Case dismissed: They promised a refund but they’re keeping my money

Diana Somerville was looking forward to a week in Canada with her family last Thanksgiving.

But the weather gods were not smiling upon her. Just before she was supposed to drive up to Victoria, a major blizzard struck near her home in Washington State, making the roads impassable.

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“All highways and airports were shut down so I called and cancelled the reservation,” she says. “Extended forecasts said still more snowstorms were on the way so I sadly relinquished the idea of our holiday weekend vacation.”

But EMR Vacation Rentals, which handled her reservation, did not.

At first, the company was “neighborly and accommodating,” says Somerville. “They assured me there would be no problem.”

But they eventually charged Somerville’s credit card $684 — the full amount of her rental — anyway.

Why? Because that’s EMRs policy, which is clearly disclosed on its website.

If a cancellation is made more than 45 days from the check-in date, there will be no refund of the reservation deposit. If the Guest cancels inside 45 days from the check-in date and fails to pay the balance due, there will be no refunds of any funds received. If a Guest books and then cancels inside the 45 days from the check-in date, and has made payment in full, there will be no refund.

Somerville begs to differ. She had taken EMR’s assurances that there would be “no problem” as an assurance she wouldn’t be charged. Hotels and condos frequently waive their rules when there’s a storm or the roads are blocked.

She called back after the bill had posted to find out if they could come to an agreement.

“I spoke to a woman who said she headed EMR Rentals who gave me the tape recorder response: ‘That’s our policy. That’s our policy. That’s our policy.'”

So Somervilled disputed her credit card bill. Visa sided with the vacation rental company.

She contacted me and asked for help. I decided to contact EMR because it left her with the impression that it wouldn’t charge her, but then did. (By the way, for anyone who is faced with this situation in the future, here’s a little advice: get it in writing.)

I received a response from Blake MacKenzie, EMR’s general manager.

No refund was promised for this guest (Diana Somerville) and the matter has been closed since January 2011 between the guest and our company.

Ms Somerville booked a vacation rental property we represent in Victoria BC Canada and cancelled within a couple days of arrival but wanted a refund even though our cancellation policies where made very clear to her that no refunds are available unless we were able to rebook the dates.

We do advise our guests to purchase trip cancellation insurance through their credit card company or another insurance provider.

Ms. Somerville did not accept the legally signed rental agreement that she signed and attempted a credit card charge-back. We sent her credit card company the signed rental agreement and related correspondence and they rejected her credit card charge back attempt.

We have a proven track record with thousands of satisfied customers. We certainly did not wish Ms. Somerville to have a poor experience but we do have to protect the interests of our homeowners that list their properties with our company. We are not like a hotel as each property is individually owned and marketed. There is limited marketing time windows for each property. We don’t have the walk in traffic like a hotel or are tied to a large global booking service. Each property has to stand on its own and cancellations of bookings with full refunds without filling the dates again directly harm our owners ability to earn rental income.

Ms. Somerville knew what she was booking and continues to not accept that she signed the rental agreement on her own free will with the cancellation policies clearly shown.

The fact that Ms. Somerville fails to mention that when she called us to cancel, it was not because of “her roads” made impassable, but because of snow where her relatives who reside in Seattle live. Ms Somerville told us they did not wish to make the drive, even though the roads were in fact safe to drive by the time US Thanksgiving weekend came. Ms. Somerville could have used the property herself since she lived a ferry ride away in Port Angeles but chose not to.

We are sorry she has decided to bring you into her dispute with our company and we are sorry she was not able to make the trip to Victoria.

Somerville is unhappy with that answer. She says no one at EMR ever recommended she buy insurance. What’s more, she had made the reservation only a week before she canceled, she should couldn’t possibly cancel within 45 days.

Still, I think she’s at the end of her road. It would have been nice if EMR had refunded part or all of her room, but it doesn’t have to. And absent a written promise that it wouldn’t charge her card, I’m afraid there’s not much more she can do.