TripAdvisor advertised a cancellation policy, but the hotel won’t honor it

Adelaide Northrop’s preferred accommodation in St John, U.S. Virgin Islands, is unavailable so she books an alternative hotel through TripAdvisor that is advertised as having a zero penalty cancellation policy. When her first choice suddenly offers her a reservation, she happily confirms.

The problem? TripAdvisor charges her a $911 cancellation fee.

Question: Last October, I reserved a 10-day, February 2017 stay for five people at Concordia Eco-resort on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, through TripAdvisor’s website. A special promotional offer stated in green ink that the booking would incur no charge if canceled by Dec. 29, 2016. My credit card was immediately charged $2,278 (which was half of the total).

Three weeks later, I was able to obtain tents at Cinnamon Bay, which had not been accepting reservations because of renovations and was my preferred choice. My credit card bill, which I received after Christmas, showed a refund of only $1,366 meaning the resort had withheld $911, ignoring the fact that a free cancellation was promised. Fortunately, I had made a screenshot of the offer.

I opened a complaint with TripAdvisor, but because I did not know how to take photos of the documents and forward them on my computer, this took time, and the initial ticket was closed. The upshot was that on April 10, 2017, I received an email saying that the cancellation policy of the resort was followed, and that TripAdvisor considered the matter “resolved,” ignoring altogether the promise of free cancellation from the website. Can you help me? Adelaide Northrop, Chaplin, Conn.

Answer: If TripAdvisor advertised a penalty-free cancellation policy, then it should honor that policy — even if the hotel won’t. After all, it was TripAdvisor’s website that advertised the promotion.

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When I reviewed your case, two things jumped out at me as to why you were having so much difficulty in receiving your promised free cancellation.

First, as you pointed out to me in your initial email, you aren’t “tech savvy” and were not able to gather your evidence and forward it to TripAdvisor to corroborate your complaint.

Your preferred method of communication is the United States Postal Service, and you were disappointed to discover that neither TripAdvisor or our site utilizes this form of correspondence. Several of your letters that you attempted to send to TripAdvisor in this manner were returned to you as “undeliverable.” This led to TripAdvisor closing your case.

For future reference, we list TripAdvisor’s contacts (electronic and postal) on our site.

The second problem with your campaign to receive a refund is that, in your efforts to be clear and detailed, you wrote too much information in your complaint. Letters that are exceedingly lengthy and filled with extraneous details are often “misplaced” or shuffled to the bottom of the complaint pile of the executive you are trying to reach.

Your letters were several pages long and included a lot of information that did not help your case in one way or the other. We always recommend including only the relevant facts when writing a letter of complaint. Keep in mind that whoever is receiving your letter receives many such letters every day. Make yours stand out in a positive way by keeping it short, polite and get right to the point.

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When I had a moment to go over all of your documents, I was surprised to discover that your case was actually very simple. And I felt confident that it could be resolved as soon as the right people at TripAdvisor read about your plight.

You were smart to take that screenshot of the cancellation policy, because that is irrefutable evidence of the cancellation policy that induced you to make that reservation. Knowing that you hoped for your preferred resort to later offer you a reservation, you would have never booked a hotel with a cancellation fee.

Your daughter assisted you in forwarding the screenshot to me, which clearly showed the cancellation policy as you had described it.

I contacted TripAdvisor on your behalf. My letter was just four sentences long, and I included a copy of your screenshot. Shortly thereafter, we received word that TripAdvisor had reviewed your case again, and agreed that you were due a refund of $911.

TripAdvisor explained that this problem came about because the hotel had provided incorrect cancellation terms to TripAdvisor, but TripAdvisor would stand behind the cancellation policy as advertised on its site.

When I contacted you with the good news, you were pleased but told me that you had just received another email from TripAdvisor reminding you that your case was closed and that you had misunderstood the cancellation policy.

I am not sure where the wires got crossed, but you will be receiving a $911 refund from TripAdvisor.

For your part, you would like to suggest that agencies that market to “the older generation” should be aware of the fact that not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone knows how to communicate easily via the internet.

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Point taken.

You are disappointed that TripAdvisor closed your case twice because you were unable to utilize the system it has in place to make your complaint.

But you are satisfied with the help you received here, and you ended your correspondence with me by saying, “I never felt neglected even for a minute once I started talking to you, and I want you to know that my confidence has been considerably restored. Thank you.”

And we are happy to hear that, because that’s certainly why we are here.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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