Consumer Protection

Can I Get a Travel Refund?

Your bags are packed. It's spring break, summer vacation or time for a weekend getaway. You're ready to go but the hotel goes bankrupt or is hit by a hurricane. While your travel plans may be lost, you can take steps so that you're money isn't.

Before Arrival

Generally, you're not charged for reserving a room at a hotel or resort. So, if the hotel closes before you arrive, you aren't out any money - no harm, no foul. On the other hand, a hotel may require pre-payment or a deposit before you arrive to guarantee a certain rate or room. If that's the case, make sure you use a credit card for payment. If the hotel is out of business or unwilling to give a refund, then you can file a dispute under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA).

However, there are certain procedures that must be followed. Specifically, the dispute must be raised within 60 days of the first bill that contains the hotel or resort charge. The dispute must be in writing and include your name, account number, charge amount and the reason for your dispute.

If you prepaid for a hotel room with cash or other non-credit means and the hotel closes, attempts for a refund will be more difficult. If the hotel files bankruptcy, you're now on the bottom of the creditor list in bankruptcy court. The odds of recovering anything are slim. If the hotel closes for something like a tornado or a fire, you can get a refund but it'll take time, phone calls and written communication.

During Your Stay

If you're at your destination and disaster strikes, most hotels, resorts or theme parks will do what it takes to accommodate guests. The most important thing to remember is that each hotel, resort or theme park is different. Refunds are usually handled on a case-by-case basis. Talk to hotel management or guest relations as soon as possible.

For instance, Disney World closed the theme parks during the 9/11 attacks. Although guest services were extremely limited, or in some cases completely unavailable, guests staying at the resort's hotels weren't charged for additional nights of stay and received a complimentary admission to the parks that could be used anytime.

If you plan on making a day trip to a theme park, try to buy a ticket that can be used anytime. For example, Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio has a "good any day" ticket. If the park closes for any reason, the ticket is valid on another day. If you purchase a ticket for a certain date, there might be a small surcharge to change dates.

Buying Traveler's Insurance

Travel insurance provides coverage to travelers for unexpected problems - like a natural disaster or a resort closing due to financial collapse. Say your hotel closes before your arrival because of an approaching hurricane, or you're forced to evacuate because of a hurricane. A travel insurance policy may reimburse you for the cost of your lost vacation.

Just like car insurance, you'll need to make a claim to recover under a travel insurance policy. Make sure that you've read the policy's fine print. Certain events may not be covered by travel insurance. Events that aren't covered include:

  • War
  • Labor unrest or strikes
  • Riots

Along with event exclusions, certain policies may have time restrictions. In other words, you need to buy insurance within a certain number of days before your trip.

The best travel plans include more than packing a suitcase. Things happen. Whether there's a hurricane or a hotel fire, knowing how to get a refund if disaster strikes can help you save your money for the next trip.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does the Fair Credit Billing Act apply for foreign hotels?
  • I used a debit card to prepay for my hotel room. Does the Fair Credit Billing Act cover debit cards?
  • The hotel I'm staying at just filed bankruptcy. Do I have to pay my bill?
  • Can I file a small claims case against a hotel that won't give me a refund?
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