Q: I booked my Thanksgiving vacation from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico, through American Airlines Vacations. I had reservations at the Caribe Hilton San Juan Hotel.
Immediately after Hurricane Maria, I called Hilton corporate. A representative told me the hotel would be closed through Dec. 31, and that any paid reservations would be refunded in full by Hilton.
Over the next few weeks, I spoke with several American Airlines agents, who told me that until Hilton officially notified American Airlines Vacations, American would not discuss any options with me. I finally spoke with an agent who gave me options for other vacations, but would not book anything, as American Airlines Vacations still had not received official notification from Hilton.
Finally, I received a voice mail from an American Airlines Vacations representative, who said I was not eligible for any refunds. He informed me that my only option was to accept credit with a one-year expiration date. I also had to make an immediate decision, even though American Airlines Vacations had refused many requests from me to resolve the situation for weeks.
When I tried to rebook, an agent told me there were no options in the Caribbean for the same dates. So I was in the position of having no Thanksgiving vacation while American Airlines Vacations held all my money. Can you help me?
A: I can’t believe that happened to you. I mean, how hard would it be to find out if the Caribe Hilton San Juan was open? Why would American Airlines Vacations have to wait until it gets “official” word, leaving a valued customer waiting?
With package vacations, the operator accepts responsibility for all components of the trip. If the flight is canceled or the hotel shuts down, it’s up to the reseller to replace the missing item.
American Airlines Vacations had something else going in its favor. It bills itself as the “official” vacations site for the airline, implying that at the very least, if something goes wrong with your airfare, you’ll be covered. So it only had to worry about your hotel, which was already being refunded.
Interestingly, the terms to which you agreed suggest that American Airlines Vacations’ actions are acceptable. The company, it notes, “will not be liable to pay any compensation or damages if it cancels or in any way changes a trip or package as a result of unusual or unforeseeable circumstances beyond its control, the consequences of which could not have been avoided even with all due care.” Those include a weather event like a hurricane.
Still, something about this didn’t feel right to me. I contacted the airline on your behalf. American Airlines Vacations offered you a full refund.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.