This is one of the strangest cases I've come across in my two decades of fielding consumer complaints. It involves a honeymooning couple's missing wedding photos, me, and another me.
Rachel Patrick's destination wedding at Sandals La Toc Golf Resort & Spa in St. Lucia was flawless, except for one little item: her wedding photos, which were taken by a hotel photographer, were missing in action.
After a week passed, I called and spoke to the photo shop manager. She looked up my photos, told me they were still in the system, and said she would get them right out to us.Patrick was heartbroken. It's not as if you can re-do the wedding photos. Once they're gone, they're gone.
Approximately another week went by, and after still not receiving them, I called again and was told the same thing: they were in the system and would be mailed to us shortly, and not to worry.
This happened a couple more times (I believe I called to ask about the photos four times total). After three weeks, the manager called to tell me they had not gotten them in time and they were permanently lost.
She negotiated directly with the general manager, who offered the couple a three-night credit at any Sandals property within the next year. With a little prodding, he extended the credit to 15 months, but said he could go no further.
That wasn't enough for Patrick, who thought the credit should be valid for two years and that Sandals should also offer an $800 airfare credit to offset the cost of transportation.
So Patrick began posting her story to travel sites, which is where my editor at Frommers.com saw it. My editor suggested I get in touch with the photo-less bride to see if I could help.
And here's where things turned a little odd. When I e-mailed Patrick to see if I could do anything -- and this was long before I was privy to the details I just described -- her response was curious.
"I believe that you were the person who contacted us on behalf of Sandals to try and compensate us for having lost the photos," Patrick said.
Huh? I work for Sandals? In what parallel universe?
But then I reviewed her correspondence with Sandals, and it turns out there is another Christopher Elliott. He's the hotel manager of Sandals La Toc Golf Resort & Spa.
I should say that once I had all the relevant facts, I thought Sandals' offer was pretty decent. But since my editor had asked, and since Patrick had started taking her case public, I thought it would be prudent to check with Sandals. Sometimes, a small concession on the part of one of the parties can lead to a resolution.
So I e-mailed the other Christopher Elliott.
I'm your doppelgänger in the States, the consumer advocate. One of my readers asked me about a case you had been working on with her regarding her wedding photos. I'm told that she won't be able to take advantage of your offer, and I was wondering if she was out of luck.To which he replied:
Thanks for your e-mail. We are not able to extend the voucher past three months.So that's where things stand now. Did Sandals do enough for the Patricks? In their view, no. In my view, things could have turned out much worse. I've seen similar cases get dismissed outright, although you can't really get away with deleting a guest's wedding photos in a place like St. Lucia, which is filled with honeymooners. (I know; I was there last year.)
If nothing else, theirs is a cautionary tale about wedding photos taken by a hotel. Make sure you get the disk before you fly home.
UPDATE: Sandals corporate responded, "We are aware of the issue surrounding the lost wedding photos and wanted to let you know that we are extending the offer already given to Rachel and her husband to three nights comp available to use within a year of the voucher, a renewal of vows ceremony, and 20 complimentary pictures for them to remember the experience." The Patricks have accepted the offer.
Christopher Elliott is the author of the book "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. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.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.