My hotel promised a refund, but my travel agency refused

Serban Constantinescu’s Scandinavian tour didn’t get off to the best start. He missed a flight connection from Cleveland to New York because of bad weather, and was a no-show for his hotel in Copenhagen.

But when he phoned the Quality Airport Hotel Dan, it let him off the hook. “We will cancel the reservation and will not charge a cancellation fee,” a representative told him. He even was able to get their promise in writing.

So where’s his refund?

As it turns out, Constantinescu made his reservation through an online travel agency called Otel.com, which has its own refund policies. And it is keeping his $282.

“We are really sorry,” a representative wrote to Constantinescu. “As much as we want to issue a refund, we are bound by the hotel’s terms and conditions so we do not have any control over the charges associated with the reservation.”

Constantinescu is upset. “I feel scammed,” he says.

Fortunately, this was an open-and-shut case. He’d asked for, and received, a written assurance that the Quality Airport Hotel wouldn’t charge his credit card, which is the equivalent of a letter of credit. Taking that correspondence to your credit card company virtually assures you can dispute the charge – which is exactly what he did.

There’s a lesson in here for all of us. If you want a travel company – or any company, for that matter – to make an exception to its published policies, get it in writing. The company can later deny that it made such a promise, but a credit card company will interpret it as a letter of credit. And it will act accordingly.

Constantinescu’s case brings up another question: What happens when a travel agency policy conflicts with that of an airline, cruise line or hotel’s? For his trip, the hotel had agreed to a refund, but Otel.com refused.

Whose rules apply?

I’m sure there are some well-meaning agents out there who believe their travel agency policy trumps that of a supplier. Telling a customer, “tough luck” also allows an agent to protect any commissions and bonuses earned through the booking, and after all, agents are running a charity, are they?

But I believe that if a hotel is refunding the money to a travel agency, then the agency has an obligation to send the refund back to the customer’s credit card. I can’t imagine any scenario under which an agency (online or otherwise) should be able to pocket a hotel rate or even a cancellation fee.

A full refund should be processed immediately.

Constantinescu’s credit card dispute went in his favor, of course. But others might have taken Otel.com’s denial as the final word, and let it keep his $282.

Don’t be that person.

(Photo: Kim Erlandsen/Flickr)

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