When Kelly Strong's son falls ill, the family cancels a vacation to Scottsdale, Ariz., booked through Marriott Vacations. They're promised a refund, but after weeks of waiting -- and calling -- the money hasn't shown up on Strong's credit card. Is this refund a lost cause?
Q: My wife and I booked a long weekend at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. We have always enjoyed the service we receive at Marriott (www.marriott.com) properties, so we used the Marriott website to make our lodging arrangements. A link on the Marriott site took us to Marriott Vacations, where we booked a prepaid, three-night stay for $1,041, which we charged to our Visa credit card.
The morning of our departure, our son, who has Down syndrome, woke up with the flu. We can't leave our son with caregivers when he is sick, so we immediately called the airline and the hotel to cancel our reservations.
The woman who took the call at the hotel canceled the reservation and gave us a contact number for the customer care department to confirm the cancellation. But after two months, the credit did not appear on our Visa card, so I called the hotel.
This started a very long process of several phone calls and hours on the telephone, until I spoke to someone directly in the Marriott corporate accounting department. They informed me that a credit had been issued to Marriott Vacations' travel agency, and that I needed to contact the agency. I did, but I haven't heard back from them. Can you help us get our money back? -- Kelly Strong, Ames, Iowa
A: If Marriott promised you a refund, then you should have received one. I'm not convinced it ever offered one, though.
When you called the hotel to cancel, and it passed you along to Marriott Vacations, someone should have advised you that your hotel room was nonrefundable. So are your airline tickets. Here are Marriott's terms and conditions:
It's possible that someone decided to make an exception because of your son's health, but simply referring you to the refunds department at Marriott Vacations doesn't mean your refund is a sure thing. (I'm not going to get into the politics of whether this was a Marriott booking or a Marriott Vacations booking, which technically is handled by a third party. As far as you're concerned, the buck stops with Marriott; and I would agree.)
Marriott Vacations should have recommended travel insurance, particularly since you have a child with special needs. You could have made a claim and received a full refund from your insurance company. At the time I worked on this case, the only mention of insurance on its site was in its terms: "We recommend that you contact an independent insurance carrier to protect your travel investment."
I hope the representative you spoke with also told you about insurance.
You also spent a lot of time on the phone when you probably would have been better off writing to Marriott with your request. A brief, polite e-mail sent through its main site would have started you down the right road -- not to mention saved you lots of time. An email allows you to succinctly state your case and it is easily forwarded to a manager, if your request is rejected the first time.
It was generous of Marriott to offer a full refund of your vacation, but it would have been even more generous if it had actually issued the refund to you. I contacted the company on your behalf. A representative contacted you, apologized for the delay, and refunded $1,041 to your Visa card.
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) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.