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Travel Solutions: Can I cancel my hotel because of the earthquake swarm?
Travel Solutions

Travel Solutions: Can I cancel my hotel because of the earthquake swarm?

I’m trying to cancel an upcoming trip to the Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa in Puerto Rico. There’s been daily seismic activity in the area, and as I write this, the resort is not open. I’m very concerned about the earthquakes in this region of Puerto Rico. In January, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced signed a request for a major disaster declaration.

I believe that they can’t guarantee the reopening of Copamarina, and where would that leave us last minute? We would like to be able to make different plans, where we don’t fear being in the water or in buildings in the region, but in order to do that, we will need a refund from Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa. Can you help us? — Nick Hinrichs, New Brighton, Minn.

A: Your desire to cancel your stay in Puerto Rico is understandable. Since late last year, the southwestern part of the island of Puerto Rico has been hit by what’s called an earthquake swarm, some of them stronger than magnitude 5. It is cause for concern. You contacted me in February about this problem, two months after the swarm started, but several months after you had booked nonrefundable rooms.

You asked the Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa for a refund. But in an email, the resort said it would be open by the time you arrived, and it reminded you that your bookings weren’t refundable. Still, it offered to reschedule your stay to a future date within a year of your purchase. You wanted a full refund.

Your story is a cautionary tale about buying nonrefundable rooms, especially far in advance. A nonrefundable room, as the name suggests, is nonrefundable. But when you book many months before your stay, you also forfeit an important benefit of paying by credit card. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have 90 days to dispute a charge. A hotel not being open may be a valid reason, but if you’re past your three months, your credit card dispute department might not be able to help you. No surprise that your credit card company told you that it couldn’t help.

I think the Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa would have been well within its rights to keep your money if you didn’t show up for your reservation. But that wouldn’t have been the right decision. Making an exception to a “no-refunds” policy during an ongoing natural disaster makes sense. You don’t want to alienate a potential future customer, not to mention come across as cold-hearted.

You contacted me to ask for help, and I suggested that you send a brief, polite email to the property, asking for an exception to its rules. You did, and you also mentioned that you had been in touch with me. That did the trick. The property offered you a full refund.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy. Contact him at elliott.org/help.

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