While Zika looms, pregnant couple wants refund for Caribbean vacation

I am beyond upset and frustrated. Last year, I booked a vacation at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, for my pregnant girlfriend and myself. It was supposed to take place in early January of this year.

After news of the Zika virus broke in January, we contacted Sandals to get a refund for the trip because of the seriousness of the health advisory. That is the only reason we don’t want to go to Jamaica.

At that point, Sandals advised us that we already had paid in full, and it claimed that we were outside the refund period. We provided a note from our doctor stating that travel to Jamaica was highly discouraged and against her medical opinion, due to family-planning concerns and the issues with Zika. The Sandals reps should have refunded our trip at that time.

They were not swayed, and in an effort to find a solution, we temporarily accepted their idea of pushing the trip back a year, which laughably cost us a fee as well. I was skeptical but felt we had no choice, given that the trip was days away and we clearly could not go. In the time since then, concerns about Zika have only intensified.

We contacted Sandals again this past July to try to get refund of our purchase. We originally had paid for a trip, been told that we could not cancel because it was too close to the date and then had paid a fee to move the trip forward a year. We spoke with a customer-service representative on the phone and were led to believe that we could get a refund for the trip. But that has not happened. Can you help us get a refund from Sandals?

— Kevin Kordosky, Tucson, Ariz.

A: You’d think a company like Sandals would try to help you in a situation like this. But its refund policy, which you agreed to when you booked your vacation, is clear. If you cancel 30 to 15 days prior to arrival, you’ll receive 50 percent of the purchase price, including any applicable airline fees. If you’re anywhere from 14 days to zero days before arrival, no refunds. It’s all spelled out on Sandals’ website: www.sandals.com/general/legal.

Sandals and your travel agent probably also recommended travel insurance. Some insurance, such as the pricier, cancel-for-any-reason variety, might have helped you secure a partial refund. But most normal insurance, which would have excluded any pre-existing medical conditions, would have been useless.

I’m troubled that a manager left you with the impression that you might get a refund. You could have avoided that by putting your request in writing. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Sandals’ executives on my consumer-advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/sandals.

The real question is: Who should take the financial loss for the Zika outbreak? Sandals — or you? I’m not sure if this is an “either/or” kind of question. In a perfect world, no one would be left holding the bill. Sandals would get its money, and you would be able to keep your vacation.

I contacted Sandals on your behalf. The company says it agreed to refund your room upgrade fee and a private candlelight dinner you’d paid for. You should see both of those items on your credit card statement soon. Sandals told me that it “understands your concern” and has extended your trip credit for one year from your current travel date.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, www.elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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