My dog needs to have surgery. No, seriously.

Pixellating Dachshund. / Photo by Mr. T - Flickr
Question: I booked a trip a few weeks back to Regent Palms in the Turks and Caicos through a website called SniqueAway. It didn’t allow for any refunds or changes. The booking appears to be made through a company called Classic Vacations.

Last week, our dachshund ruptured a disk in her back and had to have major surgery. As a result, we need to stay close to home for a few weeks while she recuperates.

I asked Classic Vacations if we could reschedule for an open date later in the summer. They said they contacted the hotel, which declined. I’ve since contacted the hotel and the chain directly via email, but have gotten no response.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth. Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

I used to work in the travel industry, so I got to thinking about the economics of this decision. While the hotel is completely within its rights to refuse my request, is it a good idea?

There are numerous ways to improve customer yield at a hotel, particularly a higher-end resort. Once you add up food, beverage, spa, excursions, beach rentals and gift shop purchases, it could easily be a significant portion of the room rate by the time all is said and done.

By declining my request, their gain is whatever marginal cost is associated with the room not being occupied for a few days, and we both know that isn’t very much. Why would a customer forced to choose between caring for a sick dog and going on vacation consider that chain in the future? — Allan Keiter, Atlanta

Answer: That’s an excellent question. First, let’s be absolutely clear: You’re not entitled to a refund or an exchange, at least according to SniqueAway’s terms, which you agreed to when you booked the room.

Specifically, its rules say “All bookings are final and cannot be changed, refunded, exchanged, canceled, or transferred to another party.”

But I thought you were entitled to an answer from the Regent Palms, if for no other reason than to reiterate its insistence that your room couldn’t be changed. Rules are rules, but there’s no excuse for giving a customer the cold shoulder.

I thought it might be a good idea to check with SniqueAway first, to make sure this request had gone through all the right channels. By your account, this booking was a little complicated. It’s being handled through several parties, including the site, Classic Vacations, and finally, the resort.

By the way, I also agree with your point. When it comes to a luxury hotel like the Regent Palms, it stands to make as much money on you through food and beverage purchases or spa treatments then it did from your room rate, and maybe more. But it’s risky. If it allows you to switch dates and your original room is unoccupied, it would have to be reasonably assured that you’d spend more money than the room rate on extras, in order to recoup its loss.

Given your circumstances, I’m not sure if you booked your vacation at the right site. Had you known that your dog would be injured, you might have gone to a traditional travel agent or booked directly with the hotel. And travel insurance might have covered any loss from your missed vacation. Unfortunately, an injury to your pet is impossible to predict.

SniqueAway allowed you to change your reservation at no additional cost.

87 thoughts on “My dog needs to have surgery. No, seriously.

  1. This is a tough one. I think most people would agree rules need exceptions sometimes, but where does one draw the line? Sick parent/child? Sick pet? Couldn’t get off work? What excuses are good enough and what aren’t?

    I am not trying to sound cruel, and I do hope the animal is ok.

    1. Why is it tough?

      He works in the travel industry. He should know what “non-refundable” means. He should understand the risks of booking a non-refundable package. I don’t fault him for asking for a reschedule, but I don’t agree with SniqueAway’s decision to allow him to reschedule. It has nothing to do with a pet being sick or whatever excuse a traveler can come up with. If non-refundable means non-refundable unless you have the gall to complain, whine, kick, scream and make a big fuss on social media, then what’s the point? Aren’t you just penalizing those who book appropriate rates and package?

      1. What is there to agree with. SniqueAway made a business decision that all of the parties involved are satisfied with.

        As far as penalizing others, hardly, They are still getting exactly what they paid for.  They haven’t lost anything.

    2. Agree – sick dog?  Immediate family (need I specify HUMAN family) and you have a case, although understand that you’re asking for an exception.  Dog?  Fish? Cousin Ralph?  Sorry, don’t even ask.

        1. In the bottom section, related stories [google] had cute dogs and delicious hot dogs [side by side]. I don’t know what they were trying to suggest.

          1. Seems like Mr. Keiter who is sooo intelligent and runs his own business can’t take responsibility for his actions! Really, are meta-tags and referrers that hard to understand? Could this GENIUS not hire someone to help him out?

            Or maybe he’s not really a businessman after all…rather than just a crappy one looking to blame someone else for his problems.

            [Best I could do on one cup of coffee, bro!]

  2. This really is not about the dog – it is whether non-refundable resort reservations are really a good idea for the resort.  Allan Keiter knew the rules and accepted them, but he questioned whether the rules made sense.  Why would a resort want a customer’s only memory of a place be problematic and expensive?  And for all that ill-will, would the resort actually gain very much?  It is a good question. 
    Mr Keiter is likely to think better of the resort, as may many of us, for hearing of this tail (pun intended), and choose them over an unknown.

    It would be a bonanza if the room were re-sold, paid for twice plus all the extras, but is that honest?  Another deeper question – honesty in travel, by the airlines, hotels, and travelers.  And I don’t mean to say THIS hotel or tour is being dishonest but the business practice has become widespread — is it really the right way to operate?  Too often we are circling the drain – travelers canceling, hotels becoming non-refundable, bizarre excuses, and so on – but these practices feed on each other, and new rules jump out to counter each loophole but we all are going down.

    I have not found that non-refundable reservations are worth the savings, perhaps that is my way of buying travel insurance, I usually choose reservations that have an “out clause” because sometimes things happen.  I rarely need to cancel, but knowing that I can is reassuring.

    A word to the hotel – no matter what you have to say, please respond to emails or calls, nothing makes up for silence.

    Best wishes to the dog for a full recovery!

    1. Good post.

      I 100% agree with you on non-refundable reservations not worth the risk or savings. It hits a nerve when I read travelers who purchase advance purchase/non-refundable items, then get a company to bend by using social media extortion.

      However, it seems that resorts are different from business hotels. Many resorts have strict cancellations policies that range from 2 days in advance to 90 days in advance. Many resorts charge “cancellation fees” that apply from day 1 of the reservation, or have “sliding scale cancellation fees” (ie cancel within 60 days to get a full refund minus an administration fee, cancel within 30 days to get a 75% refund minus an administrative fee, etc)

      Consider that off-the-beaten-path resort areas (like Turks and Caicos) have limited transportation to/from the island. From the resort’s perspective, its very difficult to fill a room at the last minute. Not to mention, what is the cost of a last minute airfare to a remote destination. Sure, a room is available, but how are you going to get there? For a small resort with 8 rooms, having a last minute cancellation could be a death sentence for their profit margin.

      We don’t exactly when Keiter was planning to travel, or what Regent’s exact cancellation policy is with a direct booking. However, he did book this “several weeks ago” and the article implies that he would have been traveling in the next few weeks. So, its possible the issue he would have run into problems had this been a standard booking.

      1. My experience is that the flexibility of a cancellation policy tends to be related to business realities.  During low season, cancellation policies tend to be more relaxed since the reservation didn’t cause the property to turn away business.

        During high season, cancellation policies tend to be very strictly enforced.  This makes perfect business and logical sense.


  3. Another person who thinks “non-refundable” doesn’t apply to them.

    Certainly the dog could’ve been boarded at the vet to recover from the surgery, no?

    Course I am curious…what did he do to get his airfare refunded? Or had he just not booked it yet?

    And like Icarus and Tony…I can’t muster much excitement or snark for this case. It’s just another “but my situation is SPECIAL.”

    1. Worse, he boasts, “I used to work in the travel industry”; yet he didn’t figure out all the companies he was dealing with are related to Expedia – the grand daddy of travel vending machines.
      Repeat after me, “if you buy from a vending machine, then expect vending machine service”. Last time I tried to buy a Coke from a vending machine, it ate my dollar.

      1. I don’t believe that SniqueAway,  Classic Vacations and the Regent Palms are all related to Expedia/ What is your source for this?

        1. The hotel is not. All the rest is. This should explain the relationships:
          SniqueAway -> TripAdvisor Media Network -> Expedia
          Classic Vacations -> Expedia

      2. Correction. I know that Classic is owned by Expedia but if you deal directly with them as a travel agent you get far more than vending machine service. I suspect you already know this.

        1. Yes I do. But how many CONSUMERS deal with EAN. Also what kind of REAL  customer service do you get with PREPAY ???

        1. I guess he also [conveniently] forgot the up to 50% discount he got from SniqueAway. You don’t have to be travel industry insider to know that.

    2. Agreed.

      I’ve said it before everyone thinks their reason is special. No changes or refunds mean just that. You got a discount because you were willing to except that clause.

    3. I’ll throw one other tidbit out there.  Note that he doesn’t say they’re actually staying home with the dog, only that they need to stay “close to home” for several weeks while the dog recovers.  Maybe just how he worded it, but it almost sounds like they’re still going to vacation, just not so far away. If they’re taking the dog with them, then clearly the animal could be kenneled.  And if they’re kenneling the dog while they vacation nearby, they could have kenneled it for this trip.

      I’m wondering if they just didn’t change their minds and the dog surgery was the best excuse he could muster to try and get his money back.

      1. Having a dachshund in the house when I was growing up and a sister with two of them, back problems are the main reason I’d never have one, even though I love them.

        This back surgery is a pretty big deal and “stay close to home” most likely meant a cancelled vacation and nothing more.  While recovering, the dogs really can’t be handled a great deal and kenneling them during the process is asking for trouble.  Also, taking them on a vacation is a serious mis-step and I’m sure the vet would have frowned on them doing anything more than taking the dog home and making sure it stayed in familiar surroundings.

        The “Dachshund Back” can hit w/o any notice and it’s debilitating for the dog.  If they’re even able to walk, they whine and howl and it’s heartbreaking to see/watch/hear.

        I hope the surgery fixed the poor dog’s back and I hate that people don’t carry the same affection for pets as I and others do but…  Not everyone SEES pets in the same light and that’s okay, too.  It’s a personal thing and should never be judged.

    4.  I disagree that people think that non-refundable doesn’t apply to them.  But there is no harm is asking. Regardless of the clauses in a contract, the parties are always free to modify the contract.  There is nothing inappropriate or unethical about that.

      A business may choose to waive a contractual obligation as a business judgement to gain goodwill, loyalty, etc.

      I am routinely given courtesies and waivers at the hotels that I frequent.  The result is an extremely high level of loyalty on my part and I return the favor by patronizing these select few properties whenever it is reasonable to do so, even if there are cheaper properties in the vicinity.

      1. I disagree and do think that people don’t think nonrefundabel applies to them.  No, it doesn’t hurt to ask but then a company doesn’t keep to their policies for something like this and it is now out on the net, where will they draw the line for other requests?  Their policies are now not worth anything!   It now become a game as to who is the louder bitcher to get what they want.

        1. 100s of thousands of nonrefundable flights occur daily.  100s of thousands of hotels rooms sold daily.  Chris prints 1 may 2 stories a day.  The number of cases that reach the net are an infinitesimal number. 

          Moreover, hotels and other business are quite capable of figuring out where to draw the line.

          1. Yes and of those that don’t come to Chris, the travelers are stomping their feet at the counter, yelling at the employess, threatening to sue because they can’t get their way as they know these companies have bent the rules for others.  When I worked in corporate travel, believe me I experienced the temper tantrums of those who know that can be and don’t like what they are told they can’t do. 

      2. Thank you for the best summation here though I realize this column has become some folks personal snark-fest opportunity. (Better here than, say, aimed at someone face-to-face?) Traveler buys non-refundable trip, accident happens, asked if he could re-book, property eventually said okay. Case closed.

  4. And travel insurance might have covered any loss from your missed vacation.

    Anyone know of a policy that would have covered this cancellation (pre-existing dog condition or not 😉 ?

    I’m not aware of any applicable Covered Reasons.  In fact, there are often specific exclusions with respect to animals.

    I found reference to a small number of plans that may cover unexpected pet returns and boarding fees if those crop up while you are already on vacation with your pet:

      1. I’m assuming that the dog’s malady was discovered inside of one week from departure, which would mean it’s generally too late to cancel for “Any Reason.”

        And what Any Reason plan would cover more than 75% (never mind “the whole thing”)?

        1.  Whoops… worded that wrong; meant to say: “although not the whole thing.”

          In any case, usually 48 hours is enough notice for an Any Reason cancellation.

    1. Michael_K
      No need for insurance! Just book a cancel-able room [rate].
      You can sleep sound at night and change your plans.

  5. A dog is a dog in spite of people thinking they are “family members” or “Fur babies.  They are not humans.  

  6. The reservation was not just “non-refundable” but also “non-changeable” which means he saved even more off the price of a standard reservation.  He wasn’t asking for a refund just a reschedule which by his own admission he was aware of not being allowed and agreed to when he made the reservations.  

    The more “nons” your reservation has and if it requires a pre-pay the less it is going to cost you because the provider knows you are locked in and they expect a percentage of these types to end up as no-shows.  But you have to be willing to accept the gamble that you might not be able to go.  Seems like most people are willing to gamble but not lose the gamble.  It’s just like going to Vegas, betting $1000 losing it and expecting the casino to give it back to you because you didn’t really mean to throw that much down.

    I don’t feel the the reschedule should have been allowed.  Maybe next time he will book directly with the properties he wants to stay at and get a better price that still allows flexibility.  I know I usually get the same or better prices when I book directly compared to the travel vendors and hotels still allow rescheduling on everything except the cheapest rates.

    This is simply a situation of life happens and sometimes life ends up spoiling your plans which costs you money.  

    I hope the dog ended up OK.

  7. I am a dog owner and dog lover. My Golden IS part of the family. That being said and it having no relevance because it could have been any family member who got sick, I would never book a non-changeable, non-refundable trip unless I felt comfortable losing that amount of money in case something prevented from from going. If the hotel decides to accommodate him, that is great. But, they are under no obligation to do so. People want to book these rooms because they offer a substantial discount when paid in advance. If they want to save the money, they have to accept the risk.

    1. I agree.  The resort was not obligated to accomdate him, but they did and they generated goodwill.  Sounds like a win-win.  I don’t get these people who are second guessing a decision that makes all parties happy.

      1. But what about the online company and their strict policy?  Whatt has tjhis done for them?  It shows that their nonchangeable policy doesn’t mean a thing!! 

        1. That’s just mathematically silly.  Making an exception hardly means that a policy doesn’t mean a thing.  That’s an indefensible position.  Unless a company routinely bends or breaks a rule, a one oft exception is neither a precedent not an admission.

          Consider Hotwire/Priceline.  Their no refund policy is pretty ironclad.  As a rule, they make one good will exception and that’s it.  For the vast majority of folks they will not get a second exception, yet sometime a high level review will make another exception.  This hardly vitiates the general nature of the no refund policy.

          1. Had they done this in private, nobody would have known.  Now it is out on the internet and I would think  this situation could be used to others who book with the company to get around their nonrefundable, nonchangeable policy.  While I would have walked through coals for my dog, I could have easily boarded her at a vet hospital to complete my contract for the hotel booking that was nonrefundable/nonchangeagle.  This company not longer has a back bone in their policies IMHO.

  8. It amazes me when people will take the deal off the internet to save $10 a night, when they could book directly from the property and have options and actual customer service. I always book direct with a hotel property.  My dog was injured when I had a cruise planned, so we paid a housesitter to babysit our dog.

    1. Paying for a dog sitter is another good option. And, as someone mentioned earlier, most vets offer boarding for sick animals. Not only would he have been able to take his trip, his dog would have been cared for by professionals. What was he going to do with the dog while he was gone? He must have already had arrangements for care.

    2. Hello Jayne, and Welcome!
      I totally agree with you. People don’t understand what they are surrendering when they get one of this PREPAY (MERCHANT) room deals.
      I need to point out, though, that travel agents also have an AGENCY agreement with hotels. They can book the same hotel rates (POSTPAY) and you pay the hotel (NOT THE MERCHANT).
      You can tell if you are surrendering your customer service perks when you pay a MERCHANT instead of a hotel.

    3.  +1000

      The only time I book a non-refundable hotel room is from my room, in that hotel, to extend my stay.  And I always book directly with the travel provider.

      The one time that I booked with a third party was in 2001. Travelocity was 1/3 the price of  It was a once in a life booking.

  9. SniqueAway offers very significant discounts, often 50%, which are tied into specific dates. Therefore it is entirely reasonable for all their resrvations to be non-refundable. I am surprised, and frankly a little disappointed, that they caved on this. Has it gotten to the point where all you have to do is make a big enough fuss on sites like this to get something to which you’re not entitled?

    1.  Joel,

      Sadly, the behavior of making a fuss to get what you want extends far beyond the travel industry. I see it every day. At work and when I am out and about.

      I don’t have a problem with people asking nicely. Don’t make threats. Don’t be abusive. Don’t pull the “do you know who I am” card. These people are bullies. And when companies cave, under the threat of social media extortion, it makes the problem worse.

    2.   Has it gotten to the point where all you have to do is make a big
      enough fuss on sites like this to get something to which you’re not

      Really? Do you really think that the very few cases that Chris and his colleagues publish generally affects the nature of nonrefundable bookings?  Its called an exception for a reason.

      1. You missed my point. I did not suggest that the cases published by Chris and others affect the nature of nonrefundable bookings.What I said was that anyone who complains loudly enough to get Chris involved will, in most cases, get an exception which they don’t deserve.

  10. So okay, next time somebody buys from SniqueAway under the identical conditions, and then breaks a leg, or his child gets sick, or a cousin passes away… SniqueAway should also allow a free change to the reservation.  If they don’t, the customer should shrilly cite THIS case to them as a precedent.  If SniqueAway totally caves like this for a sick animal (I’m a HUGE dog-lover, but come ON already), they ought logically to cave for any unexpected incident involving a medical problem and a human, no?

        1. Agree 1000%. I have zero sympathy for the OP. It’s not clear whether SniqueAway did this on their own or if Chris intervened. I hope it was not the latter.

        2. This is an exception. Calling it a precedent would be the politicians doublespeak.

          The very nature of a precedent is that it is binding upon future occurrences.  An exception is not.

          These words are clear, unambiguous, and one should never be used for the other under any circumstances.

          The only reason to call this a precedent is to advance a particular viewpoint when the facts to not support the desired conclusion.

          1. But  the “justification” (about room economics) argued by the ex travel industry worker applies UNIVERSALLY to anyone who rents a room. That itself makes this NOT an exception. A renters dog requiring surgery is not such a unique event either so how can that be an exception. Finally WHO gets an exception? Only those who complain to Elliott?

          2. Once an exception has been made it would be difficult not to grant one in the future and thus the exception becomes a precedent. I think your approach is too legalistic.

  11. I worked in the travel industry and know all about it…but then proceeded to buy a non-refundable package and now am upset that it’s not refundable.  

    This one isn’t worth anybody’s time.

    1. Joe notice he said

      I’ve since contacted the hotel and the chain directly via email, but have gotten no response.

      as if he booked the room from the hotel. Nope, the OP booked with Expedia (aka Classic Vacations). It is the merchant on record and the OP should be dealing with Expedia directly. But he made it sound like the hotel was GUILTY of IGNORING him.

    1. That isn’t the issue IMHO.  They broke their own policy of nonchangeable.  Yes, it was nice, but now, how can they tell others, no?  They have zero back bone to their policy.


        **** PLEASE **** DO NOT SEND ANY – THANKS!!






  12. Agree with most postings – no refund/change should mean no refund/change, but you can’t blame a person for trying. Well, maybe you can… Anyway, I would not book ANYTHING nonrefundable (without insurance) unless I could afford to lose my payment. Snique Away etc. builds their business on this premise, and that’s why their rules are strict. If you want flexibility, book direct or with a TA & get personal consideration. OP maybe used miles for flight (rebankable with fee) and paid a pittance for the resort, so didn’t even consider buying insurance for such a relatively small sum.
    Glad they worked it out & hope the pup will be okay.

  13. I love my pets, I have lost money on non-refundable things because a pet got sick and I decided to stay home, and I still voted no.  I have accepted that I will probably have some financial “mishaps” because of my pets and have chosen to have them anyway.  I do think it’s OK to ask for a refund (not demand, not expect) but they don’t have to give one. 

  14. When did non-refundable become maybe refundable? Having said that it never hurts to ask, but when the answer is no, accept it with good grace or have cancellation insurance (which in this case might or might not have covered the situation).

    I am one of the majority who would book through a real live travel agent, and, as I’ve said before, ours saved us money compared to the Internet rates from any source on our last 2 trips.

  15. Today’s survey question avoids the real issue. It’s less a matter of how to prioritize a pet emergency relative to a human emergency than it’s about why the travel industry is pushing so relentlessly for the non-changeability and non-refundability of absolutely everything.

    Travel of the kind being discussed here is mainly a discretionary activity. We used to schedule vacations and brief getaways because such things were fun. When life threw curves at us we could adjust our plans; because we could do so, we took chances on travel – further perhaps, for longer, new kinds of places.

    Now that the travel industry whacks us with the rulebook for every perceived infraction, we have come to look at travel as we view dental work: we’ll go to that wedding when we absolutely have to, but to avoid angering the desk clerks and gate agents who control our lives with their arbitrary decisions, we no longer take risks.

    Because I run a small business myself, I understand customer retention. Treat them humanely and empathically, and they’ll come back. Why hasn’t the travel industry figured out my incredible secret?

    1. You bring up a valid question and with 3 decades of selling travel under my belt I have seen the changes.  Other businesses are having to made adjustments to their way of doing things, too, because people lie, flake out and take advantage of others now more than ever. 

      I always use the example of planning a catered party.  Ever do that?  I have and I hate it.  You ask for an RSVP and people don’t bother to respond, so you don’t know who is going to show up or not and you have figure out how much food you need.  I was just a two different sit down weddings where 2-5 people per table never showed up even though they said they were attending. How do you handle this?

      We all have reasons for changing our plans, but the company/person who is expecting you has expenses to plan for.  There never use to be change/cancel fees when I first starting selling airline tickets.  Nobody use to change their plans/minds.  A commitment was a commitment, but these days, screw that, it is me first.

    2. Alan, because we have this great thing called the internet, people can buy and vendors can sell WITHOUT HUMAN INTERACTION anymore. It makes us care less about relationships.

  16. I can understand if you are poor, but read on …

    This 72 room resort is rated 9 out of 10 by TravelWeekly. The current Best Available Rate (BAR) for Junior Suite is $625 per night. For a One Bedroom, $850-1150 per night (depending on the view). They currently offer a 25% discount on the Junior Suite, and that deal costs $468.75 per night (see pic). These are Regent Palm’s PUBLISHED rates according to my GDS (not Expedia’s Merchant rates). The hotel has a 21 day prior cancellation policy.

    I don’t know about you, but for me, if you can afford to stay in one of these palaces, you really have no business using an advocate. And if you worked (or currently work) for the travel industry, you know what a 9 hotel class rating is, you know what 21 day cancellation means, and you know that Expedia Affiliate Network discounts their merchant properties but you must prepay and the rate is non-refundable (nor changeable). [SniqueAway is an Expedia related company.] So you get this super rate (probably lower than the hotel’s $469 offer) from SniqueAway and you wiggle your way out of a commitment. No wonder fewer and fewer people trust those who work for the travel industry.

  17.  He introduces himself as:

    Allan Keiter is the founder and president of, LLC. After earning his MBA from Columbia University in 1991, Mr. Keiter embarked on a career path that would have him spend the next 8 years directing the pricing and revenue management strategy and tactics for large service companies, including United Parcel Service, Continental Airlines and BellSouth Cellular.

    Of all people he should know why SniqueAway charges up to 50% less than standard rates and expects buyers to understand that the rooms are NOT REFUNDABLE NOR CHANGEABLE.

    1.  Except that old adage, there are exceptions to every rule. Travel providers invoke it all the time.  It is inconsistent to claim on one hand that a nonrefundable, non changeable rule can never be broken, but on the other hand, if the hotel is sold out, or otherwise doesn’t have a room to sell, it can walk you.

      Once you accept that premise, then the entire rigidity of the contract changes.

      I might have a different perspective if hotels and other travel providers were not permitted to overbook.  But I have a very hard time understanding why “what’s good for the goose, isn’t good for the gander”

      As long as travel providers aren’t really bound by the non-refundable/non-changeable terms in the contract, I see no ethical reason why the traveler shouldn’t have the same liberty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: