Hey VRBO, what happened to the security deposit on my vacation rental?

I’m a longtime admirer — and critic — of VRBO, the dominant vacation rental site. I like the way it consolidates a disorganized business like vacation rentals into a cohesive online marketplace and makes it easy for consumers and rental owners to find each other. But one thing I’ve never been able to understand is how it disingenuously feigns neutrality in disputes between managers and customers.
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Help, my Mexican vacation rental pocketed my deposit!

Blue Orange/ShutterstockNancie Thomas had no reason to believe the owner of her vacation rental in Akumal, Mexico, would keep her $1,000 deposit. Her friends had rented the same house on three separate occasions, “and had a great experience each time,” she says.

Alas, the fourth time wasn’t a charm for Thomas.

Her first warning? The method of payment.

“We were surprised when the owner asked for a deposit check rather than credit card,” she recalls. “But we confirmed with our friends that they had always made the deposit by check.”

(Let me stop right here and say it: Always, always insist on paying by credit card. If Thomas had done that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.)
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I canceled my window order, but where’s my refund?

Question: I am at my wits’ end and need your help. I purchased and moved into a “not so new home” this summer. I am a senior on Social Security disability and on a limited income, but I had a little money left over from the sale of my small home in another city, so I decided to put it into more energy efficient windows that would help conserve energy.
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Is this enough compensation? You missed your deadline — here’s a voucher

It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime for Johanna Robles and her extended family of 19, which included her husband, children and grandchildren. But when she tried to book the “Great Rivers of Europe” tour through Grand Circle Travel, the experience was less than great.

Since Robles and her husband were paying for the entire cruise — we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars — they wanted to make sure they understood the terms of their deposit. By the way, they’re clearly disclosed on GCT’s site.
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Cancellation denial called “arbitrary and unfair” — but is it wrong?

Selma Sobelman wants to know. She booked a Panama Canal cruise through Overseas Adventure Travel, with the understanding that she’d have 30 days to cancel her trip, if necessary. But when she called the whole thing off, she learned the truth.

“We were told we would lose our deposits,” she says.

Did OAT misinform Sobelman when she made the original booking, and if so, should it refund her $500 deposit?

We received “Cancellation Claim” Forms from Trip Mate, which said we could only be reimbursed for reasons of death or illness. None of
this was disclosed to us at the time of booking. My friend is 85 years old and I am 78.

We feel this is an arbitrary and unfair way to do business. Could you help us with this?

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“It has now cost me $1,200 to go nowhere”

Award tickets are not free. Victoria Casey knew that when she made plans to fly to Europe on US Airways this summer. Each reservation cost her $50, in addition to the 320,000 miles she spent for four first-class tickets.

But Casey never imagined she’s be paying the airline for nothing — and paying it a lot more than $200.

Hers is a cautionary tale about the value of frequent flier mileage programs.
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Where’s my deposit?

Question: I’m writing in the hope that you can help us secure the return of our deposits from a tour operator.

My mother and I booked a wine tour in Spain through a company called The Unique Traveller that we found online. We each made a deposit of $881, which amounted to 30 percent of the cost of the trip. We weren’t presented with any terms and conditions, nor were the terms available on the tour operator’s Web site.

We asked to see a copy of the company’s terms, which stated that if we canceled fewer than 45 days before the tour, we would forfeit our deposits. I spoke with the owner of the company, and he agreed to modify the terms, allowing us to get a full refund of our deposits if we canceled after 45 days.

Several months later, I was laid off from the law firm I worked at. Then my mother lost her job. We can no longer afford the trip. But The Unique Traveller — despite agreeing to a refund — has refused to send us our money back. Can you help us? — Debra Hitti, San Francisco

Answer: If The Unique Traveller agreed to revise its terms, then you’re entitled to a full refund of your deposit.

I’m just not sure if it made that promise. I reviewed the correspondence between you, your mother, and Ramon Ramirez, the tour operator, and found that although he implied you would get your money back, his language was sufficiently vague to avoid a refund. How clever.
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