Q. I booked a trip to Tallinn, Estonia, earlier this year through Otel.com. I prepaid $919 for a refundable hotel room at the Three Sisters Hotel. I couldn’t make the trip because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Otel agreed to contact the hotel for me and let me know their response. After a few weeks, I contacted the Three Sisters Hotel to ask about my refund. A representative said they had not received any payment from Otel.com. They fully supported my request for a refund.
I contacted Otel.com and asked for a refund again. I mentioned that the hotel hadn’t received any money and that it supported my request for a refund.
I received an e-mail from Otel.com indicating my refund request was granted and that the refund had been issued. The company said it would take 15 business days for me to receive my full refund. A month later, I still didn’t have my refund, so I initiated a credit card dispute.
My bank denied the chargeback, saying that Otel.com had no refund policy. However, I have written evidence that Otel.com conceded its refund policy was dependent on the hotel and the hotel had not been paid and agreed with my request for a refund. But my bank refused to help me.
I would like a refund or a credit from Otel.com for $919. Can you help?
STEVEN TAKAHASHI, Seattle
A. I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble with getting your hotel refund during the coronavirus pandemic. It should be a simple and fast process, but as you — and hundreds of thousands of other travelers — are finding out, it’s anything but that.
Getting a hotel refund after the coronavirus pandemic can be complicated. With your situation, it was even more complicated because there was a third party involved: your online travel agency. Otel.com’s terms and conditions suggest that its hotels have different refund policies. Some charge you upfront for the full amount, while others will bill you when you show up. But Otel.com doesn’t say whose refund policy is more important — the hotel’s or its own.
You did a great job keeping track of the paperwork. You had written evidence of the hotel's initial refund policy and of its willingness to refund you. By the way, offering you a refund was the correct and compassionate thing of the hotel to do. You were scheduled to fly to Tallinn in March, right after the pandemic shutdown. A visit was impossible.
But Otel.com first promised you a refund and then failed to follow through. The reason is obvious to me: The online travel agency must have been overrun with refund requests. It shouldn’t have promised you a refund within 15 business days. That was totally unrealistic.
The problem here was your credit card company. Why didn't it side with you in this dispute? I can only assume that it, too, was swamped with other chargeback requests and didn't have the time to review your request. If it had, you would have received every penny back. (And if not, then it's time for a new credit card.)
Calling and e-mailing is the right first step to getting a hotel refund during the coronavirus pandemic. But you could have also appealed to a manager at Otel.com. I list the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Otel.com executives on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.
I contacted Otel.com on your behalf. A representative reviewed your case and agreed to offer you the $919 credit that you requested.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. He can be reached at elliott.org/help or email@example.com.