No vacation refund after missing flight

I purchased a 2-week extended holiday to Costa del Sol, Spain, with Sun Holidays for March ’07. The total price was $1,847, which included airfare from New York’s JFK to Málaga, Spain, with Iberia Air; hotel for 13 nights; transfers; meals; three local tours, and taxes. I separately arranged domestic air on US Airways to JFK Airport, which cost $248.

The week I was to leave, the Northeast experienced a monster snowstorm. I got to my local airport in Wilmington, North Carolina, early on Friday, March 16, for the US Air flight to New York. After 4½ hours of waiting, my flight was canceled.

I trundled on home and called my agent at Sun Holidays, Jennifer Gsell. She immediately rescheduled my international flight for the 18th.

However, on the 18th I still was not able to get to JFK to catch my Iberia Air flight, as storms prevented US Airways from resuming normal flights to New York until the 19th. I called Sun Holidays, buy they were not open on Sunday. I later learned that my Iberia Airlines flight did depart that day around 6:30 p.m. as scheduled.

My further communications with Sun Holidays were by e-mail. On March 21, I received an e-mail from Ms. Gsell which said, “We have contacted Iberia Airlines regarding your situation and they have advised that the airline tickets are nonrefundable/nonchangeable. Since flights did depart once the weather cleared, the restrictions remain per original terms and conditions. We are sorry we cannot be of further assistance.”

I had not purchased trip insurance.

I did receive my $248 refund from US Airways, but I never received a refund for the package to Spain, including international airfare and the land portion of the tour. I called Iberia Air and found I was speaking to a representative in Madrid, who stated Sun Holidays would be responsible for working this out. I wrote to the Sol Aloha Puerto Hotel in Málaga, as well, but received no response.


Leland, NC

ITN sent copies of the above letter to Sun Holidays, Iberia Airlines (6100 Blue Lagoon Dr., Ste. 200, Miami, FL 33126-2086) and US Airways (4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85034). Iberia Airlines did not reply. US Air wrote, “Due to the right to privacy, US Airways does not release information regarding our passengers. However, a response was forwarded to our passenger.” Sun Holidays provided the following reply.

We thank you for the opportunity to advise the full details in regards to this situation.

Ms. Baffa booked reservations with us on Dec. 8, 2006. At time of booking, a confirmation was mailed to her including our Terms & Conditions as well as contact information for travel insurance. We also print this information on our invoices to be sure it is not overlooked.

On March 1, 2007, travel documents were FedExed to Ms. Baffa. These documents included direct contact information for all suppliers, including the toll-free number for Iberia Airlines.

On Friday, March 16, due to severe weather conditions many flights were canceled and delayed. Passengers were rebooked on the next-available flight by us or the airlines directly.

The afternoon of March 16, Ms. Baffa called and told me that she did not make her flight. I advised her we needed to rebook immediately to avoid losing her ticket. We rebooked her flight for a Sunday, March 18, departure. Ms. Baffa was not charged a change penalty.

On Monday morning, March 19, we read an e-mail from Ms. Baffa telling us she could not make the flight on March 18. Our offices are closed on weekends and we have a voice-mail message that states that we are closed Saturdays and Sundays. Our office hours are also noted on our brochures.

Apparently, Ms. Baffa did not call Iberia Airlines at the number we provided her with. For this reason, Iberia considered her a no-show and the flight left with her empty seat.

Per Ms. Baffa’s e-mail request, we contacted Iberia Airlines and requested authorization to rebook her. (Please also note that she requested to rebook not for the next day or so but for a departure several weeks later. Her request mentioned kennel needs for her dog and problems with making arrangements for coverage at work.) We went through quite a few different departments in an attempt to waive the penalties for her. Ultimately, Iberia advised us that these tickets were now nonrefundable and no changes could be made.

The actions Ms. Baffa should have taken to avoid full cancellation penalties are as follows: 1) purchase travel insurance at booking time; 2) on the day of the flight, advise US Air she was connecting onto Iberia Airlines and ask that they contact Iberia at the same time they were rescheduling her domestic flight, and 3) directly contact Iberia Airlines prior to their scheduled departure.

If Ms. Baffa or US Airways had contacted Iberia Airlines prior to departure and advised them of the weather situation, Iberia most likely would have rescheduled her for travel the next day with no penalties.

The air arrangements were through Iberia, and the land arrangements were through the hotel directly. The cancellation fees were subject to the terms and conditions of both the airline and hotel.

We cannot speak 100% for insurance companies, but if Ms. Baffa had purchased travel insurance, most likely the company would have assisted her in reimbursement. (Most insurance companies offer coverage for weather and/or travel delays as well as unexpected illness, etc. The customer must confirm directly with the insurance company at the time of purchasing what is and what is not included in the coverage.)

By the way, if someone is canceling more than 14 days prior to departure, it helps to put the cancellation in writing to avoid any unnecessary mix of communication. If one must cancel extremely close to departure, the best option is to contact the airline, hotel, etc., directly.

In closing, we would like to mention that, in addition to Ms. Baffa, many of our passengers had their flights canceled or delayed due to the severe weather conditions on that day. Those passengers all were accommodated on alternate flights and traveled as soon as weather permitted.

We are sorry to hear of Ms. Baffa’s comments, but we did offer her responsible and efficient assistance. We hope this information is helpful.

JENNIFER GSELL, Sun Holidays, Inc., 7932 Sand Lake Rd., Ste. 302, Orlando, FL 32819

In a follow-up conversation, Ms. Baffa told ITN that when Sun Holidays rescheduled her departure from Friday to Sunday she was told, “If you’re there, you’re there and if you’re not, you’re not,” and she wishes she had asked, “Well, what does that mean?,” because it left her with the impression that all would be well no matter what she did. That was not the case.