Do I deserve a refund after volcanic eruption?

When Chile’s Puyehue volcano erupted last fall, prompting airlines to cancel numerous flights, Donna Vogeler-Boutin decided her planned Christmas vacation in Bariloche, Argentina, would be too risky.

She canceled her flights and asked her hotel, Lirolay Suites, for a full refund. But instead of offering her money back, she says Lirolay quietly pocketed $700, the amount she pre-paid for her accommodations, without explanation.

Vogeler-Boutin wants my help with a refund. But I’m not sure if I can — or should — get involved.

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Here’s her side of the story:

More than 40 days our from our reservation I had to cancel because of volcanic activities. It would have even be doubtful that LAN would fly into Bariloche if the problem continued with the volcanic ash an we would have lost the entire amount of our stay.

Our stay was for December 24th to December 29th, maybe the 30th. I cancelled on November 13th and they took $700 from our Visa. Outrageous!

But did they tell her the hotel was nonrefundable? Actually, yes.

I did sign a guarantee that I would be coming. And I had NO DOUBT I would be there. But I had NO IDEA we would be having a volcano problem.

Vogeler-Boutin emailed the hotel, asking it to consider an exception to its policy. She sent me the correspondence. While the property appears to have responded quickly to an earlier inquiry about whether it was pet-friendly, it did not acknowledge her request for a refund.

“I have heard nothing back from Lirolay Suites and I’m sure they could care less,” she says. “They have my $700 because of a volcano.”

I’m conflicted about this one. The hotel should have responded to her request one way or another, no question about it. But is she entitled to a full refund?

A look at the location of her hotel on the map shows that it’s quite a distance from Puyehue — a nine-hour drive over the mountain range. What’s more, there’s no evidence the hotel was out of commission during the holidays. Vogeler-Boutin appears to have canceled her vacation as a precaution, not out of necessity.

If she’d bought travel insurance (anything except a “cancel for any reason” policy) she wouldn’t be able to make a successful claim.

The Lirolay may not owe her a full refund under its policy, but it does owe her an answer. It could have also offered her a partial or full credit for a future stay — although that’s not necessary.

Vogeler-Boutin seems to want more than her money. She wants the world to know what the Lirolay did to her.

“I pity your bad Karma in your business,” she wrote to the hotel. “I shall be reporting this to a travel ombudsman and will ask them to publish this for the world to see as well as put my comments on your business practices on the Internet.”

I don’t know if that motivates me to get involved in this case.

(Photo: Puyehue/Flickr)

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