By Travel columnist
updated 4/4/2005 7:29:31 PM ET 2005-04-04T23:29:31

Her plans to vacation in Key Largo, Fla., are foiled by hurricane Frances. But that’s the least of Carol Knight’s worries. Now, despite promises of a prompt refund from Travelocity, she isn’t getting her money back. What’s worse, her credit card won’t side with her in a dispute. Is Knight going to lose $721.64? Should she go to small-claims court to recover the money? And how could she have prevented this from happening in the first place?

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Q: Last March I made hotel reservations through Travelocity to celebrate Labor Day weekend at the Ocean Pointe Suites in Key Largo, Fla.

But my plans were foiled by Hurricane Frances. The hotel cancelled my reservations for the weekend because they were evacuating the island. I was given a cancellation number but no further details on how to either reschedule or get a refund.

I called Travelocity to verify that they received the cancellation from the hotel and was told that they had, and given a reference number. I was also promised that a refund would show up on my Discover Card within a month.

When the credit didn’t appear on my statement I disputed the amount of $721.64 with my card. I provided them with all of the information regarding the cancellation. On February 7 of this year, I finally received a response from Discover Card denying my claim.

What should I do? Should I take my case to a small-claims court? Are there any other options?

— Carol KnightLake Park, Fla.

A: A court of law should be your last resort. But after what appears to be a complete meltdown of the system — a travel agency that failed to return your money, a credit card that refused to help you in a dispute — it looks as if you’ve run out of options.

Here’s how it should have gone. As I see it, your hotel cancelled your reservation, which means it must also return your money. Your travel “agent” (and I use the quotes because real-life agents get bent out of shape when I don’t make a distinction between an online agency and a traditional bricks-and-mortar agency) should have processed a prompt refund.

When that didn’t happen, your credit card should have stepped in and reversed the charges.

None of those things happened.

As a former resident of Key Largo, I have to commend you on a smart choice for a vacation. The Florida Keys are a terrific place for a little R&R — lots of great fishing and diving. But Labor Day weekend falls is the middle of hurricane season, and the islands are routinely evacuated at that time of year.

Why take that kind of chance?

If this ever happens to you again — and I hope you’ve learned your lesson here, and it won’t — you should also consider taking your grievance directly to the hotel. Yes, your agent bears the ultimate responsibility for securing your refund. But remember, the hotel probably has your money by now. Don’t let it off the hook.

One other thing: find a new credit card. Discover let you down by not standing behind a perfectly legitimate dispute. You deserve better.

There’s no need to go to court. I contacted Travelocity and it has processed a full refund for your cancelled Key Largo vacation. But come back again soon — just maybe not during hurricane season.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.


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