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Get it in writing to protect yourself

  • Published Sunday, May 1, 2011, at 12:06 a.m.

Imagine the absolute horror we encountered when we got to the Marriott and were told that our reservation with them was for the room only — no all-inclusive. Since we booked an all-inclusive we took only a small amount of cash, which would not have been enough for a week's worth of meals and liquid refreshments.

When we called Cheap Caribbean Customer Service from the Marriott check-in desk, they wanted another $3,000 to make it an all-inclusive. After many, many phone calls between Cheap Caribbean, Marriott and my daughter, Cheap Caribbean and the three of us agreed to split the additional cost just to get the matter resolved and behind us. We had already lost what equaled a whole day of our vacation and wanted to get on with enjoying the short time we had left.

We feel that we were ripped off by Cheap Caribbean. We were quoted a vacation deal and they should have honored it. We wrote to the president of Cheap Caribbean but never received an answer. Can you help us?— Esther Mikula, Tinley Park, Ill.

A: You shouldn't have to pay twice for your all-inclusive vacation. Cheap Caribbean and Marriott should have honored your reservation without charging you more.

You don't negotiate with your travel agent and then split the difference. Either your reservation says "all-inclusive" and you get the meals, drinks and activities — or not. So if you look at your paperwork and you've bought the all-inclusive package, then there's no two ways about it: You should get what you paid for.

One way to avoid an unpleasant surprise before you check into a resort is to call ahead to confirm your reservation. Don't phone Cheap Caribbean; ask Marriott instead. A representative could have told you about the problem long before you arrived, saving you the trouble of having to renegotiate your vacation package at check-in.

The best way of ensuring that you get what you paid for is to have everything in writing. That includes your reservation that says "all inclusive," the confirmed rate and your room type. Don 't take an agent's word that you have an all-inclusive vacation, no matter what. Get it on paper. It will make any negotiation with the hotel far easier.

I'm troubled that Cheap Caribbean didn't respond to your written inquiry. But I wonder if sending a brief, polite e-mail through the company's website — as opposed to a letter sent directly to its president — would have been the better course of action. I always recommend going through channels before appealing your grievance to the president. Still, someone should have acknowledged your letter, and they didn't.

You might have also checked with Marriott to find out why your all-inclusive rate wasn't honored. I asked Marriott to take another look at your reservation. A representative contacted you and offered a full refund of the surcharge you had to pay.

Christopher Elliott is the author of the upcoming 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 chris@elliott.org.

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