Case dismissed: They promised a refund but they’re keeping my money

Diana Somerville was looking forward to a week in Canada with her family last Thanksgiving.

But the weather gods were not smiling upon her. Just before she was supposed to drive up to Victoria, a major blizzard struck near her home in Washington State, making the roads impassable.

“All highways and airports were shut down so I called and cancelled the reservation,” she says. “Extended forecasts said still more snowstorms were on the way so I sadly relinquished the idea of our holiday weekend vacation.”

But EMR Vacation Rentals, which handled her reservation, did not.
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Here’s to the airline heroes who helped us make it through the snowstorms

Notice anything funny about this itinerary? Look closely.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m scheduled to arrive in Washington after my departure tomorrow.

JetBlue sent it to me after canceling last night’s flight because of a snowstorm that was forecast to slam Washington. When I phoned the airline to point out the problem with its proposed schedule, a representative laughed.

“Oh,” she said, “that’s just our system.”

A sense of humor! That’s the first thing you’ve gotta have that when you’re dealing with thousands of canceled flights over several weeks. You have to be able to laugh about it.

I’ve heard numerous stories of airlines going above and beyond during this challenging time. I want to share a few of them with you.
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Tarmac delay hall of shame: holiday edition

Anyone who thinks tarmac delays are dead was in for a little shock this week. Hundreds of flights were delayed in a series of powerful blizzards, and a few sat between the runway and the terminal for hours, waiting for the weather to clear.

The Transportation Department, which hasn’t fined a single airline for a tarmac delay since instituting its three-hour rule last spring, will almost certainly have to take some enforcement action this time. And, of course, there’s a big loophole: International flights remain exempt from the turnback rule.

More than two dozen international flights waited more than three hours from Monday to Wednesday to get to an open gate in New York, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The worst delay appears to be a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok that arrived Monday evening and got to a gate 12 hours later at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.
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Charged for a room I’ve already canceled

Question: I’m not sure how to resolve a hotel problem, and I hope you can help me. My daughter and I had reservations at the Ramada St. Cloud last spring. We had a blizzard and no unnecessary travel was advised. The roads were almost impassable.

We decided to not attempt the drive. I contacted the hotel twice that day to cancel. I spoke with the general manager, and she told me that she could not actually enter a cancellation, but that she would note that I had called to cancel. A weather-related cancellation would “not be a problem,” she told me.

But a few days later, a charge was posted to my credit card account. I tried working directly with the hotel and was treated very rudely. I eventually received a letter from Ramada saying that I had not canceled my reservation, and that my card had been charged.

I disputed the charge with my credit card company, but it sided with the hotel. Any suggestions? — Bonnie Polk, Minneapolis

Answer: Ramada should have canceled your reservation and never charged your credit card, as promised.

Why didn’t it? The standard Ramada refund policy says you have to notify the hotel by 6 p.m. the night before you arrive, or your card will be charged for one night’s stay. There’s no mention of an exception for weather, so it would be up to the hotel to waive its policy when you can’t check in because of a storm.

Phoning the hotel was a good idea, but I would have started with a call to Ramada’s main reservation number. They might have referred you back to the St. Cloud location, but not before making a notation on your record that you were trying to cancel your reservation. That might have been helpful later, when Ramada charged your credit card for a room you didn’t use.

When a manager told you that your reservation couldn’t be canceled in the system, you should have politely asked what you could do to get a cancellation number. Under ideal circumstances, the hotel would send you a cancellation number in writing — either by email or regular mail. That number would have allowed you to win your credit-card dispute, hands down.

If Ramada’s reservation system was out of order (which can happen during a blizzard) then you might have asked the manager to send you an email assuring you that your reservation had been canceled and that you won’t be charged. Again, that’s probably enough to make any card dispute go in your favor.

At the very least, ask for the name, extension and email address of the managers who authorized the cancellation. Note the time of your conversation, too. When the hotel began sending you rude letters, you could have replied with information from those notes. This isn’t as effective as having a cancellation number, but it’s better than nothing.

Ramada should have allowed you to cancel your reservation without any penalties, but I can almost understand why it didn’t. When a storm is bearing in on your hotel and all of your guests are canceling, it’s not always easy to keep track of who you talked to and what you said.

Still, a simple phone call to the manager should have been enough to clear up this misunderstanding. Too bad it wasn’t.

I contacted Ramada on your behalf, and it refunded the charge for your hotel room.