Christopher Elliott / Travel & Leisure

But no one told me the pool was closed

Q: I thought I would try to see if you could resolve a problem we had with Hotels.com. My husband searched for hotels in the Wisconsin Dells with indoor water parks. My son, who is in college, was bringing home his other ROTC cadets to see Chicago and go to the Dells during their spring break.

My husband found the Polynesian Water Park Resort and called what he thought was their number. He didn't know he had been redirected to Hotels.com and booked the room.

When my son arrived in the Dells, they checked in and went to the desk to get information about the water park. This was midweek and it seems the water park is only open on the weekends during the off-season. They went to the pool area and it was closed.

My son and his friends checked out and went to another hotel with an open water park. I called the hotel to see if they would refund their money, and I offered to pay a cleaning fee since they changed in the room.

The Polynesian refused and said if we had booked directly with them, we would have known the park was closed. The problem was, until my husband paid for the hotel on the phone and got email confirmation, he did not know he was on a third-party site. I called Hotels.com and it agreed to pull up the recording of our call, and if indeed they did not tell us the park was closed, they would refund our money. But they haven't. I've called Hotels.com six times and am about to give up. Can you help? -- Renee Fasanella, Arlington Heights, Ill.

A: When an amenity like a hotel pool or exercise room is closed, that's usually not a reason to check out of a hotel and ask for a refund. But for the Polynesian, I'm willing to make an exception. The water park is a central part of this property. Take the waterslides and pools away, and it's not the same experience. Not by a long shot.

Complicating matters is the fact that you were connected to Hotels.com when your husband phoned what he thought was the Polynesian. The representative he spoke with should have clearly identified himself or herself as being with Hotels.com when he called.

I think your husband could have done some additional due diligence. Did he ask the representative if the pool was open midweek, or did he assume it would be? A look at the Polynesian's website would have shown that some of its water facilities are only open during the summer, while others are only open on weekends. The information was only a few clicks away.

None of that changes the fact that if he'd called the hotel, they might have said something about the pool closures, and particularly if he'd mentioned the reservation was for a few ROTC cadets on spring break. I think Hotels.com should have pulled up its call transcripts and listened to the transaction when you contacted it, as promised. Instead, it apparently did nothing.

I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf, and got more or less the same response. A month later, I asked again, and this time it responded, refunding the $167 your son spent on his accommodations.

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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 chris@elliott.org. 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.





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