Question: I recently booked a retreat to Costa Rica through a yoga studio in New York. Just before I was supposed to leave, I was admitted to the emergency room and had to cancel my trip.
Nick Pilolla thought he’d made a reservation at the Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort & Casino through Otel.com, a European travel website.
Last month, I reported on the possible re-emergence of energy fees in the hotel industry. Today, I have some good news for you — and an update from the hotel that allegedly charged the fee to one guest.
The Oyster Bay Beach Resort is a highrise hotel in St. Martin that promises guests white sand beaches, “breathtaking” views of the Caribbean and a “paradise found.”
But Jack Permadi says he found more than that when he stayed at the property recently. Permadi, who had traveled to the island from North Royalton, Ohio, for vacation, says the hotel asked him to pay extra for something that’s normally included in the price of a stay.
When Sylvia Dawson tried to book airline tickets from New York to London for a group traveling next month, she was taken aback by the fare.
“We were told by Virgin Atlantic that there would be a fuel surcharge of $98 per person,” she says.
Dawson isn’t a novice who would be shocked by news like that. She’s a travel agent who specializes in tours to England, and books a lot of flights over the pond. The reservation was for a group of 20 clients headed to the U.K. on a tour.
“We know that the price of oil has skyrocketed,” she says. “But this group has been booked with Virgin since the beginning of the year. It seems that the increase is somewhat over the top.”
Worse, her group couldn’t pull out of the trip without incurring heavy penalties. The airline had them over a barrel, figuratively speaking. Either they would pay 14 percent more for the price of their tickets or lose their vacations.
Fuel surcharges are a peculiar thing. On domestic flights, the price of fuel must be included in the base fare quoted to passengers. But international flights aren’t regulated the same way, and an airline can quote a low base fare but then add a “fuel surcharge” later.
Is Virgin Atlantic out of line?
Question: A couple of weeks ago, my family and I took a trip to Hilton Head Island. We booked a rental car with Enterprise and the fine print in the contract said there would be an additional charge of $5 a day for “each additional authorized driver other than a spouse or domestic partner.”
I checked this language specifically, because my partner and I are partners, not spouses. We live in Canada (though we’re US citizens) and are “common-law spouses” (a domestic partnership category) under Canadian law.
When we arrived to pick up the car at the Savannah, Ga., airport, we were told we had to pay the extra fee because we were not married. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the document with the above language printed out, so I had to choose between signing the paperwork at the counter or finding a car from another agency.
Naturally, I chose to sign the paperwork; I had already waited in line for nearly half an hour, and I would almost certainly have had to pay a substantially higher rate as a last-minute walk-up at another agency.
When we got to Hilton Head, I looked up the information in my email, called Enterprise’s customer service line, and explained the situation. The gentleman with whom I spoke initially told me that “of course” we wouldn’t have to pay the extra fee if we were domestic partners. He then put me on hold to call the Savannah airport counter.
When he came back on, he told me that he had been wrong: the domestic partner exclusion applied only to same-sex domestic partners, not opposite-sex domestic partners.
I explained that the contract they sent to me did not specify “same-sex domestic partners.” It merely said “domestic partners.”
He agreed with me that we should not have to pay the fee, in his opinion, but said there was nothing he could do because that was company policy. He suggested that I register a formal complaint; I did so, but no one has gotten back to me. — Stacey Koprince, Montreal
Answer: If your contract promised domestic partners didn’t have to pay a fee for an additional driver, then Enterprise shouldn’t have charged you an extra $5 a day.
Cruises used to be billed as “all-inclusive” experiences. But as I report in my latest National Geographic Traveler column, some cruise lines seem enamored of the airline industry’s rich profits, derived almost exclusively from fees.
This weekend’s question is simple: Should they go “a-la-carte” with their fares?
(By “a-la-carte” I mean unbundling the cruise fare, and charging extra for meals and other amenities that used to be included in the price of the cruise.)
Incidentally, if you want to see how far this can be taken, check out the European cruise line EasyCruise, which charged you extra for almost everything (including towels and maid service, in its first year of operation).