By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 5/24/2007 8:51:31 AM ET 2007-05-24T12:51:31
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: My son recently used 25,000 Diners Club points to give his sister a gift of one free night at a Fairmont Hotel. The voucher was delivered by overnight mail, and my daughter signed for it.

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But the letter didn’t indicate that it was a gift from my son. She carefully read the gift certificate but decided it was too good to be true, and threw it away.

Diners Club and Fairmont both refuse to give her a replacement. What should we do?
— Ann Mall, Fairmont, Calif.

A: Uh-oh. Your daughter threw away a certificate that is “not replaceable if lost, stolen or destroyed,” according to Fairmont. But all hope isn’t lost.

I understand why you would be left with the impression that the vouchers were replaceable. I couldn’t find anything on the Fairmont or Diners Club Web sites that clearly state once the certificates are gone, they’re gone.

In fact, there are at least two kinds of gift certificates — so-called Ovation Rewards, which are good for one night’s stay, and gift certificates that come in denominations of $25 and $100, and are the equivalent of cash. After reading up on these certificates, I wasn’t sure if they could be replaced in the event that I lost them or trashed them.

I think your daughter’s first instinct was correct. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The world is full of bogus travel offers. Just last week, I tried to help someone who joined a travel club with an iffy reputation. If only she had reacted the same way your daughter did, then I wouldn’t have spent half an afternoon digging up references to state lemon laws so she could get a full refund for her questionable purchase.

Fairmont asked Diners Club to take a look at your son’s records. According to Diners, card members who redeem their points online don’t have the option of including a personalized note with a gift certificate. Its records say that your son knew about that and told a Diners representative he planned to call your daughter to tell her about the present.

Your daughter could have caught this, too. If she took the time to carefully read the voucher, then why not also call the hotel and ask if the scrip is legit? I think a short conversation with a Fairmont representative would have revealed that this was no bogus offer.

Another thing that should have tipped her off is the way in which the certificate was delivered. The bad guys usually don’t overnight their shady offers to you with a signature required. It’s too expensive.

After I contacted Fairmont on your behalf, a representative e-mailed me immediately to say that in a situation like this, an exception to the hotel’s nonrefundable policy could have been made if your daughter had contacted its corporate office instead of phoning the reservations number.

You received an e-mail from Davina Whitmore, a supervisor in the hotel’s partner marketing and rewards department, who apologized for your inconvenience and agreed to send your son a new certificate.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at chris@elliott.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, http://www.csr.elliott.org

© 2007 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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