Vanessa Thompson checks into what she thinks is an all-inclusive hotel before her cruise. Then she discovers she doesn't have a reservation. When she's allowed in, she discovers there's nothing all-inclusive about her room. Is she entitled to a refund?
Q: I hope you can help me with an issue that came up with our recent cruise on Celebrity that included a hotel the night before. When I scheduled the cruise, I added one night prior in San Juan at the Gran Melia Puerto Rico, because the hotel was offering an all-inclusive option, according to the cruise line.
I paid $634 for this property, believing I would receive not only a pre-night hotel with my meals and drinks, but also transportation to the pier the very next day to begin the cruise with my husband.
When I presented the voucher at the hotel on the scheduled date the front desk representative informed me that there was no reservation under my name. I quickly contacted my travel agent and the cruise line directly and over an hour later I was called back to the front desk and they checked us in. But they didn't offer an all-inclusive option.
I called Celebrity back after settling into our room to find out why there was a mix-up, and they said there was nothing they could do about it. Since I had no other choice, I paid for my meals at the hotel -- a total of $188 for dinner, breakfast and beverages. I also had to pay for a taxi to the port the next day.
I have called Celebrity since our return, sent e-mails and written a letter with copies of the vouchers and receipt, and the only answer we get is that we were refunded the $80 for the taxi and they are unable to grant our request for additional compensation. Can you help? -- Vanessa Thompson, Toms River, N.J.
A: You should have been offered an all-inclusive -- and hassle-free -- room at the Gran Melia. Instead, you spent more than an hour of your hard-earned vacation arguing with your cruise line about a reservation. That's not good.
You really handled this one by the book. You confirmed your reservation and checked the terms of your all-inclusive visit. Once you checked in, you asked the hotel, your cruise line and your travel agent to fix the problem. Even when you returned home, you handled this like a pro, applying polite but firm pressure on Celebrity to make this right.
So where did you go wrong?
As far as I can tell, you didn't. Sometimes you can do everything right and still fail to get the company to respond correctly. It's what I call the "other one percent" because there's a small portion of cases where even insider knowledge of the system can't help you.
It's unclear if a credit card dispute or a small claims court action would have worked. After all, you stayed in the hotel but just didn't get some of the promised amenities. It's difficult to persuade a credit card company or court to help in that kind of situation (but not impossible).
I contacted Celebrity, and it turns out the hotel stopped offering an all-inclusive option three years ago, which was replaced with a meal plan. You had paid for that option, but because of an "internal miscommunication" it didn't show up in your reservation. Celebrity refunded $188 for the meals and beverages and 50% of the cost of the hotel pre-night package -- a total of $505 -- as an apology.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2009 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.