Need to Cancel a Booking? Good Luck With That Refund

Photo (cc) by Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars

Just before Gerald and Byrone LoCasale set sail on an 18-day Princess cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Los Angeles, disaster struck. Byrone LoCasale sustained an injury that required immediate orthopedic surgery. The couple, both frequent Princess customers, reluctantly canceled the trip.

But there was good news. LoCasale, who is retired and lives in Fort Lauderdale, learned that Princess had resold his cabin. Getting credit for the $16,201 they’d spent would be easy, right?

Well, no.

LoCasale faxed all the necessary medical documentation to Princess, but it didn’t respond. He e-mailed the cruise line and received a terse phone call from an unnamed representative. “The answer was very short,” he says. “They decided not to honor my request.”

Travelers understand “no refund” policies. But when a room, cabin or airline seat can be resold, it’s harder to explain why the consumer’s money is still gone. Although some companies routinely refund such purchases, many do not. Now, advocates are pushing for more customer-friendly policies.

I contacted Princess several times about LoCasale’s case. A spokesman said its records show that the cabin wasn’t resold. Rather, it upgraded another passenger to LoCasale’s empty cabin.

Princess applied a 25 percent credit toward a future sailing “as a gesture of goodwill and to show our appreciation for their future business,” said Brian O’Connor, a cruise line spokesman.

It doesn’t always end like this. David Valade had a reservation at the Hartstone Inn and Hideaway in Camden, Maine, which has a similar no-refund policy. If you cancel your reservation up to 14 days before your arrival, it will charge you for one night.

But, like LoCasale, he had to change his plans because of events beyond his control — in this case, a death in the family. Valade canceled his reservation without sharing any of the unfortunate details.

“Their policy was clear, and I knew the risk,” he says. “When I called to cancel, they told me they’d refund if they rebooked the room. And they did.” A few days later, the inn contacted him and credited $479 back to his card.

Many small hotels do the same. “We do it because, quite frankly, it’s how we’d like to be treated,” says Stephen Fofanoff, the innkeeper for the Domaine Madeleine Bed and Breakfast in Port Angeles, Washington. “We’re a luxury property, and our goal is for everyone to have an experience that exceeds their expectations, even if they don’t end up staying with us.”

At Domaine Madeleine, if you cancel up to 14 days before your planned stay, the hotel charges the full amount of the reservation and a $25 cancellation fee. The fee allows the hotel to track the reservation so it can determine whether the room is resold.

“Anything that is resold is refunded after the reservation dates have ended to account for any last-minute reservations, unless the entire date span is rebooked — then we refund immediately,” he says. “If the reason for cancellation is out of the control of the guest, like a medical illness or weather preventing travel, then we refund the stay and do not charge a cancellation fee even if the room is not resold.”

Ah, but that’s a small business. But how about something more complicated, with lots of components, like a tour?

Elizabeth Avery, founder of Washington-based Solo Trekker 4 U, is developing a technology platform that would in effect allow the resale of tour inventory that’s canceled at the last minute.

“Resales would benefit tour providers that may suddenly lack a required minimum number of participants,” she says. “It would also benefit travelers who are uninsured but must cancel at the last minute. They would only have a partial loss.”

The reason she says partial is that tour packages tend to be bundled and contain components that are nonrefundable.

Airlines are probably the most rigid when it comes to offering your money back. To get an idea of how inflexible they are, consider that until the Department of Transportation stepped in and required a 24-hour cancellation window, virtually all tickets were unchangeable from the moment they were booked, even when the consumer made an obvious error.

The DOT’s new rule, introduced in 2012, forced airlines to hold a reservation or cancel it without penalty within a day, unless the flier was less than a week from departure. In other words, it assumed that the airline would have a sufficient opportunity to resell the seat.

The National Consumers League, a Washington advocacy group, has been pushing the federal government for fairer refund rules. Instead of a simple 24-hour-window rule, they want airlines to refund a ticket if a seat is resold. To the average consumer, that makes a lot of sense. It’s an issue of fairness to them. A travel company wouldn’t stand for its guests collecting frequent stayer points on the same room twice or pocketing a refund from both their travel agency and hotel, so why should their travelers tolerate it?

The standard industry rebuttal, offered only in off-the-record conversation — and after you get past the technology excuse — is: We do it because we’re a business, and because we can.

But collecting money twice for the same product smacks of profiteering, and if consumer advocates such as the National Consumers League have their way, it won’t be legal for much longer.

Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum, or by emailing him at [email protected]

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
7 Other Retailers With Free Prescription Delivery
7 Other Retailers With Free Prescription Delivery

Amazon’s new pharmacy is hardly the first to offer free shipping.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

17 Home Upgrades That Rarely Help Close a Sale
17 Home Upgrades That Rarely Help Close a Sale

Real estate agents give these renovations low marks when it comes to helping sell homes.

Avoiding These 5 Foods Could Save Your Vision as You Age
Avoiding These 5 Foods Could Save Your Vision as You Age

Millions of Americans may be able to prevent an incurable cause of blindness by making a basic change.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

This iconic dinnerware is prized for everyday use as well as reselling for profit.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

9 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire
9 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire

You’ve waited all your life for this moment. Make the most of your retirement.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon
Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon

Just because you can purchase something on Amazon doesn’t mean that you should.

7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make
7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make

Sometimes a big-ticket purchase is nothing more than a big waste of money.

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target

No store can specialize in everything. For some purchases, it’s smart to shop elsewhere.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

8 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores
8 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores

For one expert, these secondhand bargains stand out from the rest.

20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees
20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

Retirees can dial back the intensity of work while continuing to bring in a paycheck.

3 Colors That Can Ruin Your Car’s Resale Value
3 Colors That Can Ruin Your Car’s Resale Value

Select the wrong color for your next car, and it could depreciate twice as fast as others.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report
8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report

Federal law lets these entities peek at your credit — regardless of whether you’re borrowing money.

11 Foods That Can Keep for Years
11 Foods That Can Keep for Years

These are some of the longest-lasting groceries you can buy.

Selling Your Stuff? Don’t Fall for These 5 Negotiating Tricks
Selling Your Stuff? Don’t Fall for These 5 Negotiating Tricks

Don’t let buyers fleece you — whether you’re selling via a yard sale or Facebook Marketplace.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.