Not only am I in a tight financial situation with hospital bills piling up, but I also believe this is completely unreasonable. I was never advised of the retreat center's cancellation fees.
Is there any way you can help me with this? - Ruth Hartmann,
Answer: Your cancellation fees should have been clearly disclosed at the time of booking, and as far as I can tell, they weren't. That left you to assume you could get most of your money back.
Further communication among you, your yoga center, and the resort showed the hotel would charge a 50 percent penalty, which is why they were asking for an additional $400 for a stay you couldn't use.
I think this is one of those times when travel insurance would have been helpful. If you were able to make a successful claim, the insurance would have covered all of your costs, including the $400 charge from the hotel.
Yours is a cautionary tale for anyone booking travel in a nontraditional way, such as a membership organization, scuba-diving store, or yoga center. These are not professional travel agents or tour operators, and may leave out a few details of the terms and conditions.
For what it's worth, I don't think your yoga center's omission was intentional. Rather, as a center representative later admitted, it could have been clearer.
You need to be extra careful when you're booking a trip in this way. Ask about the cancellation policy, and if possible, get it in writing. And do that before you make your reservation; that way, if the terms seem unreasonable, you can ask a question - or decline to book the trip.
The bottom line is that according to the terms of your purchase, the resort was well within its rights to keep your money. But as I mentioned earlier, they should have told you about it before you made your reservation.
I contacted the yoga center on your behalf. After some more back-and-forth with you, and in consideration of your medical condition, it agreed to send you a check for $400.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the cofounder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.