When a room, cabin or seat is resold — and you still can’t get a re­fund.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. E-mail him at chris@el­liott.org. The Nav­i­ga­tor CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT

Just be­fore Gerald and By­rone LoCasale set sail on an 18-day Princess cruise from Fort Laud­erdale, Fla., to Los An­ge­les, dis­as­ter struck. By­rone LoCasale sus­tained an in­jury that re­quired im­me­di­ate or­tho­pe­dic surgery. The cou­ple, both fre­quent Princess cus­tomers, re­luc­tantly can­celed the trip.

But there was good news. LoCasale, who is re­tired and lives in Fort Laud­erdale, learned that Princess had resold his cabin. Get­ting credit for the $16,201 they’d spent would be easy, right? Well, no. LoCasale faxed all the nec­es­sary med­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion to Princess, but it didn’t re­spond. He e-mailed the cruise line and re­ceived a terse phone call from an un­named rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “The an­swer was very short,” he says. “They de­cided not to honor my re­quest.”

Trav­el­ers un­der­stand “no re­fund” poli­cies. But when a room, cabin or air­line seat can be resold, it’s harder to ex­plain why the con­sumer’s money is still gone. Although some com­pa­nies rou­tinely re­fund such pur­chases, many do not. Now, ad­vo­cates are push­ing for more cus­tomer-friendly poli­cies.

I con­tacted Princess sev­eral times about LoCasale’s case. A spokesman said its records show that the cabin wasn’t resold. Rather, it up­graded another pas­sen­ger to LoCasale’s empty cabin.

Princess ap­plied a 25 per­cent credit to­ward a fu­ture sail­ing “as a ges­ture of good­will and to show our ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their fu­ture busi­ness,” said Brian O’Con­nor, a cruise line spokesman.

It doesn’t al­ways end like this. David Valade had a reser­va­tion at the Hart­stone Inn and Hide­away in Cam­den, Maine, which has a sim­i­lar no-re­fund pol­icy. If you can­cel your reser­va­tion 14 days be­fore your ar­rival, it will charge you for one night.

But, like LoCasale, he had to change his plans be­cause of events be­yond his con­trol — in this case, a death in the fam­ily. Valade can­celed his reser­va­tion with­out shar­ing any of the un­for­tu­nate de­tails.

“Their pol­icy was clear, and I knew the risk,” he says. “When I called to can­cel, they told me they’d re­fund if they re­booked the room. And they did.” A few days later, the inn con­tacted him and cred­ited $479 back to his card.

Many small ho­tels do the same. “We do it be­cause, quite frankly, it’s how we’d like to be treated,” says Stephen Fo­fanoff, the innkeeper for the Do­maine Madeleine Bed and Break­fast in Port An­ge­les, Wash. “We’re a lux­ury prop­erty, and our goal is for ev­ery­one to have an ex­pe­ri­ence that ex­ceeds their ex­pec­ta­tions, even if they don’t end up stay­ing with us.”

At Do­maine Madeleine, if you can­cel 14 days or fewer be­fore your planned stay, the ho­tel charges the full amount of the reser­va­tion and a $25 can­cel­la­tion fee. The fee al­lows the ho­tel to track the reser­va­tion so it can de­ter­mine whether the room is resold.

“Any­thing that is resold is re­funded af­ter the reser­va­tion dates have ended to ac­count for any last-minute reser­va­tions, un­less the en­tire date span is re­booked — then we re­fund im­me­di­ately,” he says. “If the rea­son for can­cel­la­tion is out of the con­trol of the guest, like a med­i­cal ill­ness or weather pre­vent­ing travel, then we re­fund the stay and do not charge a can­cel­la­tion fee even if the room is not resold.”

Ah, but that’s a small busi­ness. But how about some­thing more com­pli­cated, with lots of com­po­nents, like a tour?

El­iz­a­beth Avery, founder of Washington-based Solo Trekker 4 U, is de­vel­op­ing a tech­nol­ogy plat­form that would in ef­fect al­low the re­sale of tour in­ven­tory that’s can­celed at the last minute.

“Re­sales would ben­e­fit tour providers that may sud­denly lack a re­quired min­i­mum num­ber of par­tic­i­pants,” she says. “It would also ben­e­fit trav­el­ers who are unin­sured but must can­cel at the last minute. They would only have a par­tial loss.”

The rea­son she says “par­tial” is that tour pack­ages tend to be bun­dled and con­tain com­po­nents that are non­re­fund­able.

Air­lines are prob­a­bly the most rigid when it comes to of­fer­ing your money back. To get an idea of how in­flex­i­ble they are, con­sider that un­til the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion stepped in and re­quired a 24-hour can­cel­la­tion win­dow, vir­tu­ally all tick­ets were un­change­able from the mo­ment they were booked, even when the con­sumer made an ob­vi­ous er­ror.

The DOT’s new rule, in­tro­duced in 2012, forced air­lines to hold a reser­va­tion or can­cel it with­out penalty within a day, un­less the flier was less than a week from de­par­ture. In other words, it as­sumed that the air­line would have a suf­fi­cient op­por­tu­nity to re­sell the seat.

The Na­tional Con­sumers League, aWash­ing­ton ad­vo­cacy group, has been push­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for fairer re­fund rules. In­stead of a sim­ple 24-hour-win­dow rule, they want air­lines to re­fund a ticket if a seat is resold. To the av­er­age con­sumer, that makes a lot of sense. It’s an is­sue of fair­ness to them. A travel com­pany wouldn’t stand for its guests col­lect­ing fre­quent stayer points on the same room twice or pock­et­ing a re­fund from both their travel agency and ho­tel, so why should their trav­el­ers tol­er­ate it?

The stan­dard in­dus­try re­but­tal, of­fered only in off-there­cord con­ver­sa­tion — and af­ter you get past the tech­nol­ogy ex­cuse — is: We do it be­cause we’re a busi­ness, and be­cause we can.

But col­lect­ing money twice for the same prod­uct smacks of prof­i­teer­ing, and if con­sumer ad­vo­cates such as the Na­tional Con­sumers League have their way, it won’t be le­gal for much longer.

In­stead of a sim­ple 24-hour-win­dow rule, a Washington ad­vo­cacy group wants air­lines to re­fund a ticket if a seat is resold.

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