Osvaldo Gratacos and his fiancée planned a trip to Mexico for their wedding for themselves and his family members in Puerto Rico. But when Hurricane Irma passed over Puerto Rico, Volaris canceled flights — including Gratacos’ relatives’. He would like a credit for future travel from the companies involved. But until our advocates became involved in his case, all he received was silence.
A link on Volaris’ website led Gratacos to the BestDay Travel, where he booked a package for himself, his fiancée, his parents and another family member, two of whom would be coming from San Juan, Puerto Rico, for $5,000. The package included flights on Volaris and a stay at the Finest Playa Mujeres resort in Cancún, Mexico. It also included travel insurance.
Hurricane Irma and canceled flights
Then Hurricane Irma made landfall in Puerto Rico, closing the San Juan airport. Gratacos and his fiancée were already in Cancún. But his relatives would not be able to travel from Puerto Rico.
Gratacos’ case was a difficult one for our advocates. It, unfortunately, stands as a warning to hope for the best, but always plan for the worst in every travel situation, especially when international travel and special trips are involved, because your plans can be upended at any moment.
When Gratacos learned that the hurricane and airport closure made it impossible for his relatives to travel to Cancún, he tried to cancel their hotel reservations. But the resort did not issue a refund. Nor would Volaris refund his airfares.
Both Volaris and the resort told Gratacos that BestDay Travel would have to cancel the reservations — and both companies reminded Gratacos that neither was responsible for the hurricane or airport closure.
Canceled flights should lead to a refund
According to Gratacos, “The only thing the agency told us was that they only make money from the flight reservation and so they were not going to pay us back the money.” And BestDay offered no help beyond an offer to rebook their canceled flights on the following Sunday, which did not work for Gratacos as the wedding was scheduled for that Saturday. Even Gratacos’ travel insurance turned out to be useless as it did not cover trip cancellations resulting from hurricanes. He then contacted our advocates for help, requesting credits for future travel from Volaris and the resort.
Volaris’ passenger international air transportation services agreement contains the following provision regarding cancellations:
Tickets are not transferable and nonrefundable. … The Passenger has the right to cancel his/her flight and request the Ticket devolution only if they inform Volaris, in the 24 hours next to the purchase and only if the Passenger has not realized the check-in of your flight by any of the possible manners.
There are two reasons why Finest Playa Mujeres may not have been willing to issue a refund or credit to Gratacos. One is that according to its terms and conditions, “cancellations of bookings received within four days or less prior to arrival will result in a cancellation fee equivalent to the full amount due for the entire booked stay.” The terms and conditions also provide that
We do not accept liability or pay compensation for any loss, damage or expense where the performance of our service is prevented or affected by reason of force majeure. Force Majeure means any event which we could not, even with all due care, foresee or avoid such as … adverse weather conditions, closure of airports or ports, … and all other similar events.
A $5,000 loss?
But these provisions leave Gratacos out $5,000 for events over which he had no control. They are also inconsistent with a notation on Gratacos’ confirmation email which reads: “The hotel allows cancellation without surcharge up to three days before arrival, from two days to 24 hours due to arrival applies one-night penalty. In case of no-show or early departure complete booking will be charged.”
For these reasons, and because Volaris sold Gratacos the entire package and canceled the flight, our advocacy director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, believed that the entire package should be refundable. She reached out to Volaris and BestDay Travel on his behalf.
Neither Volaris nor BestDay responded directly to Friedman, but soon the Finest Playa Mujeres issued Gratacos a refund of $1,600 through BestDay Travel. This refund was noted to be a goodwill gesture but amounted to less than one-third of the $5,000 he was entitled to.
But we don’t think that a gesture of goodwill suffices in this case. The canceled flights should not have resulted in a loss to Gratacos. Regardless of the companies’ respective terms and conditions, Gratacos’ relatives were unable to travel for reasons that weren’t his responsibility. We also believe that BestDay mishandled the reservations and should provide Gratacos with a reason why he isn’t entitled to a full refund.
Friedman advised Gratacos to consider initiating a chargeback with the credit card he used to pay for the travel package. The credit card company can force Volaris to give an official response.