Oh no! Will I ever get my money back from Barcelo?

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By Christopher Elliott

It’s been four months since Barcelo Maya Palace Resort promised Michael Lavender a refund for his nonrefundable $1,692 hotel reservation, and he’s beginning to think he may never get it. 

But never say never. Lavender’s remarkable hotel booking issue is a testament to the power of self-advocacy and a reminder of the power of persistence. And you’ll never believe the lengths he had to go to get his money back.

Lavender had booked a room at the Barcelo Maya Palace Resort, a popular all-inclusive beach hotel in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. At the suggestion of a phone agent, he canceled his reservation and rebooked a less expensive room. But Barcelo decided to keep the money for both reservations.

“I’d like to receive the refund that various agents have promised me,” he says.

But that’s easier said than done, as you’ll see in just a minute.

Along the way, we’ll answer a few questions:

  • What are the risks of booking a nonrefundable hotel reservation?
  • What steps can consumers take to expedite a hotel refund process?
  • How long does it take to get a refund from Barcelo Maya Palace Resort?

Unfortunately, Lavender already knows the answer to the last question (it’s longer than four months, for sure). And it’s enough to leave this guest in a lather.

Here’s how he made a terrible booking blunder

Lavender’s hotel booking issue started when he reserved a room at the Barcelo Maya Palace Resort. But when he called the hotel’s reservation department to confirm his reservation, a representative told him he could save more money.

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There was just one problem: He’d already prepaid for his room at the Barcelo. And worse, the $1,692 was nonrefundable. (Here’s our guide to finding the best hotel at the lowest price.)

No problem, said the agent. He would submit a refund request and Lavender would get his money back in 21 days.

“So we canceled the first booking and made another one,” he says.

A month went by, and no money from the Barcelo. So Lavender started to call the hotel. The agent told him not to worry — the money was on the way. But one month became two months, then three and finally four.

“I’ve contacted many different agents, and I get a different story each time,” he says.  “They tell  me the refund will come. But it’s been more than four months since the original booking, and we still have no refund!”

Booking a nonrefundable room can be a terrible mistake, and Lavender was about to find out why.

What are the risks of booking a nonrefundable hotel reservation?

Hotels typically offer a 10 to 20 percent discount to guests who “prepay” for their rooms. (Prepay is hotelspeak for “nonrefundable,” so don’t be fooled by the friendly term.) 

But make no mistake, a nonrefundable hotel room is risky. Here’s why:

No refunds

Obviously, the biggest risk of booking a nonrefundable hotel reservation is that you won’t be able to get your money back if you have to cancel. You may have a perfectly valid reason for changing your plans, but the hotel won’t care. In fact, if you tell the hotel you can’t make it, it will cancel your booking and resell the room to another guest. 

Less flexibility

When you make a nonrefundable hotel reservation, you’re locking yourself into a specific date. Your accommodations are a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Again, if something completely unpredictable happens — like a weather delay — your hotel won’t care.

Wasted time

Nonrefundable hotel bookings can consume hours of your valuable time. Because if something does come up, you will waste a lot of time trying to secure a refund (and usually failing). 

Bottom line: It’s worth paying the extra 10 to 20 percent to have the flexibility of a regular hotel rate, which allows you to cancel as late as a day or two before your visit without any penalty. (Check the hotel refund policy for the exact terms.)

But that wasn’t Lavender’s only mistake.

What steps can consumers take to expedite a hotel refund process?

When you’re trying to get your money back from a hotel, there are a few things you absolutely must do. Unfortunately, Lavender didn’t follow all the steps.

1. Get the promise in writing

Talk, as they say, is cheap. If a representative promises you a refund, ask for it in writing. This might be useful later if the company reneges. In a credit card dispute, your bank will see a written promise of a refund as a credit memo — and you’ll get all your money back. (It doesn’t have to be a letter written on official letterhead; a text message or email will suffice.)

2. Get a name

Make sure you know who you’re talking to (and if possible, make sure it’s a manager). An anonymous employee or someone with a first initial or a last name just won’t cut it. The company might say they don’t know who offered you the refund. I have seen that happen.

3. Get a timeline

When a hotel promises you a refund, get them to commit to a timeline — and, again, make sure they put it in writing. Otherwise, they might pay it in a week, a month, or a year. I’ve seen that, too. What’s a reasonable amount of time? No more than a month.

Lavender did not get the promise in writing, but he noted the name of the employee and an approximate timeline. But unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

Would Lavender ever see his money?

How long does it take to get a refund from Barcelo?

Fortunately, my advocacy team and I have a lot of experience with Barcelo hotels. (Our last case involved a Barcelo property that wasn’t quite all-inclusive.) And when it comes to refunds, I can honestly say that it is one of the slowest hotel chains.

How slow? I can’t remember a refund case that has taken less than a month. From where I sit, it appears the company makes a concerted effort to delay its refund process as long as possible. 

So when I heard that Lavender had been waiting four months, I was not surprised.

I’ve spoken with people who work in the refunds department of travel companies, and without exception, they insist there is no grand conspiracy to keep your money. They claim the last thing they would want to do is wear you down until you give up and let them keep your money. 

That may be true. But it is also true that in the end, the delays exhaust the customers, eventually leading them to give up.

And that’s where Lavender found himself when he contacted our advocacy team.

How do you get a refund from Barcelo?

Hotels don’t like giving back your money, and that’s particularly true of Barcelo. I’ve written recently about how to get your money from a hotel that doesn’t want to give you a refund. You’ll want to use the Elliott Method: Be patient, persistent, and polite.

Lavender had already tried that, so it was my turn to help.

I contacted Barcelo on his behalf. 

But two weeks later, the company had not responded. I asked again.

Lavender decided to push things from his side, too (you know, a little more persistence).

“I went on a bit of a Facebook spree, commenting on most of their posts that buyers should beware,” he says.

Finally, success. Barcelo reached out to him and promised to work on the refund.

“Maybe we are getting somewhere,” he says.

A month after I contacted the hotel and a week after the Facebook spree, the money dropped.

“The refund is in my account,” he said. “Thanks for your help. I’m sure it was a combination of hearing my name too many times and having you pressure them as well.”

I’m happy that Lavender finally got his refund. But honestly, if a company can remove money from your credit card in a split second, shouldn’t there be a law that it must return the money in a reasonable amount of time? 

He waited five months to get his refund — and that’s enough to turn Lavender red.

Do we need a law that requires hotels to process refunds within a reasonable amount of time?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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