My dachshund won't let me sneak away to the Caribbean
Q: I booked a trip a few weeks back to Regent Palms in the Turks and Caicos through a website called SniqueAway (www.sniqueaway.com). 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.
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
A: 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." (http://www.sniqueaway.com/termsofuse)
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.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.