Will TripAdvisor refund me if the owner won’t?

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By Christopher Elliott

Just before Deborah Williams checks into her vacation rental in Sanibel, Fla., the owner delivers some bad news: Her rate has tripled. Pay up immediately, or she can’t stay. Is there any way to save her Florida vacation?

Question

Last year, I booked a rental in Sanibel, Fla., through TripAdvisor. I confirmed the rental via email and also spoke with the owner by phone a month later.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the owner, saying there was a “mistake.” The correct rate was triple what we had agreed to. If I didn’t pay, I couldn’t stay.

I tried to convince the owner to follow the legal contract, to no avail. I am supposed to get my money back. But I’m scheduled to be in Sanibel in two months and I have no place to stay. TripAdvisor wants to send me to a place 20 miles away in Fort Myers, but it’s not Sanibel.

I want my $4,447 refund and a place to stay. I think TripAdvisor should enforce its contract. Can you help me? — Deborah Williams, Holland, N.Y.

Answer

TripAdvisor should have quoted the correct rate when you booked the rental. And if it wasn’t right, it should have helped you fix it.

Instead, it looks as if you had a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer from the owner and when you asked for a refund, foot-dragging. There’s no excuse for that.

A closer look at the rate you were quoted suggests this is not a true “fat finger” rate. (It’s called “fat finger” because someone pushed the wrong button, entering an obviously incorrect price.) Your nightly rate for a stay in March 2018 was $117. The “real” rate should have been $325 per night.

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When a pricing error is made, it’s really important for your online travel agent to fix the rate quickly and help remedy any of the problems created by the rate error. That didn’t happen, according to you. The owner ordered you to pay up, and the refund and any fix seemed far away even as your vacation approached.

TripAdvisor tried to help

Fortunately, you kept a meticulous paper trail of correspondence between you, the owner and TripAdvisor. It appears TripAdvisor tried to help you, but suggesting alternative lodging in Fort Myers is hardly the answer. I’m a big fan of Sanibel, and you can’t really compare it to Fort Myers. Sanibel is an island with miles of white sand beaches loaded with beautiful shells. Fort Myers, on the other hand, is a fairly average coastal city in Southwest Florida. It’s nice, but it’s no Sanibel. (Related: Flu stops my trip to Cancún. Why won’t Expedia give me a refund?)

I publish the executive contact information for TripAdvisor on my consumer advocacy site. The information includes the names, numbers and email addresses of top-level executives who’s anyone over there. A brief, polite email to one of them might have nudged the site into doing the right thing.

But in the end, even TripAdvisor’s options were limited.

A TripAdvisor refund

“We don’t tolerate owners changing the rates after a stay has been booked,” said TripAdvisor spokeswoman Molly Burke. “In the rare instance that this does happen, we take immediate action, and in exceptional cases, we suspend or remove owners who provide an unsatisfactory traveler experience.” (Here’s everything that you need to know before planning your next trip.)

TripAdvisor refunded your money quickly, removed the owner from its listing and promised to work with you to find an acceptable alternative. You eventually found a rental through Royal Shell in Sanibel. I hope you enjoy your vacation.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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