Can Palladium Travel Club keep my $8,174?

Rowena Cruz buys a membership in Palladium’s travel club but almost immediately regrets the decision. Why won’t the company refund her $8,174?

Question: We recently stayed at the Grand Palladium Bavaro in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. While we were there, we were invited to attend a sales presentation for the Palladium Travel Club. We paid $8,174 as initial payment, which included a deposit and administrative fee, using our credit card for a 30-year package with 60 all-inclusive weeks.

My husband and I soon realized that the membership is not beneficial to us and that we can’t afford it. Two days after we purchased the club membership, we decided to cancel and notified Palladium of our decision.

About two weeks later, I received a call from the sales manager of Palladium Travel Club, advising that I can’t cancel my membership because there is no cancellation clause in the contract. I believe I have the legal right to cancel my membership and we want to exercise that right. Can you help me get a refund? — Rowena Cruz, Ontario, Canada

Answer: You have the right to cancel your contract — if not legally, than ethically. But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at what happened to you while you were visiting the Dominican Republic. There you were, minding your own business on an all-inclusive vacation, and out of the blue someone invites you to a “brief” sales presentation.

That presentation for Palladium’s club took almost all day and, if its website is any indication, it was filled with lofty promises and hyperbole. How could you not want to sign up for something that offers “endless possibilities to change your way of traveling forever”?

Palladium seems to gloss over the costs and it’s also vague on the benefits of its “club.” Sample question from its site: “How can I get the best out of my membership?” (Hmm, you might start by telling me how much it costs?)

Disclosure: I’m a travel club skeptic. As I wrote in my book, How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler, there’s only one travel club I trust: AAA. From what I can tell, Palladium’s club is a curious combination of loyalty program, timeshare and all-inclusive. And I see no reason to change my opinion about travel clubs.

But let’s give Palladium the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume this whole operation is on the up-and-up and that you had signed up in good faith. Should you be able to cancel your membership within a certain period of time? You believed your contract was governed by Mexico’s laws, which require a cooling off period. The Palladium representative to whom you spoke said there’s no such requirement because the contract is governed by Spanish law.

Frankly, I don’t care whose law applies, and neither should Palladium. It sold you the club membership in a high-pressure environment when your defenses were at their lowest, while you were on vacation, and it should immediately refund the money.

I list the names, numbers and emails of the Palladium Travel Club executives on my consumer advocacy site. A brief, polite email to one of them might have helped your cause.

I contacted Palladium on your behalf. Your cancellation is being processed.

I forgot about my hotel’s 30-day cancellation policy. Can you help?

Jan Peterson booked a weekend at the Bide-A-Wee Inn & Cottages in Pacific Grove, Calif. earlier this year. Then her father-in-law’s condition deteriorated, forcing her to cancel her trip. And then, more bad news: The hotel imposed a 30-day cancellation period because of a special event in town. Read more “I forgot about my hotel’s 30-day cancellation policy. Can you help?”

Forced to check my laptop and now it’s in pieces

La Freta Carter Dalton’s son was boarding an EasyJet flight from London to Barcelona when the overhead bins ran out of space. A crewmember told him he couldn’t board with his laptop computer — it had to be checked.

You can probably guess what happened next, right?
Read more “Forced to check my laptop and now it’s in pieces”

The Travel Troubleshooter: Oh no, my hotel rewards have been downgraded!

Question: My husband and I have been members of Marriott’s loyalty program, Marriott Rewards, for decades. We’re also Marriott Vacation Club owners. We have a problem with a rewards stay we were hoping you could help us with.

About a month ago, I contacted the Marriott Vacation Club office to make a reservation for a vacation stay next year, and I asked the employee to check on a seven-day hotel award, which I thought was about to expire in a few months. I was informed that the award had been converted into 25,000 points and credited to our account.

I asked to speak with a supervisor, since I preferred seven days to 25,000 points. The supervisor said the only thing he could do was to offer us a five-day award. He said some mass emailings went out last year notifying readers that our type of seven-day hotel award would expire at the beginning of the year. I expressed my disappointment in having to accept his offer.

I searched the Web and my saved mail messages for the announcement of the hotel awards expiring in January. I found nothing. So I went to the Marriott’s customer service website and emailed from their site a note asking them to please send me a copy of that mass email announcement about the awards expiration. I also expressed my concern that we did not receive a personal call, letter, or email notifying us of a change in the expiration date. After two weeks, I mailed a letter. I still have received no response. Can you help? — JJ Mortensen, White Rock, NM

Answer: Can Marriott arbitrary downgrade all of its seven-day awards to five-day awards? In a word, yes.
Read more “The Travel Troubleshooter: Oh no, my hotel rewards have been downgraded!”

No refund for my canceled vacation?

Question: My wife and I booked a long weekend at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. We have always enjoyed the service we receive at Marriott properties, so we used the Marriott website to make our lodging arrangements. A link on the Marriott site took us to Marriott Vacations, where we booked a prepaid, three-night stay for $1,041, which we charged to our Visa credit card.

The morning of our departure, our son, who has Down syndrome, woke up with the flu. We can’t leave our son with caregivers when he is sick, so we immediately called the airline and the hotel to cancel our reservations.

The woman who took the call at the hotel canceled the reservation and gave us a contact number for the customer care department to confirm the cancellation. But after two months, the credit did not appear on our Visa card, so I called the hotel.

This started a very long process of several phone calls and hours on the telephone, until I spoke to someone directly in the Marriott corporate accounting department. They informed me that a credit had been issued to Marriott Vacations’ travel agency, and that I needed to contact the agency. I did, but I haven’t heard back from them. Can you help us get our money back? — Kelly Strong, Ames, Iowa

Answer: If Marriott promised you a refund, then you should have received one. I’m not convinced it ever offered one, though.

When you called the hotel to cancel, and it passed you along to Marriott Vacations, someone should have advised you that your hotel room was nonrefundable. So are your airline tickets. Here are Marriott’s terms and conditions.

It’s possible that someone decided to make an exception because of your son’s health, but simply referring you to the refunds department at Marriott Vacations doesn’t mean your refund is a sure thing. (I’m not going to get into the politics of whether this was a Marriott booking or a Marriott Vacations booking, which technically is handled by a third party. As far as you’re concerned, the buck stops with Marriott; and I would agree.)

Marriott Vacations should have recommended travel insurance, particularly since you have a child with special needs. You could have made a claim and received a full refund from your insurance company. At the time I worked on this case, the only mention of insurance on its site was in its terms: “We recommend that you contact an independent insurance carrier to protect your travel investment.”

I hope the representative you spoke with also told you about insurance.

You also spent a lot of time on the phone when you probably would have been better off writing to Marriott with your request. A brief, polite email sent through its main site would have started you down the right road — not to mention saved you lots of time. An email allows you to succinctly state your case and it is easily forwarded to a manager, if your request is rejected the first time.

It was generous of Marriott to offer a full refund of your vacation, but it would have been even more generous if it had actually issued the refund to you. I contacted the company on your behalf. A representative contacted you, apologized for the delay and refunded $1,041 to your Visa card.

(Photo: Shaya/Flickr Creative Commons)