Q: I booked a room at a Holiday Inn in Orlando — at least, I thought I did. After making the reservation, I was switched to a sales agent, who invited me to attend a one-hour presentation that would show me “a way to enjoy all the luxuries of a vacation” at a cost of $199, which would be fully refunded, along with a $100 rebate.

Within 10 minutes of receiving my confirmation, I realized that this was for a timeshare. I’m 87 and not a candidate for a timeshare.

I called the number and spoke to a woman who said, “OK, I’m canceling the transaction and putting a $199 credit on your Visa card.” The credit did not appear on my statement.

I then received another e-mail saying, “You’re on your way to Orlando,” and if I had any questions, I should call. I spoke with another Holiday Inn representative, who told me that “my refund should be credited in a few days.” She also told me to send an e-mail to her, explaining what had happened, which I did.

My Visa was never credited. Bank of America attempted to obtain the credit, but was denied. Can you help me get my $199 back?

A: Holiday Inn should have booked a hotel room for you, as you requested, instead of transferring you to a representative who pitched a timeshare. When you asked the company to reverse your transaction, it should have quickly done what it promised. Instead, it looks as if Holiday Inn just tried to pocket your money.

I take a dim view of timeshares. While some travelers may benefit from them, many more are disappointed by their “investments.” You need to carefully consider a timeshare before making a purchase. Clearly, at age 87, this wasn’t the right real estate transaction for you.

I’m also troubled by the way your call apparently was handled. If you called to make a reservation, why would anyone transfer you to a timeshare sales department? And why would they charge you to attend a sales pitch? I wasn’t there, but I imagine someone asked you if you wanted to “save even more” and you said “yes.” Who wouldn’t?

When you’re dealing directly with a company, make sure you’re buying what you think you are. If you’re unsure, work with a qualified travel agent, who can help you get exactly what you need. A travel pro would book your room through a reservation system, bypassing the labyrinth of telephone pitches.

If someone ever offers you a refund again, make sure you get it in writing: Holiday Inn’s verbal promises weren’t enough. A written promise is viewed as a debit memo by the dispute departments at some credit card companies. It’s the equivalent of having money in the bank.

I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf, and it refunded your $199.


Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.