Does she deserve a full refund for her “ruined” vacation?

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Diane Vece’s recent Dominican Republic getaway was “ruined,” she says.

When she tried to check in to her resort, Vece was unexpectedly walked to a different hotel, which had a long list of problems. It was run-down, noisy and in a remote location — not at all what she’d been promised.

“I want a full refund for this trip,” she says.

Ah, the full-refund request.

Next to the “first-class-ticket-anywhere-your-airline-flies” demand, asking for all your money back for a vacation already enjoyed — or not enjoyed — is one of the most common requests I get as an advocate.

It is very rarely honored, but that shouldn’t stop us from talking about it. First, though, let’s find out what happened to Vece.

Last November, she purchased two Groupon vacations at the Casa Marina Reef Resort, an all-inclusive hotel in Sosua.

She explains:

When we arrived, we were told they had been trying to reach us since we were being “upgraded” to their “five-star property nearby.”

We questioned this, since it sounded too good to be true. They did not have a room for us at Casa Marina, so we got in the cab they called for us.

We were taken 45 minutes away to a resort which, at best, was 2.5 stars. Poor food, old shabby room over the pool (very noisy and they refused to move us), and far away from everything.

That’s the thing with Groupon offers. Businesses use them for distressed inventory, or rooms that would otherwise go unsold. A hotel like the Casa Marina would keep only a small percentage of the sales price.

I personally know merchants who work with Groupon, and they tell me that anyone who buys one of these coupons is unlikely to deserve five-star service. Chances are, they’re just looking for a deal and they’ll never come back.

It’s just a head in the bed. So why try to impress them?

The Casa Marina probably thought Vece wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between its flagship hotel and the property it “upgraded” her to. But she was not fooled.

“We had picked Casa Marina for the snorkeling and its proximity to town for shopping and sightseeing,” she says. “Ironically, when we paid for a bus to take us snorkeling, the best area was across the water from the Casa Marina.”

I think Vece stood an excellent chance of getting something from the hotel. After all, she’d been promised the Casa Marina but didn’t get it. She’d been walked to a lesser property. Either Groupon or the hotel should have fixed this with an apology and some kind of make-good offer.

But a full refund? I mean, we’re not just talking a refund for the hotel, but everything — food, activities, transportation.

That’s a tall order.

I understand how someone might make a demand like that, though. After all, you’re not buying a hotel, you’re booking a vacation. And when the vacation is ruined, as hers certainly was, isn’t it logical that you’d expect a refund? The product wasn’t what Groupon advertised. Come on.

I’ve only seen one or two “full-refund” requests like this honored, and only for the most extenuating circumstances. A shabby room and loud guests don’t rise to that level.

In order to change the way people think about this, businesses will need to shift their thinking. The Casa Marina isn’t in the hotel business, but in the vacation business. Same thing for Groupon. It’s an experience, not a product.

The travel industry already understands that, when it comes to the way it presents itself in its promotional material. Groupon doesn’t simply advertise hotel rooms in the Dominican Republic; it promotes fun. Then it conveniently shifts to just selling hotel rooms when there’s a problem.

Did it shift too far? Vece wanted $1,538 back. The hotel agreed to refund $100.

Did Groupon offer Diana Vece enough compensation?

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Joe Farrell

    Here’s the deal – if a merchant is using Groupon to get bodies in the door to upsell something like liquor or some other package to turn the profit, and fails to provide the same service they give to retail customers, the lack of repeat business becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    “If you don’t look after your customers, someone else will.”

    When this person got walked to a substandard distressed property they did not receive the benefit the bargain. I would have told the original company:

    a) my contract is with you.
    b) refusing to honor it means I am going to go to a five-start resort comparable to this, and I am going to pay whatever rate they have, I will charge my liquor and food to the room, and pay for it using my credit card.
    c) then, I will sue you, where-ever I need to, for the difference between my group-on and the cost at the Five Star
    d) I am going to call Group – on and tell them the above, and that they will also be part of the party when I return.
    e) You can deal with me now or spend the next three years dealing with me.

    You also go to a phone, you call Group on and you tell them you are being walked to a distressed property. And they charged you – so they are going to be responsible as well. Calmly, logically, factual. Groupon will need a couple of hours to escalate it up their chain of command.

    I would bet that a room would open up.

  • Barthel

    Excellent!!

  • Nathan Witt

    Getting the worst room in the hotel (the one on the smoking floor, by the elevator shaft, above the nightclub) is generally to be expected when you Groupon or Priceline or whatever. Being transferred to a lower-quality property that’s a 45-minute cab ride away is not. I’d go after Groupon in this instance, since what she purchased (from them) is not what she received.

  • James

    Based on the survey question — it reads like Groupon didn’t offer anything, the $100 came from the hotel.

  • Annie M

    She doesn’t deserve a full refund, but she should file a chargeback with her credit card company. According to Groupons Getaways information, she bought a stay at at Merchant Named property – not one to be walked.

    Getaways Market Pick hotels. A Getaways Market Pick hotel is a reservation for a specific check-in date,
    length of stay, and room type at a named Merchant property (“Getaways Market Pick hotel”). Getaways
    Market Pick hotels are non-transferrable, may not be sold, auctioned, or bartered, and have no value once the
    check-in date has passed. Unless otherwise specified, Getaways Market Pick hotels include tax recovery charges
    and service fees and expressly exclude any other traveler costs including, without limitation, travel insurance,
    incidentals, service charges, gratuities or expenses due to special requests or add-ons. The tax recovery charge
    is assessed to recover the amount we pay to the merchant in connection with your reservation for sales and use,
    occupancy room tax, excise tax, value added and other similar taxes, and the balance of the additional amount is
    a service fee we charge in connection with handling your reservation. Groupon does not facilitate and is not
    liable for any special requests, which may be accommodated directly with the Merchant prior to check-in at the
    Merchant’s discretion. Cancellations to Getaways Market Pick hotels may only be made through Groupon until the
    deadline specified in the fine print and details of the Getaways Market Pick hotel. Cancellations to any
    Getaways Market Pick hotel after the cancellation deadline are at the discretion of the Merchant and not
    Groupon. Groupon strongly encourages all travelers to obtain independent travel insurance. You agree to abide by
    any additional rules and restrictions that the Merchant may require and violation of such additional rules and
    restrictions may result in additional charges and the cancellation of your Getaways Market Pick hotel.

  • Lindabator

    the resort they booked is a three star resort — where did they actually walk them to?

  • FQTVLR

    I googled the Casa Marina Resort to take a look. Most sites rate it as 3-star. Trip Advisor gives it 4 (based on user reviews) and one site gives it 3.5. So I am confused as to where the 5-star rating comes from. If Groupon marketed it as 5-star then they appear to be very guilty of false advertising. That said I think she is owed more than $100 as the location she booked seemed to be the most important aspect of the vacation for her. She is not entitled to nor does she deserve a full refund, but I think the deserves more than what she got.

  • FQTVLR

    I hit enter saying the same thing when your comment appeared.

  • Lindabator

    All hotels run into the instance of overbooked rooms, and having to walk you. My question is where did they walk her to? This is a 3 star hotel, so if they moved her to a sister property, it is either fairly close by or in Samana, and those hotels are actually rated higher than the reef.

  • Ben

    Nobody said Casa Marina was 5-stars. At check-in they told Diane they were walking her to a “5-star” property, but it was very shabby.

    What needs to happen is an honest comparison between the Casa Marina and the other property, which hasn’t been named, to see what the difference in quality actually was. Any compensation should be based on that difference.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    What was the name of this other hotel? Casa Marina is 3 1/2 stars on TripAdvisor so it’s fairly well liked. I was going to check out this other place but rather oddly it’s not mentioned in the article at all. I don’t see why Christopher would leave it out and the only reason I can see the OP would keep that quiet would be if they didn’t want people to see the place is well-reviewed.

  • John Baker

    A little GoogleFu shows that this is a self proclaimed 3 star resort. It has one sister resort in the area that seems to be adjacent to the Reef (Casa Marina Beach) which is also a 3 star resort. They do have a sister resort that is 35 minutes away, Grand Paradise Playa Dorada, that they claim is a 4 star resort but has the same rating as the two Casa Resorts on most of the websites. The resort chain would consider it an upgrade while most user ratings would make it an even trade.

    I’m not sure what happened but it may be a case of choosing a resort based on price instead of reviews, having unrealistic expectations (most people want a room close to the pool) or the resort not living up to the promise. Not sure but I don’t buy into everything back.

  • Annie M

    But they didn’t walk her anywhere near where she was – it took her 45 minutes away. Groupons terms don’t state anything about walking, it says they booked the NAMED PROPERTY. They didn’t get the name property and I couldn’t find anything in the terms that they can be walked. So I still say they should do a chargeback.

    Groupon has to start taking responsibility for what is on their site.

  • Lindabator

    But HOTELS can overbook their space, and DO walk you — Groupon cannot guarantee this will never happen. And if she WAS moved to Samara, that is by far a better rated hotel – so something doesn’t sound quite right with her story here.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    The lawsuit threat probably might backfire as they would get defensive and hostile and perhaps even call the bluff. Face it, you’re a foreigner/out-of-towner and you want to fight in a local court? Good luck.

    But certainly, if the room is unacceptable, go back to the front desk, say it’s unacceptable and offer to compromise. Can another room open up in a day and you can get into that and maybe comped some champagne? Be firm but fair and flexible. I’ve had problems too at numerous hotels and a positive attitude works wonders.

    Also, if you’re going out of country then call the place to confirm EVERYTHING before getting on the plane. I get the first name of the front desk to hotels I reserve directly, much less on a groupon AND I bring champagne and chocolates. I have the bus route planned (rent a car? After reading what happens on Elliott? I have a bus route planned if possible. Oh, the relaxing feeling of knowing I won’t get a surprise credit card damage charge 3 months after a vacation. Makes that extra half hour seeing the sights from the bus all that much more pleasurable.)

  • Annie M

    I understand this, but Groupon might need to think about expanding on their terms and conditions to make note of this. Right now their website says nothing at all about this. No disclosures about the possibility at all.

  • Annie M

    She chose Casa Marina and that particular location and was walked somewhere 45 minutes away. Walking happens, but I have never seen someone moved 45 minutes away. That isn’t acceptable. She said when they told her they were walking her to a “5 star resort” she thought it was too good to be true – and it was.

  • jh

    It’s too bad she can’t also ask that her vacation days be returned. The biggest loss here is that she invested her valuable vacation days, expecting some fun and relaxation, but she got only hassle ans vexation.

  • AAGK

    What’s the other property?

  • taxed2themax

    My thought is this.. For me, I think that asking – in your first or early correspondence – for compensation that really is wholly outside of reasonable (and I think a whole cash refund here is unreasonable) scope, hurts you later on. Once I saw this, I tended to view the rest of the story with somewhat less-than-empathetic feelings.

  • DChamp56

    100 WHOLE dollars? Pathetic.

  • Melinda

    Doesn’t the phrase “you get what you pay for” mean anything to anyone nowadays? No sympathy here. You bargain hunt, you pay the price elsewhere.

  • 42NYC

    She was still at a resort in the Dominican Republic. Maybe it wasnt as nice as the hotel she originally booked, but her trip wasn’t ruined. If being walked to a lesser hotel meant she couldn’t have a single ounce of fun during her vacation then i think it says a lot more about her as a person than groupon or the hotel.

    Not said she isnt owed any compensation, but her story does not define a ‘ruined’ trip.

  • Hanope

    One reason to start with asking for a full refund is because you know you will be countered with a low-ball offer. If you start high, it is usually with the understanding that you’ll eventually get ‘talked down’ to something reasonable, perhaps half. If you start out by asking for half, then you may only end up with 1/4, etc.