The recent superstorm and series of nor’easters that slammed into the East Coast grounded tens of thousands of travelers, including Neil Weiss.
Fortunately, most travel companies waived their usual rules, offering those delayed by the storms a refund or a credit. But not all travel companies. Weiss, an editor for a trade magazine based in Cherry Hill, N.J., found an unlikely roadblock to his refund: his online travel agency.
After superstorm Sandy, Weiss had to cancel a business trip to Las Vegas that he’d booked through Expedia. US Airways agreed to waive its change fee and allowed him to reschedule his flight. His hotel, Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, did not. It wanted to charge him $200 for being a “no show,” according to Expedia.
But when Weiss contacted Treasure Island directly, he heard a different story. The hotel would be happy to cancel his reservation, he was told, but because he’d made the booking through Expedia, a refund would be up to the agency. And Expedia wouldn’t give him his money, citing its published refund policy, he says.
Weiss’s cancellation isn’t the only refund case I tried to mediate after the storms. These problems highlight one of the often unmentioned risks of booking through a travel agent: Even when an airline or hotel is willing to refund a purchase, you may still have to get past an agency’s own refund rules.
The Weiss case is interesting because after he canceled his trip, he received conflicting information from Expedia and Treasure Island. Expedia says that it advocated with the hotel on his behalf, trying to secure a refund of his first night’s stay. But it claimed that the hotel wouldn’t allow it.
In an unusual e-mail, a vice president at Treasure Island disputed Expedia’s account. “If Expedia suggested that they’d already paid us for your room and kept a cut, you either spoke to someone who does not have the correct information, or deliberately told you something that is not true,” he wrote. “Without getting into too many details, that is not — nor ever has been — the way our Expedia billing accounts are set up.
“In addition, if Expedia advised you that they will not refund your payment due to policies in place by our hotel, that is also untrue.”
Either way, Treasure Island promised to return Weiss’s money. After I contacted Expedia on Weiss’s behalf, the agency agreed to refund his hotel charges. A company spokeswoman said that Expedia was the merchant of record on his hotel booking, meaning that it had charged him, not Treasure Island.
A similar problem befell Jason Singer, who had booked a car rental through Hertz for his 30th high school reunion in Manhasset, N.Y. When Sandy struck, both American Airlines and La Quinta offered him immediate refunds. But Hotwire said that its refund policy meant that his car rental fee couldn’t be returned. Singer was on the verge of starting a “boycott Hotwire” campaign when he contacted me.
“A Hertz representative apologized profusely for Hotwire’s policies and for the fact that they could do nothing about it,” says Singer. “She added that not only would they have refunded me without question if I had made a prepaid reservation through them directly, but that they were receiving multiple calls with the same Hotwire issue.”