Case dismissed: Canceled our tour after a hurricane — how ’bout a refund?

When hurricane Irene plowed through the Northeast late last summer, she didn’t just leave half of New England underwater. The storm also ruined a vacation or two, including the tour of Niagara Falls Jim Allendoerfer had set up for his fiancee and her family.

Tour operators are normally very understanding when it comes to the weather, but that wasn’t the case with the Tours4Fun, the website through which he’d purchased the Niagara tour.

Then again, Allendoerfer’s circumstances were a little unusual. His fiancee’s family had flown in from Thailand, and they’d decided to cancel their entire Empire State itinerary and head to Vegas instead.
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Road trip update: Chased by a hurricane, headed toward an earthquake

It wasn’t the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Richmond just a day before we were supposed to arrive.

Instead, it was the surprise hurricane nipping at our heels as we drove north from Orlando to Virginia’s capital — slowly gaining strength as she churned toward the US mainland — that got me thinking.

Am I jinxed?
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Seeing both sides of St. Lucia

Calling the Caribbean island of St. Lucia “picturesque” may be like saying Miss America is beautiful. And how.

There are Kodak moments around every hairpin turn on the road. I took this picture a few minutes ago from the top of Windjammer Landing. I’ve uploaded more photos to my Flickr page, too.

I’ll share more snapshots and stories of St. Lucia in an upcoming post on National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog. But I also wanted to offer a few early impressions.
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A hurricane is headed for my hotel — how ’bout a refund?

ritaQuestion: I think that you may be my only hope! My father and I were supposed to meet in San Antonio before a conference. Lucky for us, the weekend that we were to be in San Antonio was the same weekend Hurricane Ike plowed through Texas. After experiencing Gustav just two weeks prior in Baton Rouge, I was not very keen on going for round two. My flight was canceled, anyway.

We had made reservations at the Holiday Inn on the Riverwalk for the weekend. The rate was pre-paid and nonrefundable, which at the time of booking was fine. However, when we saw where the hurricane was headed, we called to cancel our reservations independently.

After some discussion about the storm, the hotel told us both independently that, due to the extreme circumstances, we would receive refunds. I have an e-mail from the hotel regarding my “refund.”

Despite numerous e-mails to the hotel over many months, we’ve received nothing. Any assistance that you can offer me would be greatly appreciated. — Kristin Budden, Baton Rouge, La.

Answer: I think Holiday Inn owes you a refund. Not because of the hurricane, or because it was the right thing to do (although both are true) but because a hotel representative promised one in writing.
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Help! My rental company ran out of cars

Question: I have a car rental predicament and need your help. My friend and I recently reserved a car through Dollar Rent A Car in Austin, Texas using We were quoted a rate of $37 per day. We arrived a week after a hurricane had hit Texas, only to find that they’d given away all their cars.

The Dollar representative was really rude. She acted as if this wasn’t her problem. Even though we had the confirmation printed out, no one from Hotwire or the rental car company had contacted us to tell us we wouldn’t have a car.

The Dollar agent pointed to the Advantage counter, saying, “They’ll honor your reservation, but not your rate.” So we rented one of their cars. But instead of paying $155 for a three-day rental, we ended up being out nearly $400. Shouldn’t Dollar have paid the difference in price, since it was their fault and not ours? — Kristin Luna, San Francisco

Answer: Dollar should have paid for a comparable rental from one of its competitors. If it couldn’t make this happen, or if it wouldn’t, then Hotwire should have helped you.

Bottom line? You shouldn’t have paid an extra $245 to get the car that Hotwire and Dollar confirmed — hurricane or not.

At the same time, I think your negative car rental experience was completely preventable. You could have called your online travel agency or the car rental company to confirm your reservation. Chances are, one of them might have known about the vehicle shortage in Austin.

When a car rental location runs out of cars, the standard industry practice is to pay for a rental from a competitor at no extra cost to you. Dollar didn’t follow that rule when you arrived in Austin. I think it should have.

Arguing with a crabby car rental agent is pointless. Instead, I would have taken your complaint up the chain by asking for a supervisor. If that doesn’t work, call Dollar’s 800-number or Hotwire.

Once you agree to Advantage’s rate and drive off into the sunset, the odds that you’ll get a refund are not to your advantage.

That’s no exaggeration. A review of the email correspondence between you and Hotwire makes it clear the agency had no plans to help. “Since the (car rental) agency was unable to provide a car due to circumstances beyond their control and your reservation not being billed to you previously, we are unable to offer you any form of compensation,” Hotwire responded.

Hotwire makes no implicit guarantees that it will take care of you when your car rental company refuses to honor a reservation. But its prominent display of J.D. Power & Associates’ award for “Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Independent Travel Web Sites” is enough to leave travelers with the impression that they’ll be in good hands when something goes wrong.

I contacted Hotwire to find out if this was the agency’s final answer. It wasn’t. Hotwire contacted Dollar on your behalf and the car rental company issued a full refund.