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Travel Troubleshooter: Surprise $400 fee

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • September 15, 2012 - 2:24 PM

Q I recently booked a retreat to Costa Rica through a yoga studio in New York. Just before I was supposed to leave, I was admitted to the emergency room and had to cancel my trip.

My airline gave me a credit, minus the $150 change fee, which I accepted. The yoga studio had a $300 nonrefundable deposit, which I also understood it could keep.

The problem is the retreat center in Costa Rica. It insists on charging me a $400 nonrefundable fee for canceling, which it is deducting from an initial payment of $1,600.

Not only am I in a tight financial situation with hospital bills piling up, but I also believe this is completely unreasonable. I was never advised of the retreat center's cancellation fees. Is there any way you can help?

A Your cancellation fees should have been clearly disclosed at the time of booking, and as far as I can tell, they weren't. That left you to assume you could get most of your money back.

Further communication between you, your yoga center and the resort showed the hotel would charge a 50 percent penalty, which is why they were asking for another $400 for a stay you couldn't use.

I think this is one of those times when travel insurance would have been helpful. If you were able to make a successful claim, the insurance would have covered all of your costs, including the $400 charge from the hotel.

Yours is a cautionary tale for anyone booking travel in a nontraditional way, such as a membership organization, scuba diving store or yoga center. These are not professional travel agents or tour operators, so they may leave out a few details when it comes to the terms and conditions.

For what it's worth, I don't think your yoga center's omission was intentional. You need to be extra-careful when you're booking a trip like this. Ask about the cancellation policy, and if possible, get it in writing. And do that before you make your reservation.

The bottom line is that, according to the terms of your purchase, the resort was within its rights to keep your money.

I contacted the yoga center on your behalf. After some more back and forth with you, and in consideration of your medical condition, it agreed to send you a check for $400.

Christopher Elliott is ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog at www.elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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