Is this enough compensation? A $300 refund for an oil-soaked vacation

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By Christopher Elliott

Fort Morgan, Ala., is a quiet Gulf Coast resort known for its sparkling white sand beaches. Well, usually.

Thanks to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year, Anne Hill’s spring break on Alabama’s Gulf Coast wasn’t all she had hoped for. She phoned a local rental agency, Meyers Real Estate, and says she inquired about the state of the beaches before booking a vacation rental.

“They said they were in great shape,” she says.

They weren’t.

Hill explains,

We booked a week’s stay in one of their vacation rentals in Fort Morgan.

The entire week we were there, there were huge machines on the beach filtering out the sand.

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In our 1/2 mile of beach in front of the house, there were approximately 20 to 30 men running up and down the beach all day in heavy machines and ATVs. They would honk or whistle at the girls, who were the only people on the beach.

It made them so uncomfortable they did not venture out to the beach again.

Hill went to Meyer’s office in person and complained. The agency refunded $300 of her rental. But her bill was $1,400.

“I do not feel that this was enough,” she says.

Interesting case. Should the vacation rental agency have known about the beach work? Probably. The deep-cleaning efforts had been in the news for a while.

But are they responsible for it? No.

Liability and miscommunication

Hill’s contract would spell out the rental agency’s liability, but I’m relatively certain that a claim might be difficult, if not impossible, under the agreement. I’ve read enough of these contracts to know.

As I review Hill’s grievance, it seems she believes her rental agent may have misled her in order to secure a rental. I think that’s highly unlikely. Only the most unscrupulous agent would do such a thing. (Here’s what you need to know before booking your next vacation rental.)

Maybe the agency thought the beach cleaning would be over by the time Hill arrived, but bending the truth to get more customers is no way to run a business. I think this was an honest mistake — and one for which the real estate agent paid by surrendering some or most of its rental fee. (Related: Hello relaxation? Not with this reservation.)

Refunding even more of the cost of her rental would probably entail asking the homeowner for a money. And that’s not going to be easy.

Hill thinks the $300 refund isn’t enough.

What I would like is a complimentary week’s stay in a comparable house for a week this summer. That way they get their money for my first visit, but I can return this summer and have the vacation I didn’t get.

Should the real estate agent offer a do-over of the vacation during summer, which is peak season on the Gulf coast?

It was a close vote.

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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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