Flu stops my trip to Cancún. Why won’t Expedia give me a refund?

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Christopher Elliott

Sometimes, nonrefundable really means nonrefundable. Even if you’re Sibel Isik, a customer stricken by the flu just before her vacation to Cancún, Mexico.

And even if you’re me.

Isik’s case is a necessary reminder that companies often place unreasonable restrictions on their products — restrictions you need to know about before you plunk down your credit card.

Stricken by the flu before her vacation

Isik wanted to take her mother on a last-minute trip to Mexico. She found a deal through Expedia and booked it, but shortly after that, both she and her mother started to feel ill.

She canceled her tickets within 24 hours, and Expedia refunded them.

“The day after the cancellation, my mother and I ended up in the ER with influenza,” she says. “We were in the hospital for a week.”

After her release, she pleaded with Expedia for a refund of her nonrefundable hotel. She sent her online agency her hospital discharge papers. She also noted that she’d taken a loan out to pay for the vacation, and now faced additional medical expenses. Could Expedia make an exception?

“Expedia should see this as a one-time incident and should return the hotel portion,” she says.

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands, including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Isik noted that she’d been an Expedia customer for the last 15 years and that her loyalty should count for something, too.

Expedia said “no.”

How not to appeal your case

Isik was understandably upset. Although the hotel offered her a credit, she wanted her money returned.

“The hotel should be thankful,” she says. “My flu was detected early, and I was not able to go.”

She noted that she could have infected airline passengers and hotel guests, had she kept her travel plans.

“However, the reckless behavior of the hotel is very upsetting,” she added. “If they don’t come to a pleasant agreement, I will take this public.”

She adds,

Now being the flu season, I am sure healthy Americans would like to make sure they are safe on their vacation in Mexico. I have relatives working at the New York Times and the LA Times and they would love a great story like this.

I hope we can resolve this before it gets out of hand and affects also the reputation of Expedia for working with careless hotels or resorts.

Alright, time out!

This is not the way to persuade Expedia, or any other company, to bend a rule. I explain the correct way to fix a problem in this post.

Angry, threatening emails are highly ineffective. Please don’t try this at home.

Case dismissed

I still wanted to help Isik. I agree that she did the airline and hotel a favor. She had a valid medical reason for missing her vacation.

Some of you are screaming: travel insurance! I can hear you. But I’m not sure if that would have helped. She was symptomatic almost immediately after booking her trip, so a clever travel insurance company could have denied the claim on the basis that the flu was a pre-existing medical condition.

My advocacy team contacted Expedia. Sadly, it repeated its “no” — which it’s entitled to do.

Sometimes, nonrefundable means nonrefundable. Even when your customers try to do the right thing but end up getting it all wrong. Even then.

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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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Tokyo.

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