A hurricane, a canceled hotel and a missed vacation. What a carnival!

By | March 10th, 2017

Fennella Bruce’s trip to Miami is interrupted by a hurricane. Why won’t her hotel and the Miami Broward Carnival offer her a refund?

Question: I recently planned to attend the Miami Broward Carnival to celebrate the birthdays of two of my cousins. In total, 14 of us were traveling to Miami from Canada. My flights were on Air Canada, and I was booked at South Beach Plaza Hotel, a reservation I had made through Booking.com.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew was forecast to hit the east coast of Florida on the day I was scheduled to arrive. A state of emergency was declared. Air Canada canceled my flight. I alerted the hotel about the situation even before my flight was officially canceled. Once it was canceled, I called the front desk to ask for a refund. After several days of back and forth, the hotel charged me 50 percent of the cost of the room — $320 — which I think is ridiculous and unfair.

I was going to attend the Miami Broward Carnival, and had purchased two tickets online for $30 plus service fees. After trying to reach someone for several days, a representative finally responded to my email with the same “no refund” policy and an offer to honor my ticket next year.

I have no intention of attending next year, after this horrible experience. I am a single mother with two children; it is not a simple task for me to get away or to know if I will be able to afford it next year. This entire experience has tainted my view of Miami. — Fennella Bruce, Pickering, Ontario

Answer: I’d be disappointed with the way your family reunion turned out, too — and I might blame Miami. But this is actually a travel-industry problem with a unique travel-industry solution.

Related story:   Is this enough compensation? Wrong information leads to a missed flight

The problem? Your hotel and the carnival offered a nonrefundable rate and ticket, and didn’t want to take the losses if you couldn’t show up, even if it wasn’t your fault. This is a common and customer-unfriendly policy across the global tourism industry, and is hardly unique to Miami.

The solution: travel insurance. A policy that would cover trip interruption might have allowed you to recover some — or all — of your expenses.

Your case underscores the importance of reviewing the terms and conditions of any travel purchase. Some hotels will allow cancellation at the last minute; others are completely nonrefundable and can’t be changed. If you’re planning a vacation anywhere in the Southeast United States or Caribbean during hurricane season (June 1 to Nov. 30), you need to be prepared for a disruption. I was in Florida during this storm, and Hurricane Matthew was particularly worrisome because, as I recall, it kept changing course.

I contacted both the hotel and the carnival on your behalf. Unfortunately, my involvement didn’t change the answer. But there’s a silver lining. You received all of your money back for your airline ticket, since Air Canada canceled the flight. Your cousin was able to sell the carnival ticket, allowing you to receive a full refund minus the service charges. And you also found out that you had travel insurance through your employer, and were able to file a claim to recover some of your costs.

I hope you’ll give Miami another chance. As a former resident, I can tell you that the experience you had was exceptional and caused by the hurricane.

Related story:   A hurricane ruined my Sandals vacation. Please help me un-ruin it.


  • Kristiana Lee

    This is for foreigners travelling to the USA. If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you here, you need to purchase travel insurance if only for that. I sliced off the tip of my finger once and went to the ER. They put some ointment and a bandage on it and billed my insurance $1800. My insurance paid about $1400 which I’m sure was the pre-negotiated rate but this is for a bandage! Medical care here is extremely expensive. Please protect yourselves.

  • sirwired

    I don’t see how it’s “unfair” for the hotel to not refund a non-refundable room if the hotel was open and the area not under an evac order (Miami-Dade only issued a voluntary evac for moblie homes.) Somebody’s going to take the hit for no-fault situations like this, and I don’t see why it inherently should be the business. If you book a non-refundable room, that’s a chance you take.

    If there was a mandatory evac order, sure, but a State of Emergency declaration (often for an entire state) is a routine step before just about any severe weather, and does not mean that the entire area is supposed to shut down.

  • Alan Gore

    I want to see all of this non-refundability crap banned outright. It seems to have infested the whole travel industry. Now we’re seeing nonrefundability enforced even for events that have been canceled and hotels you can’t get to!

    Let’s assume, worst case, that getting refundability back will raise fares, hotel rooms and event tickets by the amount of the premiums we are currently being asked to pay for all this extra insurance. We would still be ahead on convenience, and with the element of spontaneity back in travel, the industry would benefit as well.

  • Alan Gore

    If flights are canceled and you can’t get to your nonrefundable room you booked for your canceled festival, what happens then?

  • Michael__K

    When it’s unsafe to travel to the hotel and local roads are flooded and local transportation services are shut down and most local businesses are shuttered then I think it’s unfair if the hotel sticks to its “non-refundable means non-refundable” posture.

    Was the hotel really operating at full manpower and full services? I doubt it.

  • cscasi

    You eat the cost of the non-refunable room unless you have some sort of travel insurance that will cover it. This has been and probably will always be an issue with purchasing something (hotel room, airline ticket, etc.) that is non-refundable.
    It wold have been nice for the hotel to allow the cancellation, but it was open and it should not have to suffer the loss of revenue. People who worry about that should book refundable items or have travel insurance.

  • cscasi

    I would agree, but we do not know about the hotel situation. It was not presented in the article.

  • sirwired

    Matthew largely bypassed the Miami metro area. It was not unsafe to travel in the area and local roads did not extensively flood. Public transit was shut down for most of one day out of caution, but it was by no means the only way to get around.

    Given the minor impact from the storm I don’t know why the hotel would have been operating at reduced manpower.

  • sirwired

    Your flight and what you planned to do once you arrived is not the hotel’s problem.

  • MarkKelling

    You file a claim with your insurance.

    You did buy insurance for this trip because you are a single mother with multiple children on a fixed income and a job that doesn’t allow you to take off and can’t afford to lose the money, didn’t you??

  • MarkKelling

    I don’t remember a time when event tickets (concert, festival, convention, whatever) ever were refundable. The prices were reasonable in the past and didn’t cause anyone financial hardships if it turned out they could not get there. These tickets were always refunded (or the event rescheduled with the original tickets being valid for the new date/time) if the event was cancelled for any reason. Since everyone already in the area for this event the OP is asking about could get to the event and nothing was cancelled, I don’t see an issue.

    Most nonrefundable hotel rooms I see are only $20 – $30 a night less than the cancelable ones, so you don’t save that much by purchasing them anyway. You usually only get billed for one night as a penalty if you fail to show for your first night and don’t cancel in time anyway, except for the nonrefundable paid in advance reservations. These I agree are bad for the average consumer. But as long as people continue to buy these rates, they are not going anywhere.

  • Michael__K

    That’s not exactly what the Miami Herald reported about South Beach.
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article106120177.html
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article106084582.html

    You really believe all the hotel’s employees could get to work in those conditions (with local schools closed for 2 days as well)?

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    How could hotels stay in business if anyone could cancel without paying a dime, including on the day of arrival? They’d be turning away business for reservations that never happen and end up with empty rooms and no revenue.

  • JewelEyed

    Unfortunately, a fingertip amputation is not appropriate for urgent care to my knowledge.

  • Kristiana Lee

    Very true but this happened late at night when the ER was the only thing open nearby. Murphy’s law.

  • JewelEyed

    Was the festival canceled? “Your cousin was able to sell the carnival ticket, allowing you to receive a full refund minus the service charges.” I suppose it could have been rescheduled, but it doesn’t appear it was canceled.

  • pauletteb

    I’ve never found the few dollars’ difference between refundable and nonrefundable hotel rates to be worth the risk.

  • Alan Gore

    Years ago, all hotel rooms other than those sold as part of a package were routinely refundable up to the day of travel. When the nonrefundable rates started appearing a few years ago, I predicted that the small difference in rates would start to get wider, and then quietly disappear. This is exactly what is happening today. Are we better off now than we were then?

  • PsyGuy

    Who celebrates their cousin’s birthday. I don’t even know who my cousins are, much less when they were born, or how old they are.

  • PsyGuy

    The problem though is when these things happen they can put a business out of business, some businesses like hotels (especially chain hotels) can absorb these losses easier, but things like carnivals and concert venues can’t refund everyones money and pay their costs and stay in business.

  • PsyGuy

    Not by much. The same trip to an urgent care clinic would probably have cost closer to $1200, cheaper but not exactly reasonable. From a practical position the ER is the better option for a foreigner, they can’t refuse treatment, and they can’t really get their money.

  • PsyGuy

    Depends on the facility.

  • PsyGuy

    You initiate a chargeback and dispute with your bank card.

  • PsyGuy

    Sometimes you can’t get a refundable room at the property at all.

  • Alan Gore

    They will stay in business the same way they did up to about two years ago, when the non-refundable rates started appearing.

  • MarkKelling

    They would stay in business because the vast majority of people making reservations intend on being there and paying for the night and actually do show up and pay.

    Up until recently when hotels started the pay in advance non refundable rooms, every hotel room reservation was cancelable up until 6 pm the day of arrival. You would still get billed for the room if you did not officially cancel by that time.

    Most hotels have empty rooms every night anyway. Sometimes that is on purpose (gives them a chance to do routine maintenance) or it just turns out to be a slow time of the year and there aren’t that many customers looking for a room.

    Do the pre paid non refundable rooms generate revenue for the hotels they otherwise would not get? Sure. Just like non refundable airline tickets make some money for airlines. Is it a way hotels should plan on using to make their profit? No.

  • MarkKelling

    For travelers like you and me, no we are not better off hotel room rate wise because there are non refundable prepaid rooms. And I doubt that overall, any travelers are better off. Sure, you might save a few dollars on these rates, but the possibility of being a loser far offset the savings in the long run.

    I will admit that I have booked a last minute room when I was on the road and needed a place to spend the night. If it was a prepaid nonrefundable rate, then I was OK with it because I knew I was going to be there at that hotel that night no matter what and saving $20 paid for dinner. Those were the days when I usually just took off on a road trip with no reservations anyway. I refuse to book that kind of rate in advance though because something could happen between now and when I take my fall vacation and then I am out the full price of the room. I would rather spend the extra few dollars per night on a hotel reservation that I can cancel with no penalty.

  • Carchar

    I do.

  • PsyGuy

    You need more friends.

  • Carchar

    My cousins, I’m happy to say, number amongst my friends.

  • PsyGuy

    Fair enough.

We want your feedback.Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.