The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I paid twice for my all-inclusive vacation

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Christopher Elliott

Question: We recently made arrangements to go to visit the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino through a company called Cheap Caribbean. The hotel has an all-inclusive option, which includes meals, beverages and activities, and quoted us the price of $5,701.

Imagine the absolute horror we encountered when we got to the Marriott and were told that our reservation with them was for the room only — no all-inclusive. Since we booked an all-inclusive we took only a small amount of cash, which would not have been enough for a week’s worth of meals and liquid refreshments.

When we called Cheap Caribbean Customer Service from the Marriott check-in desk, they wanted another $3,000 to make it an all-inclusive. After many, many phone calls between Cheap Caribbean, Marriott and my daughter, Cheap Caribbean and the three of us agreed to split the additional cost just to get the matter resolved and behind us. We had already lost what equaled a whole day of our vacation and wanted to get on with enjoying the short time we had left.

We feel that we were ripped off by Cheap Caribbean. We were quoted a vacation deal and they should have honored it. We wrote to the president of Cheap Caribbean but never received an answer. Can you help us? — Esther Mikula, Tinley Park, Ill.

Answer: You shouldn’t have to pay twice for your all-inclusive vacation. Cheap Caribbean and Marriott should have honored your reservation without charging you more.

You don’t negotiate with your travel agent and then split the difference. Either your reservation says “all-inclusive” and you get the meals, drinks and activities — or not. So if you look at your paperwork, and you’ve bought the all-inclusive package, then there’s no two ways about it: You should get what you paid for.

One way to avoid an unpleasant surprise before you check into a resort is to call ahead to confirm your reservation. Don’t phone Cheap Caribbean; ask Marriott, instead. A representative could have told you about the problem long before you arrived, saving you the trouble of having to renegotiate your vacation package at check-in.

The best way of ensuring that you get what you paid for is to have everything in writing. That includes your reservation that says “all inclusive,” the confirmed rate and your room type. Don’t take an agent’s word that you have an all-inclusive vacation, no matter what. Get it on paper. It will make any negotiation with the hotel far easier.

I’m troubled that Cheap Caribbean didn’t respond to your written inquiry. But I wonder if sending a brief, polite email through the company’s website — as opposed to a letter sent directly to its president — would have been the better course of action. I always recommend going through channels before appealing your grievance to the president. Still, someone should have acknowledged your letter, and they didn’t.

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You might have also checked with Marriott to find out why your all-inclusive rate wasn’t honored. I asked Marriott to take another look at your reservation. A representative contacted you and offered a full refund of the surcharge you had to pay.

Update: Cheap Caribbean contacted me after this story appeared to say it, too, had refunded the extra money Mikula and her party had to pay.

(Photo: Video Vik/Flickr Creative Commons)

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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 weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes 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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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