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
5 Reasons You Should Claim Social Security ASAP
5 Reasons You Should Claim Social Security ASAP

Experts often recommend postponing claiming your Social Security retirement benefits. But there are situations in which you should start taking the money sooner.

7 Tricks to Cleaning Your Bathroom Faster
7 Tricks to Cleaning Your Bathroom Faster

These tips can get your bathroom sparkling with little time and no elbow grease.

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.

8 Ways to Snag Extra Savings at Walmart
8 Ways to Snag Extra Savings at Walmart

Are you aware of all these ways to boost your savings in Walmart stores and at Walmart.com?

12 Products to Keep Your Car Clean and Organized
12 Products to Keep Your Car Clean and Organized

These items will help put your vehicular mess to rest — and each is available for less than $20 on Amazon.

View this page without ads

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

Get Started

Most Popular
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making
10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making

You might as well flush your money down the loo if you spend it on these things.

7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now
7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now

Confusion over Social Security is a shame, considering how many of us will need this money badly.

9 Shopping Mistakes to Avoid at Costco
9 Shopping Mistakes to Avoid at Costco

Are you missing out on serious savings at your favorite warehouse club?

Why Your Next Stimulus Check Might Be Bigger Than You Expect
Why Your Next Stimulus Check Might Be Bigger Than You Expect

Your third coronavirus payment will be the biggest yet — and possibly even bigger than you realize.

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

They don’t make coffee makers like this anymore.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

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.

14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021
14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

Is Writing a Check Still Safe?
Is Writing a Check Still Safe?

Every time you pay by check, you hand your bank account numbers to a stranger.

6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers
6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers

Imagine having $245,000 stolen from your retirement account — and not being reimbursed.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today
8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.
This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.

This brand’s vehicles are least likely to give drivers repair headaches, according to J.D. Power.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking
7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners
The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know
7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know

These little-known departments of Amazon are gold mines for deal-seekers and impulse shoppers alike.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook
7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

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.

Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best
Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best

One brand takes five of the top honors, while another ranks highest in three categories.

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.