By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 1/24/2008 11:15:10 AM ET 2008-01-24T16:15:10
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I’m trying to get a refund for a hotel booked through JetBlue Getaways and Worldwide Travel Exchange. Several months ago we prepaid for a vacation in Puerto Rico through JetBlue’s Web site. But our flight out of JFK was canceled just after the infamous ice storms.

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JetBlue said we should contact Worldwide Travel Exchange to get our money back. A Worldwide Travel Exchange representative told us that they would not cancel our vacation because we still had three nights left on our hotel. Never mind that the next available JetBlue flight to San Juan wasn’t for another four days.

A Worldwide Travel Exchange supervisor said they wouldn’t give us a refund because they “didn’t receive any notices” that JetBlue’s flights from JFK were suspended for several days. We tried to connect him with JetBlue, which could have verified the cancellations, but so far, nothing.

After many frustrating months of trying to negotiate a refund, JetBlue has reimbursed us for our plane tickets, but Worldwide Travel Exchange still has our $310, which we prepaid for the first night at our hotel. And we still don’t have our vacation. All of this back and forth has made me dizzy. Can you help us? — Roz Weiss, Stamford, Conn.

A: You would think that if you bought a vacation package through an airline Web site, you’d be covered in a situation like this. Wrong.

A look at the terms and conditions on JetBlue’s Web site suggests JetBlue isn’t responsible for refunding the hotel portion of your vacation. “JetBlue is acting solely as an intermediary between travel suppliers and consumers to facilitate the negotiation, booking of, and payment for vacation package accommodations and services to be provided by travel suppliers directly to consumers.” it says. “Unused package components may not be exchanged, transferred or refunded.”

That also means that Worldwide Travel Exchange is well within its rights to keep your money. Technically, you were what’s called a “no-show” and aren’t entitled to anything.

But wait. JetBlue, from whose site you bought the hotel, canceled your flight after its operational meltdown last Valentine’s Day. Shouldn’t it do more than just pass you off to one of its partners?

Yes. But while we’re dealing with hypothetical questions, here’s another one: Why did it have to come to this in the first place?

Next time you’re stuck — and I hope there isn’t a next time — remember to review all of your options. JetBlue’s contract of carriage, which is the legal agreement between you and the airline, entitles you to an immediate refund when a flight is canceled. (Some airlines also will fly you to your destination on another carrier.) You might have found another way to reach San Juan.

Here are two other ideas. Consider working with a travel agent, who could have probably saved your vacation. I know some agents who can do what ordinary mortals can’t, including finding a way out of New York after an ice storm. And think about travel insurance next time. A good policy would have covered you and prevented the headache that you ended up with.

I contacted JetBlue on your behalf. In addition to a refund and $900 in travel coupons, the airline agreed to issue credits in the amount of $310, which covers the first prepaid night of your hotel stay.

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 celliott@ngs.org.

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