RIU Palace Bavaro in Punta Cana denies access to hotel despite family paid USD 4600

Syracuse.com - It was supposed to be the Mateo family's dream vacation: New Year's on the glistening beaches of the Caribbean, far away from Syracuse's snowy doldrums.

The Clay family's youngest child, Alana, 17, was leaving for college in a few months. Her mother had a tough year battling nerve issues that kept her from work.

Miguel Mateo had the perfect plan: a week over New Year's at one of the Dominican Republic's premier resorts, Punta Cana, on the eastern coast. It's a place the family had visited three years ago and loved at first sight.

But the Mateo family's much-anticipated vacation ended after one night, cost thousands of dollars more than planned and left them wishing they'd never left home. The hotel wouldn't let the kids stay without doubling the cost, Miguel Mateo said.

Now, the Mateos, of Four Seasons Drive, have filed a lawsuit against Hotwire.com and its parent, Expedia.com, accusing the popular travel site of ruining their vacation. He's also suing the RIU Palace Bavaro resort for turning his family away from their $4,607, all-inclusive accommodations package.

Mateo also wants compensation for charges that range from $842 in airline service charges to nearly $794 in cell phone roaming fees racked up trying to get home.

"I'll fight this with all my energy," Mateo said. "You have to stand up, especially if you feel you are right. I will pursue this to the end, and I believe justice will prevail."

Mateo is remarkably qualified to sue the large travel website. He said his job at an insurance firm, Interboro Management, is to determine which lawsuits should be settled and which ones should be fought in court. He is also a world traveler, having traveled to Japan and Turkey, as well as numerous trips to his native Dominican Republic.

He filed the lawsuit himself in state Supreme Court Jan. 2. His wife, Kellie, a former insurance adjuster, is serving as his legal assistant. Mateo said he's not looking for enough money to entice a lawyer to take his case, which could involve a legal battle with companies boasting deep pockets.

But given his legal background, Mateo said he's ready for the fight.

"They truly believe they are untouchable," Mateo said. "If I have to spend all six weeks of my vacation fighting this, I will."

A Hotwire spokeswoman declined comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

'Everything that could go wrong went wrong'

Alana Mateo said her father promised her one last vacation before she left for college.

She brought a friend, Tiffany Wilcox, and planned to celebrate Wilcox's 18th birthday on the beach.

"I was really excited to take a break from life," said Alana Mateo, a senior at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. "Once we got there, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong and I wished we had never gone in the first place."

She added she was "embarrassed" for letting her friend down.

The family and Wilcox arrived in the Dominican Republic Dec. 20. Their first stop was a resort near the capital, Santo Domingo. They described the resort as their second home, where locals know them by name and Miguel's family still lives close by.

The real vacation wasn't to begin until they reached the posh resort three hours east of the capital. Their first problem came when Kellie Mateo's bag got lost by the airline. It arrived at 9 p.m. Christmas Day.

The family believed they'd had their hiccup for the trip. On Dec. 26, they set off eagerly for the resort. But when they arrived, the nightmare began almost immediately.

While checking into the resort, the receptionist told them that the children were too old - their reservation only allowed for children under the age of 12.

Miguel Mateo said he'd told Hotwire.com the ages of his daughter and Wilcox when he booked the reservation. But the resort said it didn't matter.

"They were very arrogant," Mateo said. "They basically said, 'We don't care. Hotwire never told us the ages of your kids.'"

So Mateo called Hotwire. The travel company suggested that Mateo pay the extra fee and Hotwire would reimburse him. Mateo said the hotel wanted another $6,000, because the kids were considered adults.

He declined, worried that Hotwire wouldn't keep its promise - made over the phone - to pay him back. Instead, Mateo demanded that Hotwire force the hotel to let them stay. He claims the company said there's nothing it could do.

To compound the problem, all the other hotels in the resort were booked for the holidays. His family had no place to go, he said.

"It became an adventure," Mateo said. "That's what these (websites) don't realize. You're putting your life in their hands."

By that point, it was getting dark and they needed to find a place to stay for the night. The Four Points Hotel nearby had a $268 room - but only for one night. They took it.

At nerves end, Miguel Mateo said he had only one choice: turn around and go home to Syracuse. That night, he called Delta Airlines and reserved last-minute tickets to get everyone home the next day.

"Instead of going through all of this, I'd rather be home and deal with this then," he explained.

A full day of travel later, they returned safely to Syracuse. Alana Mateo said she was glad "to be home in her own bed" and relieved the drama was over.

'The money's nothing'

Her father said the point of his lawsuit is to send a message to the companies who he felt wronged his family.

"What truly brings out the emotion is that my family had to go through that ordeal," Mateo said. "The money's nothing. It's the experience."

Mateo said that Hotwire, which had promised to reimburse him, later changed its tune to say it was waiting for the resort to pay back first.

"They're just playing games," Mateo said. "They just lost one of their best customers. They ruined a beautiful vacation."

There was a silver lining, of sorts. The Mateos' son, Michael, is stationed with the Navy in Japan. He paid for several nights for his family at the Turning Stone Resort and Hotel.

Expenses the Mateo family is suing to get back:

• $4,607 for six day, all-inclusive accommodations at the RIU Palace Bavaro resort

• $842 in airline service charges to return to Syracuse early

• $794 in cell phone service charges

• $268 for night at Four Seasons Hotel

• $230 in baggage fees for return trip (baggage included in ticket to Dominican Republic)

• $40 for rental car to find new hotel after being refused entry

• $20 for shuttle between New York City airports on trip home

Go back | Date: 09 Feb 2014
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