Q: I recently planned to attend the Miami Broward Carnival to celebrate the birthdays of two of my cousins. In total, 14 of us were traveling to Miami from Canada. My flights were on Air Canada, and I was booked at South Beach Plaza Hotel, a reservation I had made through Booking.com.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew was forecast to hit the east coast of Florida on the day I was scheduled to arrive. A state of emergency was declared. Air Canada canceled my flight. I alerted the hotel about the situation even before my flight was officially canceled. Once it was canceled, I called the front desk to ask for a refund. After several days of back and forth, the hotel charged me 50 percent of the cost of the room – $320 – which I think is ridiculous and unfair.
I was going to attend the Miami Broward Carnival, and had purchased two tickets online for $30 plus service fees. After trying to reach someone for several days, a representative finally responded to my email with the same “no refund” policy and an offer to honor my ticket next year.
I have no intention of attending next year, after this horrible experience. I am a single mother with two children; it is not a simple task for me to get away or to know if I will be able to afford it next year. This entire experience has tainted my view of Miami.
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Fennella Bruce, Pickering, Ontario
A: I’d be disappointed with the way your family reunion turned out, too – and I might blame Miami. But this is actually a travel-industry problem with a unique travel-industry solution.
The problem? Your hotel and the carnival offered a nonrefundable rate and ticket, and didn’t want to take the losses if you couldn’t show up, even if it wasn’t your fault. This is a common and customer-unfriendly policy across the global tourism industry, and is hardly unique to Miami.
The solution: travel insurance. A policy that would cover trip interruption might have allowed you to recover some – or all – of your expenses.
Your case underscores the importance of reviewing the terms and conditions of any travel purchase. Some hotels will allow cancellation at the last minute; others are completely nonrefundable and can’t be changed. If you’re planning a vacation anywhere in the Southeast United States or Caribbean during hurricane season (June 1 to Nov. 30), you need to be prepared for a disruption. I was in Florida during this storm, and Hurricane Matthew was particularly worrisome because, as I recall, it kept changing course.
I contacted both the hotel and the carnival on your behalf. Unfortunately, my involvement didn’t change the answer. But there’s a silver lining. You received all of your money back for your airline ticket, since Air Canada canceled the flight. Your cousin was able to sell the carnival ticket, allowing you to receive a full refund minus the service charges. And you also found out that you had travel insurance through your employer, and were able to file a claim to recover some of your costs.
I hope you'll give Miami another chance. As a former resident, I can tell you that the experience you had was exceptional and caused by the hurricane.
Email Christopher Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org.