The Travel Troubleshooter: No refund for my Colorado condo?

by Christopher Elliott on February 28, 2011

Question: I need your help getting a refund for the advance resort rental paid to Winter Park Lodging Company in Winter Park, Colo. I made a reservation to stay in a two-bedroom condo during the New Year’s holiday.

I had to cancel my reservation almost a month before I was supposed to arrive. The company refunded the sales taxes and linen charges of $69 out of the prepaid $965. But it kept $896 for the rental.

Winter Park Lodging’s cancellation policy says, “If you must cancel, let us know as soon as possible and we will try to rebook your property for you reservation dates and will reimburse you for any nights we are able to rebook for you.” I asked the company if it rented my unit. It says no, but I question its honesty. If you look at the property availability on its site, you’ll see that all off the weekends from January to April were fully booked. What can be done? — May Tong, Houston

Answer: You have to take Winter Park Lodging Company — which describes itself as “the best place to find vacation rentals in Winter Park” — at its word. Which is something you’re unwilling to do, and for good reason. Its site appears to contradict what it’s telling you.

The company’s cancellation policy, which it emailed to you but I couldn’t find anywhere on its website, has one other disclaimer: “We strongly encourage that you purchase vacation insurance for your reservation. Without vacation insurance, there is no guarantee that you will receive any money back for your lodging reservation.”

That’s excellent advice, but the overall policy leaves something to be desired. How do you verify if a unit was rented? Wouldn’t it just be easier to say “no refunds” and not even leave open the possibility of getting your money back, as many other properties do? And why not disclose this policy prominently on the company’s website, as opposed to sending it by email — presumably after you’ve made a booking?

As a matter of fact, travel insurance might have covered you. Or not. Some policies do allow a cancellation for any reason, but others only offer refunds for specific reasons. And there’s no telling if your reasons would have been good enough for your insurer.

I wouldn’t have booked a condo in Colorado with an iffy refund policy unless you were absolutely certain you’d be able to stay there or unless you had reliable insurance. Once you sign on the dotted line, you might not be able to get a refund.

I thought it might be worth asking Winter Park Lodging Company if it could verify that the unit you rented was actually empty during the peak of high season, so I contacted it on your behalf.

“I spoke with the owners of this property and convinced them to give the guest all of her money back minus the $100 cancellation fee,” a spokeswoman told me. “Normally we don’t do this, but she seems to be after our reputation despite her signing a legal contract that explains the cancellation policy.”

(Photo: Yo Bin k/Flickr Creative Commons)

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  • dcta

    Caveat emptor!

    They really should not have refunded if indeed they were unable to book the property with other guests.

  • Vacationagent

    The woman signed a legally binding contract. Furthermore, she acted against the company’s policy of protecting her vacation with travel insurance. She reserves accommodations over the very busiest of busy seasons (New Years holiday), holds that space for however long with the owner thinking the unit is rented and then has the effrontery to expect a refund when she cancels “almost a month” in advance. “Almost a month” in advance would have been inside any wholesaler’s cancel policy. Holiday cancellation policies are sometimes 90 days out! She deserved nothing.

    A true ombudsman would have been able to see through this woman’s shameless extortion against a respected company.

  • Em Hoop

    Kinda harsh, vacationagent……. some people know all the rules and practices and others are newbies or simply not informed. “As soon as possible” could mean one thing to a pro in the field (90 days out) and just what it says to the purchaser: “as soon as possible.” That statement even left the reader thinking a refund was more likely than not.
    I would have liked to have known just when she cancelled….but that was not my call…….That Chris got a refund at all indicates to me that someone out in colorado was taking advantage of this woman…….I’ll bet they “don’t normally do this.” Nor would I if I were in their place…….I thought the woman’s reasoning pretty good…..and I bet they did rent that space to someone else……

  • dcta

    Em Hoop – anyone who has ever run or owned a business knows that sometimes it’s just worth it to let something go and make it go away. and that’s how I read the hotelier’s response – not as an admission that they were “taking advantage” of the woman!

    She (May Tong) appears to have been very well aware of the renter’s policy on cancellation – she simply chose to ignore it. Sort of like – well I signed a contract and I was aware of all penalties and I understand that I was leaving the unit owner in a bad situation with less than a month to re-let the space, but really why should any of that matter?

  • Tonys Travel

    Chris – right on regarding Winter Park Lodging Company not posting their cancellation policy on their website. Most people would call that approach “full disclosure”. My first question is “What are they hiding”? I simply call that a “shell game”.

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