“It is so unjust to poison someone and get off scot-free”

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Lynn Friedman’s daughter, Emma, became violently ill during her family vacation to Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun. When she returned to the States, she was hospitalized for five days. The diagnosis: acute food poisoning.

“Based on the timing and the test results, the doctors are convinced that she was poisoned at the resort,” says Friedman.

She wants a refund for her vacation from either her travel agent, tour operator or the resort. But so far, her efforts have come up short.

“No one will claim responsibility,” she says.

Friedman wants me to help. But as I review the details of her case, I’m not sure who to ask for relief — or even where to start. And that’s where you come in, dear readers. Please tell me what to do with this one.

The visit, which happened in April, was supposed to be a relaxing family vacation. But shortly after their arrival, Emma started to feel sick.

“We knew Emma was ill on the trip,” explains Friedman. “But we did not understand the cause.”

Emma had her own room, and wanted to give her family space to enjoy their much-needed vacation. Friedman says, in retrospect, her daughter was probably more ill than they suspected.

“She simply carried on and told us she didn’t feel like eating. Only on the plane home was it clear that she was very ill. I took her to the doctor our first day back home,” she says.

The doctors back in the States said she had Salmonella. That’s no tummy ache — more than 400 people die of Salmonella every year.

Friedman says she’s certain the resort is to blame, because the family only ate at the hotel.

She adds,

For the last six weeks, I have devoted hours of my time and much emotional energy emailing and faxing two managers at Secrets Maroma, a supervisor at Apple Vacations, and two individuals (the travel agent and the owner of the company) at Travel House of Barrington.

I have sent medical records (including the test results and diagnosis, dates of hospitalization, etc.) and impassioned letters.

My daughter has been suffering terribly, we have spent a huge amount of time and a great deal of money because of someone else’s inappropriate behavior, and we cannot seem to receive the compensation we believe we deserve.

It is so unjust to poison someone and get off scot-free.

Friedman’s demand is simple: She wants her $5,753 back, which represents the entire amount she spent on her all-inclusive vacation package.

She believes the hotel is trying to throw her case out on a technicality.

In my distress, I accidentally told the hotel that Emma was poisoned at our first meal at the resort; I later corrected that error and told them that she was poisoned at the hotel on our first full day there. They used that understandable error as the excuse to throw out our LEGITIMATE case.

So far, her travel agency has asked her to fill out a medical claim form, but Friedman says she already has medical insurance. She just wants her money back.

I get a fair number of tainted food cases, and the problem is conclusively proving the poisoning happened at a restaurant, hotel or on a cruise ship. In defense of the hotel, the incubation period for Salmonella is 24 to 48 hours, so Emma might have been infected from another source.

I’m not sure if Friedman’s travel agent or tour operator are responsible for this vacation gone wrong in any way, other than that they might have recommended the hotel and helped her make the reservation.

Also, refunding the entire vacation seems like a tall order. After all, the family flew to their destination, enjoyed the accommodations and at least some of the food at the resort.

Should Maroma Beach refund everything, or just part of the vacation? What responsibility, if any, should the agency and tour operator bear?

Is Friedman owed anything for the Salmonella episode, or should she just chalk this up to an expensive, and exceedingly painful, lesson learned about watching what you eat when you’re traveling abroad?

I don’t know. This is one of the more difficult cases to cross my desk in recent memory.

Should I mediate Lynn Friedman's case with Maroma Beach?

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Hey, where’s that refund on my all-inclusive vacation?

cancunQuestion: I’ve read your columns frequently over the past several years and always wondered if I’d ever need your help. Well that day has come. I need assistance in obtaining a refund from Palace Resorts. I paid $2,785 for a seven-day, all-inclusive vacation at their Aventura Spa Palace resort in Cancun, Mexico a few months ago. I had no problems whatsoever with that reservation.

But last fall, the Palace had a sale, and I was able to cancel that initial reservation and book a new reservation for a cheaper rate, saving me $278. I was told by the agent that my refund would be processed in six to eight weeks.

It didn’t happen. The credit card with which I made the original reservation was lost, so I had to send additional information to the company. Since then, I have not received any communication from anyone at Palace Resorts regarding my refund. I have sent multiple emails, and have been told each time that someone else who can help with refunds would contact me. I’ve tried everything, including contacting their public relations manager on Twitter and using “live” chat.
Continue reading…


Can this trip be saved? “It feels like we are being ripped off”

Heather Lockridge and her husband thought they would be checking into the honeymoon suite at the Ocean Maya Royal in Cancun, an all-inclusive beachfront resort described as the embodiment of “exotic serenity.” After all, it was their honeymoon.

Instead, they were greeted with some bad news when they arrived: The suites were all occupied and they’d be downgraded into a smaller ocean view room. And serenity? Forget it. Trying to recover the cost difference between the suite and their room was anything but easy.

“It feels like we are being ripped off,” she told me. (Please see an update from Apple Vacations at the end of this post.)
Continue reading…


Missing infant ticket leads to $1,735 airfare bill

Joshua Davis and his family were looking forward to a weeklong vacation in Cancun. They were not planning to pay twice for their airline tickets, or to be on the receiving end of a frustrating form letter from Delta Air Lines, which cast a long shadow over their family getaway.

The Davis family’s story is a case study for the value of using a competent travel agent, particularly when you’re booking special tickets to an international destination. Davis bought his tickets directly by phone through the airline earlier this spring, leading to a not only a ticketing fee, but also an unfortunate series of misunderstandings.
Continue reading…


Travel agent backs resort that broadsided customer with mandatory “under 25″ fee, until …

If you’re under 25, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise when you check into the Oasis Cancun, a pyramid-like, all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula: a mandatory “under 25″ fee of $54. And they don’t take “no” for an answer. When Ryan Plaxsun, 24, recently checked into the hotel, he was told to pony up the cash — or leave.

But Plaxsun thought he’d already paid for his whole stay when his online travel agency, Orbitz, took $1,100 out of his account for the airfare-inclusive vacation package. So he protested.

I asked to speak to a manager and they said they did not have one there. Then I asked them to show me this fee on their Web site, and they couldn’t.

After that I asked to use a phone to call Orbitz, and they also refused, saying that their phones do not make outgoing calls.

They told me if I did not pay the additional fees they would not give me my room and the fee had to be paid upfront. I was able to get a receipt for this, after some more arguing.

A hotel without a manager? No prior disclosure? A phone that doesn’t make outgoing calls? Hmmm.

Here’s what the hotel gave him.

072235

I suggested Plaxsun ask Orbitz for a refund of the $54, since the price should have been included in his stay. So he did.

Orbitz said the $54 is not refundable because it is a hotel policy — even though the fee isn’t listed on the hotel Web site or Orbitz. I asked if Orbitz could refund their booking fee, but they wouldn’t do that, either.

I was hard-pressed to find any mention of this fee anywhere as of late yesterday. I decided to contact Orbitz on Plaxsun’s behalf. I heard back from the online agency almost immediately.

We reviewed our Web site and there is no information made available to customers in regards to a under age fee being collected at check in at this property. As you know, we often rely on the hotels to provide this sort of information to us in advance.

In addition to offering an apology to this customer, we will refund the customer the $54 to the credit card on file and advise him via e-mail of the refund.

We are also updating our hotel market manager in this location so that the company can follow up on getting the listing for this hotel updated.

Good call.

Surprise “mandatory” fees at a resort are a huge issue for travelers, and as the economy heads south, I would expect to see these extras multiply. Travel agents — and particularly online travel agents — need to be careful that they disclose every possible surcharge when they’re selling a package billed as “all-inclusive.” Fine print buried a dozen clicks into its terms of service isn’t going to cut it.

If Plaxsun had known about the $54 charge before he booked, Orbitz would have been correct to deny a refund. It did right by its customer by giving him his money back. Eventually.


Does anyone know if this is a scam?

The all-inclusive Mexico vacation fax scam is nothing new. Is this one — or not?
scam

Reader David Nightingale wants to know.

I fully realize “buyer beware” and “you pay for what you get” are caveats we all live by. But over time we weaken because we’ve seen these things so so often. Our fax machine gets the attached solicitation regularly and one has to wonder what you get for this and how legit it is.

I understand that getting there is not a part of the price, but still is tantalizing. Any info you might have appreciated.

Here’s what we do know.

The faxes are not always welcome. In fact, many consider these unsolicited messages to be spam.

We have been receiving unsolicited faxes from this number for years, advertising a Mexico vacation. It wastes our paper and fax toner. There is a number printed at the bottom of the page, and there are instructions to call it in order to stop receiving the faxes. I suspect it is a ploy to confirm our fax # so we have never called. We want it to stop!!

Others believe the offer is fraudulent.

Please do not respond to this number or buy this deal. This is a scam and when you respond, they confirm your fax number. They will never remove it from their files.

My take? If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Take the fax to the recycler.