A holiday in Florida turned into a nightmare when a hotel rep told a family of 10 to pay a “ramped up charge” of $700 or leave their accommodation during the Hurricane Irma lockdown.
Nicola Purcell claims tour operator Thomas Cook had assured them their hotel stay had been extended and paid for by the travel firm following a cancelled flight home.
But her partner Darren Wilcox was forced to leave the safety of the hotel room and walk through high winds and rain to reach the hotel reception in order to pay $700 to extend their stay.
Nicola described the $700 charge as unfairly “ramped up” during the emergency.
When their stay had to be extended a second time, Nicola said Thomas Cook hadn’t booked them a room for a second time so the family had to pay out another $135.
Nicola, 39, of Marsh, says Thomas Cook had promised to return around 20 telephone calls for help but hadn’t got back to them.
“Their customer service was worse than poor,” she said.
“What happened was shocking and not something you would expect from a massive holiday company. I think we deserve an apology.”
She said it had been fortunate that her partner’s mum had been carrying a credit card so was able to pay the hotel bills, the largest of which has now been refunded.
“How many people have $700 to pay extra hotel bills? If we didn’t have the money we would have been kicked out in a hurricane. We feel we have been let down.”
Nicola, who is a former holiday rep, said she had expected more help from Thomas Cook.
“We made 20 calls to Thomas Cook when we were in Florida. They said they would call us back or text us but we got nothing.”
When the storm hit their hotel, which was near the Walt Disney resort, the family – which included four children aged from four to 15 – placed mattresses against the window as the winds howled outside.
“It was a very loud storm,” said Nicola. “Afterwards we saw walls and canopies had collapsed on a nearby building.”
She said her complaints were not about the money but the lack of customer care during the crisis.
“You would assume that during such a big hurricane someone would be there to help a family of 10 and not for us to be asked to leave our hotel room during a hurricane.”
A spokesman for the company said a member of the customer relationship team had contacted the family to offer an apology and a refund.
She said 9,000 customers had been in Orlando at the time of Hurricane Irma.
“We sent in extra people to support the resort team,” she said.
The spokesman said it was "sorry for the confusion" over the hotel accommodation.
"We are investigating why she was asked to pay and why she did not receive a call back from us or a text message about the delay on her return flight."