When Stefanie Rasimowicz finds out the pool at her resort hotel will be closed during her vacation, she faces the prospect of a ruined honeymoon. The hotel is apologetic, but offers her no alternative except to use another nearby pool. Can it do better? Should it?
Q: My fiance and I booked our honeymoon at the Westin Aruba through a travel agent. At the time we made our reservations, we knew the hotel was undergoing some renovations in its lobby. I spoke with our agent, and e-mailed the hotel directly to find out if there would still be construction during our honeymoon several months later. I was emphatically told no, and even have an e-mail saying so from a Westin guest services manager.
Now, only a few weeks before the trip, I have been notified that the pool area of the hotel will be undergoing construction and will be unavailable to guests during our stay. The pool at a smaller, less expensive, hotel will be available for use. We have travel insurance, so we can get all of our money back, less the insurance fee of $258. But we'd still have to book another hotel at the last minute, at a much higher rate.
The Westin has apologized but has not offered any sort of discount or other compensation. Is there anything we can do, other than simply cancel our reservation? -- Stefanie Rasimowicz, Princeton, N.J.
A: Westin should do more than apologize for the construction. After all, this is only the most important vacation of your life, and it ought to be perfect. Besides, it promised the construction would be done.
The hotel's pool is one of its best amenities. It's a free-form pool with three terraced spa tubs that extend 150 yards along the Caribbean. The hotel proudly displays pictures of the pool on its website, but I could find no correspondingly prominent warnings that it would be unavailable.
No one is judging Westin for closing its pool. Hotels are in an almost constant state of renovation, and as anyone with a pool in the back yard can probably tell you, they require a lot of maintenance. The problem is that Westin wasn't as upfront about the construction as they could be or as accommodating to your special needs.
Fortunately, you booked your honeymoon through a travel agent. A competent travel adviser should be able to fix a problem like this. After all, you're paying the agent a booking fee in exchange for the expertise. The agent should, at least theoretically, be working for you.
I might have leaned on your travel agent a little more. When Westin's "sorry" was unacceptable, your agent should have figured out a way of saving your honeymoon at no additional cost. Otherwise, you could have just booked your honeymoon online -- which, by the way, I certainly do not recommend.
What else could Westin do? Under these circumstances, anything from upgrading your room to sending you to a comparable property without making you pay extra. Hotels often transfer guests -- called "walking" in lodging industry parlance -- to another property when they're oversold.
I contacted Westin on your behalf. It offered you a $20 per day hotel credit and two drink tickets for the duration of your stay, as well as an upgrade to a suite. It also credited your rewards account with enough points for a one-night stay. A generous offer -- but still, no pool. You canceled your reservation and rebooked at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino without having to pay more. Your honeymoon is saved.
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.