Charged an extra $400 for a vacation I can’t take

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By Christopher Elliott

Ruth Hartmann has to cancel her yoga retreat to Costa Rica after she lands in the hospital. Why is her resort asking her to pay an extra $400 for a vacation she can’t take?

Question

I recently booked a retreat to Costa Rica through a yoga studio in New York. Just before I was supposed to leave, I was admitted to the emergency and had to cancel my trip.

My airline gave me a credit, minus the $150 change fee, which I accepted. The yoga studio had a $300 nonrefundable deposit, which I also understood it could keep.

The problem is the retreat center in Costa Rica. It insists on charging me a $400 nonrefundable fee for canceling, which it is deducting from an initial payment of $1,600.

Not only am I in a tight financial situation with hospital bills piling up, but I also believe this is completely unreasonable. The retreat center never advised me of its cancellation fees.

Is there any way you can help me with this? — Ruth Hartmann, New York

Answer

Your cancellation fees should have been clearly disclosed at the time of booking, and as far as I can tell, they weren’t. That left you to assume you could get most of your money back.

Further communication between you, your yoga center and the resort showed the hotel would charge a 50 percent penalty, which is why they were asking for another $400 for a stay you couldn’t use.

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I think this is one of those times when travel insurance would have been helpful. If you were able to make a successful claim, the insurance would have covered all of your costs, including the $400 charge from the hotel.

Yours is a cautionary tale for anyone booking travel in a nontraditional way, such as a membership organization, scuba diving store, or yoga center. These are not professional travel agents or tour operators, so they may leave out a few details when it comes to the terms and conditions.

The importance of proactive inquiries

For what it’s worth, I don’t think your yoga center’s omission was intentional. Rather, as a center representative later admitted, it could have been clearer. (Related: I canceled my vacation rental, but they’re keeping my deposit.)

You need to be extra careful when you’re booking a trip in this way. Ask about the cancellation policy, and if possible, get it in writing. And do that before you make your reservation; that way, if the terms seem unreasonable, you can ask a question — or decline to book the trip. (Here’s how to book the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

The bottom line is that according to the terms of your purchase, the resort was well within its rights to keep your money. But as I mentioned earlier, they should have told you about it before you made your reservation.

I contacted the yoga center on your behalf. After some more back and forth with you, and in consideration of your medical condition, it agreed to send you a check for $400.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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