My dog needs to have surgery. No, seriously.

Pixellating Dachshund. / Photo by Mr. T - Flickr
Question: I booked a trip a few weeks back to Regent Palms in the Turks and Caicos through a website called SniqueAway. It didn’t allow for any refunds or changes. The booking appears to be made through a company called Classic Vacations.
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Nothing says “I’m sorry” like airline miles

Not something special in the air. / Photo by Simon Sees - Flickr
Question: My family of four flew from Chicago to Salt Lake City on American Airlines during spring break. About a half-hour into our outbound flight, we were told that the landing gear did not come up and that we had to return to O’Hare.
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Vacation rental scams are a growing problem

Tania Rieben thought she’d scored a bargain on a one-bedroom condominium in Maui for spring break. She’d found the vacation rental through a popular Web site called and then negotiated directly with the owner.

But after she wired $4,300 for a six-week rental, the person claiming to represent the property stopped answering her e-mails, and she soon made a stunning discovery: The “owner” was actually a scam artist who had obtained the real owner’s e-mail password and assumed his identity.

“Now the money’s gone,” Rieben says. “And I don’t have a condo.”
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Can this trip be saved? My vacation rental was a dump and I want a refund

When Marcella Knight opened the door to her vacation rental property in Rehoboth Beach, Del., a few weeks ago, she saw a dump. Not only was the unit dirty, but it was also in dire need of maintenance, she says.

So Knight did what any self-respecting traveler would do: She complained to the real estate agent who had rented her the condo. The agent tried to find her alternate accommodations, but couldn’t. She offered to have the home cleaned, but that didn’t address all of the issues.

Knight and her family reluctantly stayed in the shoddy rental one night, then checked out and asked the agent for a full refund.
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Case dismissed: They promised a refund but they’re keeping my money

Diana Somerville was looking forward to a week in Canada with her family last Thanksgiving.

But the weather gods were not smiling upon her. Just before she was supposed to drive up to Victoria, a major blizzard struck near her home in Washington State, making the roads impassable.

“All highways and airports were shut down so I called and cancelled the reservation,” she says. “Extended forecasts said still more snowstorms were on the way so I sadly relinquished the idea of our holiday weekend vacation.”

But EMR Vacation Rentals, which handled her reservation, did not.
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A lost vacation day and nothing to show for it

Question: I need your help with an Apple Vacation trip from Philadelphia to Cancun, Mexico. We were recently notified that our direct flight would have a stopover in Pittsburgh, which added two hours to our travel time.

Each person was offered a $50 voucher for the inconvenience, but it could not be used during our vacation. It had to be used within one year for future Apple vacation travel.

A few days later, we were notified that one entire day was being removed from our schedule. Our 6:30 p.m. flight was rescheduled for 10 a.m. the next day. So we no longer have the 8-day, 7-night vacation I paid for. Apple offered us $50 again.

When I made my annoyance known, they told me I should have taken the insurance for another $650 — then we could have canceled our vacation.

How dare they just remove an entire day from our plans? We had arrangements to meet with another group of friends. This will now have to be canceled. Apple vacation has been very callous in their behavior. Our family was looking forward to a delightful travel time and they have made this very distasteful. — Sandra Sitarski, Ambler, Pa.

Answer: When an airline changes its schedule, you’re entitled to either a refund or a flight of its choosing, under its contract. But when you’ve bought a package vacation, it’s not that simple. There are hotel rooms and activities to take into consideration. Apple’s $50 offer was reasonable but too restrictive, because it required you to buy another trip.
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Beaches vacation goes bust, but how about that ticket promise?

Jen Knight’s family was looking forward to an all-inclusive vacation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, until the resort sent her some bad news: Her hotel, Beaches Boscobel, would be closed for renovations.

A Beaches representative verbally agreed to rebook the family at a sister property, Beaches Turks and Caicos. She was also told the company would cover the difference in airfare as well as the fees for changing their tickets from Jamaica to Turks and Caicos.

Case closed? Not quite.

It turns out that neither of the airlines on which she’d booked various family members — JetBlue and Airtran — flies to Turks and Caicos, nor do they codeshare with anyone who does. But both airlines will allow them to cancel their reservations and receive a credit for the value of their flights that must be used within a year, less applicable change fees.
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Three years later, Alitalia still owes me $528 for my lost baggage and ruined Italian vacation

Noah Markewich’s lost-luggage case had “lost cause” written all over it when he contacted me last week.

Why? It involved Alitalia, the historically troubled Italian airline.

It was more than three years old. Old cases are almost always unsolvable.

And it involved misplaced baggage, which is a problematic complaint category.

Still, Markewich epic, four-page, single-spaced letter is such a stunning documentation of an airline’s awful customer service, that I wish I could publish it in its entirety. It describes how Alitalia ruined his Italian vacation by losing his luggage — and when I say “ruin” it may be something of an understatement.
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“Please, can we go back?”

When Kathy Potvin told her grandson she was considering breaking a tradition of visiting Ocean Park, Maine, last summer, the 7-year-old protested.

“But we’ve always gone there,” he told Potvin, a librarian from Nashua, N.H. “He said, ‘Please, can we go back?’ ”

Her family had returned to the same hotel every year since her grandson was 18 months old. She couldn’t say “no.”

“He spent almost an hour in the car on the way up, talking about going to Snail Rocks, catching crabs, walking to the ice cream store, feeding the seagulls, riding his boogie board, going to Chicago Dogs,” she recalled. “Honestly, I was thrilled. It’s those kind of traditions and memory buildings that is a huge part of the appeal of the same old, same old, and make us behave like Capistrano Swallows.”

This is the time of year when most winter vacations are booked, and Christmas and New Year’s getaways tend to be repeats like the Potvins’ — a trip to a favorite mountain resort or a city near family.

Redundancy has a lot of value, both for travelers and for the travel business.
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No refund for my canceled vacation?

Question: My wife and I booked a long weekend at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. We have always enjoyed the service we receive at Marriott properties, so we used the Marriott website to make our lodging arrangements. A link on the Marriott site took us to Marriott Vacations, where we booked a prepaid, three-night stay for $1,041, which we charged to our Visa credit card.

The morning of our departure, our son, who has Down syndrome, woke up with the flu. We can’t leave our son with caregivers when he is sick, so we immediately called the airline and the hotel to cancel our reservations.

The woman who took the call at the hotel canceled the reservation and gave us a contact number for the customer care department to confirm the cancellation. But after two months, the credit did not appear on our Visa card, so I called the hotel.

This started a very long process of several phone calls and hours on the telephone, until I spoke to someone directly in the Marriott corporate accounting department. They informed me that a credit had been issued to Marriott Vacations’ travel agency, and that I needed to contact the agency. I did, but I haven’t heard back from them. Can you help us get our money back? — Kelly Strong, Ames, Iowa

Answer: If Marriott promised you a refund, then you should have received one. I’m not convinced it ever offered one, though.

When you called the hotel to cancel, and it passed you along to Marriott Vacations, someone should have advised you that your hotel room was nonrefundable. So are your airline tickets. Here are Marriott’s terms and conditions.

It’s possible that someone decided to make an exception because of your son’s health, but simply referring you to the refunds department at Marriott Vacations doesn’t mean your refund is a sure thing. (I’m not going to get into the politics of whether this was a Marriott booking or a Marriott Vacations booking, which technically is handled by a third party. As far as you’re concerned, the buck stops with Marriott; and I would agree.)

Marriott Vacations should have recommended travel insurance, particularly since you have a child with special needs. You could have made a claim and received a full refund from your insurance company. At the time I worked on this case, the only mention of insurance on its site was in its terms: “We recommend that you contact an independent insurance carrier to protect your travel investment.”

I hope the representative you spoke with also told you about insurance.

You also spent a lot of time on the phone when you probably would have been better off writing to Marriott with your request. A brief, polite email sent through its main site would have started you down the right road — not to mention saved you lots of time. An email allows you to succinctly state your case and it is easily forwarded to a manager, if your request is rejected the first time.

It was generous of Marriott to offer a full refund of your vacation, but it would have been even more generous if it had actually issued the refund to you. I contacted the company on your behalf. A representative contacted you, apologized for the delay and refunded $1,041 to your Visa card.

(Photo: Shaya/Flickr Creative Commons)

Revenge of the car rental agents

Be nice to your car rental agent. Otherwise you could end up like Hank Jeffries.

He doesn’t remember saying anything offensive to the clerk when he rented an intermediate-size vehicle in Cancun recently. It didn’t matter: Jeffries’ “confirmed” $325-a-week rate through his travel agency turned into $900 when he checked in.

“I said I wanted to rent the car,” said Jeffries, a retired information technology worker from Los Angeles. “Not buy it.”

That may have rubbed the employee the wrong way.
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