Vieques is not ready for tourism — can Cape Air keep my money?

After Hurricane Maria devastates Vieques, Neil Cohn finds himself without a place to stay during his upcoming vacation. But Cape Air won’t refund or exchange his tickets. Can our advocates persuade Cape Air to make Cohn whole instead of keeping his money?

Question: On May 21, 2017, I booked a stay at the Westin on the island of Vieques for this December and purchased two round-trip tickets on Cape Air from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Vieques for $754 through Expedia.

Unfortunately, my reservation at the Westin was canceled after Hurricane Maria devastated the resort. Since I can’t stay there, I called Expedia to cancel my flights. Expedia contacted Cape Air on my behalf, but its agent was told that my tickets are nonrefundable and non-exchangeable.

I would be willing to fly to Vieques next year once the Westin is operating again, but Cape Air refuses to accommodate me. I understand that normally I would be out the $754 I paid for my flights, but given that my stay on Vieques was canceled for reasons beyond my control, it truly doesn’t seem fair that the airline is taking a hard line and refusing to refund or exchange my flights. Can you help me get my airfares back or exchange my tickets? — Neil Cohn, Philadelphia

Answer: You’re right — it isn’t fair that Cape Air refused to issue you a refund or allow you to exchange air tickets you can’t use.

Unfortunately, by purchasing tickets that are nonrefundable and nonexchangeable, you ran the risk of losing their purchase price if something prevented you from flying on the dates of your flights — even if it was a force majeure event as destructive as Hurricane Maria.

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You first contacted Expedia to ask for help, but its terms of use indicate that

You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services.

Cape Air’s contract of carriage contains the following provisions with regard to nonrefundable tickets:

  • General Rule
    Cape Air will not refund any portion of a ticket that is purchased with a nonrefundable fare, including the fare and any taxes, fees, or other charges included within the total price paid for the ticket.
  • Application of Value Towards Future Purchase
    Cape Air may allow a portion of the non-refundable fare paid for an unused and nonrefundable Cape Air ticket to be applied towards the purchase of future travel on Cape Air, provided it is done in accordance with the applicable fare rule in place at the time of such request. Any portion not so applied will not be refunded in any form.
  • Extenuating Circumstances
    When the ticket is nonrefundable, the ticket may, at the sole discretion of Cape Air, be refunded in full or part in consideration of extenuating circumstances, such as in the case of the death of a family member.

When Cape Air refused to issue you a refund or exchange your tickets, you contacted our advocates for assistance. We reached out to Expedia on your behalf.

Normally, canceling nonrefundable air tickets would cost you their purchase price unless you protect yourself against the loss of your travel expenses by purchasing travel insurance. Although you didn’t purchase it at the time you booked this trip to Vieques, our advocate noted that you may have basic coverage through a credit card.

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But we hoped that with our help, Expedia could persuade Cape Air to treat the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria as an “extenuating circumstance” and offer you a refund or allow you to exchange your tickets. (Executive contact information for Expedia is available on our website.)

Our advocates learned that you were provided with incorrect information regarding the nature of your ticket. An alert posted on Cape Air’s website notes that for flights scheduled between November 1 and December 14, 2017,

  • If you have an existing reservation for this time period and would like to change your travel plans, you may use your ticket for any Caribbean Cape Air flight through January 31, 2018, without any additional fees.
  • You may rebook online at www.capeair.com or contact our call center.
  • Alternatively, you may hold onto your ticket and apply its value toward the purchase of a new ticket on any Cape Air flight in any region for up to one year from original date of ticket issue.

You weren’t completely satisfied with this resolution, because it would require you to exchange your ticket by May 21, 2018, and you aren’t certain that you’ll be able to stay on Vieques if you make the exchange on or before that date. But you have since notified us that Cape Air has canceled the flight and you are expecting a full refund of your airfare.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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