The Travel Troubleshooter: No refund for my Colorado condo?

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By Christopher Elliott

May Tong reserves a condo in Winter Park, Colo., but calls off her vacation about a month before her arrival. The cancellation policy seems to allow for a refund, under certain conditions. But have those conditions been met? Maybe.

Question

I need your assistance in obtaining a refund for the advance resort rental payment made to Winter Park Lodging Company in Winter Park, Colo. I made a reservation to stay in a two-bedroom condo during the New Year’s holiday.

My reservation was canceled almost a month before I was supposed to arrive. The company refunded the sales taxes and linen charges of $69 out of the prepaid $965. But it kept $896 for the rental.

Winter Park Lodging’s cancellation policy says, “If you must cancel, let us know as soon as possible and we will try to rebook your property for you reservation dates and will reimburse you for any nights we are able to rebook for you.” I asked the company if it rented my unit. It says no, but I question its honesty. If you check the property availability on its site, you’ll notice that all weekends from January to April are fully booked. What actions can be taken? — May Tong, Houston

Answer

You have to take Winter Park Lodging Company — which describes itself as “the best place to find vacation rentals in Winter Park” — at its word. Which is something you’re unwilling to do, and for good reason. Its site appears to contradict what it’s telling you.

The company’s cancellation policy, which it emailed to you but I couldn’t find anywhere on its website, has one other disclaimer: “We strongly encourage that you purchase vacation insurance for your reservation. Without vacation insurance, there is no guarantee that you will receive any money back for your lodging reservation.”

That’s excellent advice, but the overall policy lacks something. How do you verify whether the company rented a unit? Wouldn’t it just be easier to say “no refunds” and not even leave open the possibility of getting your money back, as many other properties do? And why not disclose this policy prominently on the company’s website, as opposed to sending it by email — presumably after you’ve made a booking? (Related: This is why the bad service you get is your fault.)

As a matter of fact, travel insurance might have covered you. Or not. Some policies do allow a cancellation for any reason, but others only offer refunds for specific reasons. And there’s no telling if your reasons would have been good enough for your insurer.

Persistence secured a partial reimbursement

I wouldn’t have booked a condo in Colorado with an iffy refund policy unless you were absolutely certain you’d be able to stay there or unless you had reliable insurance. Once you sign on the dotted line, you might not be able to get a refund. (Here’s what you need to know before you rent your next vacation home.)

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I thought it might be worth asking Winter Park Lodging Company if it could verify that the unit you rented was actually empty during the peak of high season, so I contacted it on your behalf.

“I spoke with the owners of this property and convinced them to give the guest all of her money back minus the $100 cancellation fee,” a spokeswoman told me. “Normally we don’t do this, but she seems to be after our reputation despite her signing a legal contract that explains the cancellation policy.”

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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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