My hotel in San Juan closed after the hurricane. Why won’t American Airlines Vacations offer a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

Hurricane Maria disrupts Nora Novak’s vacation to Puerto Rico, shutting down her hotel. Why won’t American Airlines Vacations refund her trip?


I booked my Thanksgiving vacation through American Airlines Vacations from Chicago to San Juan. I had reservations at the Caribe Hilton San Juan Hotel.

Immediately after the hurricane, I called Hilton corporate. A representative informed me that Hilton would close the hotel through Dec 31, and they would refund any paid reservations in full.

Over the next weeks I spoke with several American Airlines agents, who told me that until Hilton officially notified American Airlines Vacations, it would not discuss any options with me. I finally spoke with an agent who gave me options for other vacations, but would not book anything as American Airlines Vacations still had not received official notification from Hilton.

Finally, I received a voicemail from an American Airlines Vacations representative, who said I was not eligible for any refunds. He informed me my only option was to accept credit with a one-year expiration date. I also had to make an immediate decision, even though it had refused many requests from me to resolve the situation for weeks.

When I tried to rebook, an agent told me they had no options in the Caribbean for the same dates. So I am now in the position of having no Thanksgiving vacation while American Airlines Vacations holds all my money.

Now, thanks to American Airlines Vacations, I will be using my vacation sitting at home. I am expressing great disappointment. Can you help me? — Nona Novak, Lincolnshire, Ill.


I can’t believe that happened to you. I mean, how hard would it be to find out if the Caribe Hilton San Juan is open? Why would American Airlines Vacations have to wait until it gets “official” word, leaving a valued customer waiting?

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With package vacations, the operator — in this case, American Airlines Vacations — accepts responsibility for all components of the trip. If the flight cancels or the hotel shuts down, the reseller is responsible for replacing the missing item.

American Airlines Vacations had something else going in its favor. It bills itself as the “official” vacations site for the airline, implying that at the very least, if something goes wrong with your airfare, you’ll be covered. So it only had to worry about your hotel, which was already being refunded.

Is American Airlines liable for any compensation?

Interestingly, the terms to which you agreed suggest American Airlines Vacations’ actions are acceptable. The company, it notes “will not be liable to pay any compensation or damages if it cancels or in any way changes a trip or package as a result of unusual or unforeseeable circumstances beyond its control, the consequences of which could not have been avoided even with all due care.” Those include a weather event like a hurricane. (Related: If hotel alarm clocks set you off, you’re not alone?)

Still, something about this didn’t feel right to me. You might have contacted a customer service manager at American. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site You did that, but received no response. (Here’s how to get the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

I contacted the airline on your behalf. It offered you a full refund.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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