites, Chris :), etc.  Although there are sometimes incentives out there, they don’t make it attractive enough to want to lose the client’s trust and future business!  The majority of my clients are repeat clients and referrals – so I must ensure their needs are met and excedded.  But you need to shop a good travel agent, and when I ask questions, I’m not just passing time, I’m hoping to zone in on things you may not be telling me that may help me book a better trip for you.

  • TZ

    Why should Riu refund their money?  They’ve already said they will never stay at a Riu again.   Compensation is something that’s offered to try and retain a customer.

    And…if it was that bad…why didn’t they try to leave early?

  • Holdenba1

    we also had been told the day before we were to arrive at the riu in aruba that the hotel was over booked. expedia called us and told us that we would be staying at the westin for the first two nights. The riu gave us a voucher for four nights. The kicker is to use the voucher you must fax them the name of three of there hotels and dates and they pick the one that you stay at. And they want you to give them a signuature relase to place you where they want. When i send mine in next year i will send them one property  and one date. i will not agree to them setting the date and place of my vacation. i also found you can’t even get a phone number to call someone. Also want to know if we can upgrade the level of room. thanks

  • Carole Hayes

    “Nonetheless, I am continually amazed that people book honeymoons in places where the standards are known to be different than those in the States, and they don’t really research the place. They just take the word of their travel agent, the vacation company they book through, or the hotel’s Website. You can’t rely on the vacation company or the Website; and unless the travel agent has either been there or has sent lots of people there who loved it, you can’t rely on that either. Trip Advisor is usually on target, but apparently in this case it wasn’t because many of the reviews are good. Booking a place without doing extra research is bad enough when you are going on a regular vacation; for your honeymoon, wouldn’t you want to be absolutely certain that the place you were staying in was top-quality? Recommendations from friends, and friends of friends, are really the only way to go in cases like this; and perhaps a travel agent who has been recommended to you. If the customer’s agent was someone he had used before, I’m sure this will be the last time.”
    Some of us don’t know these things.  I can’t afford to travel all the time and I have NO WAY to know these things. Since finding Chris on Google+, I know a bit more if I ever CAN afford to travel, but really:  you expect people to know that hotels, vacation companies, and travel agents will all lie?  And reviews can’t be trusted unless you know some arcane formula for weeding out the non-reliable reviews?  

    “Recommendations from friends, and friends of friends, are really the only way to go in cases like this; and perhaps a travel agent who has been recommended to you?”  

    I don’t HAVE friends who travel.  I’m not sure if any of my friends do.  Nobody I know can tell me where to stay or refer me to a GOOD travel agent so, according to you, I’m pretty much SOL, and you’re amazed at my stupidity/gullibility.  

    Thanks.

  • Carole Hayes

    ” but absolutely everybody knows that still counts as an ocean view in hotel speak. ”  

    No, really:  NOT everybody knows that.  Seriously.  Some of us don’t stay in oceanfront hotels on a regular basis.  Believe it or not, some people have NEVER booked a room at a hotel by the ocean, and they don’t have a CLUE what the different terms are.  

    I promise.  I’m not making this up. 

  • Sales

    There are some 4 to 5 star RIU resorts.  In my opinion, RIU Guanacaste does not come close to these ratings.  Once again, did the traveler use a professional travel agent that specializes in honeymoon travel for the Caribbean and Mexico?  I do not sell Funjet and certaining would not recommend most RIU resorts unless the client is looking for price only.

  • Traveling man

    I have stayed at 3 different Riu’s. They were the exact opposite of the Riu described. I liked them, but I did not love them. They are for drinkers! They provide unlimited hard liquor from dispensers in the room, also very strong drinks are made in the bar. Their dining was different in each country, and was edible, but not great. Those that depend on Tripadvisor as a rating are going to be burned 50% of the time, the Riu”s are generally 3 Star across the board. Foreign countries serve food differently, that is exciting, disappointing, horrible, incredible based upon your palate. If food scares you, stay at home. This Riu does not have much of a reputation. I believe the Paradisius is the hotel of choice.

  • Kathy

    I think I would have contacted the travel agent as soon as I realized the hotel was not what as expected.  Maybe you could have been moved to a better place.  Dirty sheets–gross.

  • jmiller45

    yes I was there in 2010 & the hotel opened in 2009