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TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Hotels.com offers only a voucher for canceled Hawaii vacation

Beth Tananbaum cancels her Hawaii vacation at the height of the pandemic. But Hotels.com will only offer her a voucher for her accommodations — and it’s about to expire. Can she get a refund?

In this April 6, 2020 file photo, a plane lands as the sun sets over the international airport in Honolulu.Caleb Jones/Associated Press

Q. I booked a family trip to Hawaii for May 2020. Then COVID-19 shut everything down. Everyone refunded my money fully except Hotels.com, which issued vouchers for the three rooms I had booked.

The vouchers expired before Hawaii even reopened. Then I received an e-mail that they were extending the vouchers to this December. Hawaii didn’t reopen fully until the end of July. I can’t get to Hawaii before December because some of my children are in college.

I never agreed to a voucher, and I didn’t cancel my trip by choice. I have spoken to the customer service reps at both Hotels.com and Expedia (which owns Hotels.com), who say the hotel denied my request for a refund because of the hotel’s policy.

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The hotel claims that its policy is to fully refund customers in this situation. I investigated, and it turns out that the hotel never even received the money from Hotels.com. It only gets the money the day before I check in. Hotels.com had my money.

I feel that Hotels.com has stolen my money. Can you help me get my $4,000 back?

BETH TANANBAUM, Plantsville, Conn.

A. You booked a nonrefundable reservation at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort (great hotel, by the way). Nonrefundable means that you can’t get your money back if you cancel your travel plans. But if the hotel cancels your reservation, you definitely are entitled to a refund.

You forwarded your paper trail between you, the hotel and Hotels.com. It looks like you contacted a revenue manager at the Outrigger, who opened a case with Expedia. As a result of that investigation, Expedia promised to issue a full refund within 7 to 10 days. But you never received the money.

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Hawaii closed to tourism during the early days of the pandemic. Most hotels canceled their bookings and issued refunds. So something went awry with your canceled vacation. I think Expedia’s promise to refund the money makes this an open-and-shut case.

If you run into a problem like this in the future, you can always reach out to an executive at Expedia or Hotels.com. I publish the names, numbers and e-mail address of the Expedia and Hotels.com customer service contacts on my consumer advocacy site at elliott.org/company-contacts/expedia.

I think contacting the Outrigger’s revenue manager was an excellent idea, because it led to opening a case with Expedia. You also kept a meticulous paper trail and all of your receipts and records. Hotels.com claimed that Outrigger denied your claim because it’s against the hotel’s policy to refund a nonrefundable room. However, an Outrigger representative said the hotel did refund all hotel guests.

It’s obvious that your case had been taken over by some kind of automated system that sent you vouchers you couldn’t possibly use. That’s all the more reason to try to reach a human at Hotels.com or Expedia.

I reached out to Expedia on your behalf. Separately, you also reached out to the Expedia executives. The company reviewed your case and issued a refund.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.

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