Question:

We recently made arrangements to visit the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino through a company called Cheap Caribbean. The hotel has an all-inclusive option, which includes meals, beverages, and activities, and quoted us a price of $5,701.

Imagine the horror we experienced when we got to the Marriott and were told that our reservation with them was for the room only - not all-inclusive. Since we had booked an all-inclusive, we took only a small amount of cash, which would not have been enough for a week's worth of meals and liquid refreshments.

When we called Cheap Caribbean Customer Service from the Marriott check-in desk, they wanted an additional $3,000 to make it an all-inclusive. After many, many phone calls among Cheap Caribbean, Marriott, and my daughter, Cheap Caribbean and the three of us agreed to split the additional cost just to get the matter resolved and behind us. We had already lost what equaled a whole day of our vacation and wanted to get on with enjoying the short time we had left.

We feel that we were ripped off by Cheap Caribbean. We were quoted a vacation deal and they should have honored it. We wrote to the president of Cheap Caribbean but never received an answer. Can you help us?

- E.M., Tinley Park, Ill.
Answer: You shouldn't have to pay twice for your all-inclusive vacation. Cheap Caribbean and Marriott should have honored your reservation without charging you more.

You don't negotiate with your travel agent and then split the difference. Either your reservation says "all-inclusive" and you get the meals, drinks, and activities - or not. So if you look at your paperwork and have bought the all-inclusive package, there are no two ways about it: You should get what you paid for.

One way to avoid an unpleasant surprise before you check in at a resort is to call ahead to confirm your reservation. Don't phone Cheap Caribbean; ask Marriott. A representative could have told you about the problem long before you arrived, saving you the trouble of having to renegotiate your vacation package at check-in.

The best way of ensuring that you get what you paid for is to have everything in writing. That includes your reservation that says "all-inclusive," the confirmed rate, and your room type. Don't take an agent's word that you have an all-inclusive vacation, no matter what. Get it on paper. It will make any negotiation with the hotel far easier.

I'm troubled that Cheap Caribbean didn't respond to your written inquiry. But I wonder whether sending a brief, polite e-mail through the company's website - rather than a letter sent directly to its president - would have been the better course of action. I always recommend going through channels before appealing your grievance to the president. Still, someone should have acknowledged your letter, and they didn't.

You might have also checked with Marriott to find out why your all-inclusive rate wasn't honored. I asked Marriott to take another look at your reservation. A representative contacted you and offered a full refund of the surcharge you had to pay.

And CheapCaribbean.com refunded the extra fees you had to pay.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org or troubleshoot your trip through his website, www.elliott.org.