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Goof-proof your trip

Job 1: Goof-proof your trip
Travel agents make mistakes too, so it pays to double-check their work.
By: Laurie Berger
Originally posted on: www.latimes.com/travel/la-tr-travelqa7may07,1,2082455,print.column 


May 7, 2006

WHAT options do travelers have when a travel agent makes a mistake but denies it? Travel Q&A tackles an expensive mishap that could have been prevented.

Question: In February, my 12-year-old daughter and I booked a vacation to Aventura Spa Palace, a resort in Cancún, Mexico, recommended by the "family travel specialist" at Liberty/GoGo Worldwide Vacations. The agent said this deluxe, adults-only resort was now catering to families with children. We put ourselves and our money in his hands.

Upon arrival at the resort, however, we were promptly turned away.

"We don't allow minors here," the general manager told us.

The resort finally found us a room at the Moon Palace, a sister Palace Resort. It was everything the Aventura wasn't: big, crowded and mediocre. Not wanting to disappoint my daughter or lose $1,200 in nonrefundable airfares, we stayed. It was miserable.

I contacted Liberty to discuss compensation for our ruined trip, but all I got was a $100 travel voucher. Do I have any recourse?

New York

Answer: Given the obvious error, Travel Q&A was surprised that Liberty didn't deliver. But after we stepped in, Liberty came through with a fair settlement: 100% refund ($2,556) of the land portion in cash and credits, enough to pay for another father-daughter getaway.

Travel Q&A applauds Liberty for making the right customer-service decision (and Palace Resorts for nudging them behind the scenes). But this $4,000 mishap (and disappointment) could have been avoided had Liberty and Grau done some homework up front.

Aventura's adults-only status was a huge red flag. The resort temporarily reversed its policy in November and December 2005 to accommodate people displaced by hurricane damage to its family-friendly Cancun properties. When the no-kids policy was reinstated Jan. 8, Palace Resorts says the change was communicated to all its travel partners and posted on its website.

Liberty, a 200-office retailer based in Ramsey, N.J., said none of the agents at the location Grau visited was told of the change. Palace Resorts claimed no responsibility, saying that the policy was reversed a month before Grau's arrival.

Liberty was to blame, said San Francisco-based travel attorney Al Anolik. "They ruined his vacation and it's worth something," he said. The initial offer should be even higher because a child was involved. You can't easily erase those disappointments."

But the resort also may have liability. "This was a serious change in policy," Anolik said. Aventura should have made doubly sure its agency partners and guests were properly informed.

As a consumer, Grau also had a responsibility. Liberty did not double-check the resort's age policy, so Grau should have done so on his own.

Grau also should have known his rights when "walked" or bumped from a hotel or resort. He could have demanded to be moved from the unacceptable Moon Palace to a competing property at Liberty's and the Aventura's expense.

The lesson: Trust your travel agent, but always double-check his work.