London hotel takes a hard line on stranded air traveler’s refund request

Yotel is a Japanese-style capsule hotel at London’s Heathrow airport. It won the Business Travel World Award for best accommodations — a fact that its managers repeat endlessly in their email signatures. But volcanic eruptions? Not their problem.

John Ward discovered that when he was trapped in Istanbul last week after the volcanic eruption. An associate tried to secure a refund of his room deposit, with disappointing results.

First, let’s have a look at Yotel’s cancellation policy:

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You have the flexibility to amend or cancel your booking anytime up until 24 hours (72 hours in the case of multi cabin bookings) before your booked arrival time and your payment will be returned to you net of any card transaction fee you may have paid.

Within 24 hours of your booked arrival time there is no refund for your booking. Please note that your booking will not have been deemed cancelled or amended unless you have received confirmation. Refunds, if they apply will only be credited to the original card the payment was made with.

Regarding refunds, it is quite specific:

No refunds will be paid in the event of flight delays or disruption due to security alert or other force majeure. There may be other emergency/security situations where customers may be asked to evacuate their cabins, if for example the terminal buildings are closed for any other reason and there is no access to the YOTEL site.

Here’s the correspondence between Ward’s associate, Jane Estabrook, and Yotel’s customer service department:

Sent: 15 April 2010 12:28
To: [email protected]
Subject: FW: YOTEL Heathrow Booking Confirmation

Good morning. Mr. Ward is stranded in Turkey due to the closing of London Heathrow. We would like to cancel this for now. I am not sure where or when I’ll be able to get him home at this point.

Please let me know if there are any charges due to these unusual circumstances.

Jane Estabrook

Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2010 8:04 AM
To: Jane Estabrook
Subject: RE: YOTEL Heathrow Booking Confirmation

Hi,

Because the cancellation will be within 24 hours of check in, we cannot refund the booking.

You will need to claim the money from your travel insurance.

Please confirm if you would still like to cancel the booking.

Kind Regards

Alex Jarvis
Customer Service Executive
YOTEL

15 April 2010 13:12
To: [email protected]
Subject: RE: YOTEL Heathrow Booking Confirmation

So you won’t cancel without a charge in these circumstances? He is unable to fly into London due to the airport being closed.

Jane Estabrook

Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2010 8:35 AM
To: Jane Estabrook
Subject: RE: YOTEL Heathrow Booking Confirmation

I’m afraid not. The only other option would be to rearrange your booking for another date. However, if this booking is cancelled, we will still have to charge.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Kind Regards

Alex Jarvis
Customer Service Executive
YOTEL

Sent: 15 April 2010 14:16
To: [email protected]
Subject: RE: YOTEL Heathrow Booking Confirmation

Please email me a receipt for this.
I will make sure all the agents in our office are aware of your policy.

Thank you.

Jane Estabrook

Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2010 1:07 PM
To: Jane Estabrook
Subject: RE: YOTEL Heathrow Booking Confirmation

Dear Jane

I have just sent this through to you.

I am very sorry we were unable to refund you on this occasion. Usually we are able to be flexible in these situations when they occur on a smaller scale, but literally every single guest wants to cancel which will leave us with no revenue at all since the airport is closed.

Kind regards

Sam Goss
Customer Service
YOTEL

How interesting.

Yotel’s rules are crystal-clear about refunds within a 24 hour period, but I think the hotel would have been better off just saying that it couldn’t make an exception to its policy, as opposed to complaining about its lack of revenue.

If anything, the “no revenue” excuse hurts the hotel, since it suggests customers must share some of the burden for an act of God.

Do you think Ward will stay at another Yotel property? I don’t know, why don’t we ask him?

I find his lack of forward thinking (in my opinion) quit silly and I will never utilize their Yotel, ever.

This information is also with our travel agent who tried to negotiate with this person. I work for a large company which does a lot of international travel and we quite often have people who travel in and out of Europe through London.

I was the first who was going to try the Yotel there and guess what I may be the last with this incident. Especially since he made the statement because of the enormity of the situation that they are not going to refund anyone’s money. The rest of the agents in her organization are also aware of this lack of professionalism on there part.

The other issue, of course, is whether Yotel is at zero occupancy, as the customer service representative suggests. Given the number of delays and cancellations in London, I would doubt it.

One thing I do not doubt is the right of Yotel to keep Ward’s money. Rules are rules. But its lack of flexibility may have cost it business in the long run.

Update: Shortly after this post appeared, Ward received the following email from Yotel:

I am sure you will understand that this has been an unprecedented situation for all involved and some difficult decisions have had to be made.

To keep our rates as low and things as simple as possible we do stick by our cancellation policy of requiring more than 24hrs notice of a cancellation to issue a credit. This allows a reasonable period to resell a room and allows us not to need to overbook rooms at any time, which is better for our guests.

We have in fact been very quiet over the last few days, most of our business is based around transit passengers, which there haven’t been any of. Most stranded passengers have returned home or to stay with friends and family in the UK.

However as a gesture of goodwill on this occasion I would like to invite you to be our guest on a date in the future at one of our airport locations. Please just email me and I will book you in.

Kind Regards

Sam Goss
Customer Service Executive

Here’s Ward’s response:

This seems ridiculous, there are many transit passengers stranded at Heathrow according to what I have heard.

Maybe they should contact the airlines to see if there is anyone who can utilize them. Then again this may be the case, but instead of offering me a free night (which I will not take advantage of) they should just return the money.

This is ridiculous; loss of income is loss of income. If I had not contacted you Chris they would not have even offered this.

(Photo: diamond geezer/Flickr Creative Commons)

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