Christopher Elliott, The Travel Troubleshooter, August 7, 2012
Q: I booked a stay in Ocean City, Md., through Hotels.com. When I arrived to check in, I found it was closed for the season. All numbers I was able to find for the hotel - front desk, reservations, housekeeping, and administrative offices - either rang forever or had a voice mail saying that the hotel was closed.
I do not know if it was the fault of the hotel or Hotels.com, but in either case we wound up staying at a more expensive hotel at the last minute. We wound up spending approximately $100 more on a hotel than we had planned.
I would not have been overly bothered about this if Hotels.com had immediately apologized and promptly refunded the money I sent them. I was told that since Hotels.com could not contact the hotel, I would have to wait until the hotel re-opened (sometime in the spring) so that they could speak to someone there before they refunded my money. After I said that was unacceptable and asked to speak to a supervisor, I was put on hold and then told that my money would be refunded within the next one to two days.
I called a few days later after my refund still hadn't been processed, and was told it would take three to seven days to process. I just called Hotels.com this morning and was told that my refund had been "escalated" to another department and to check back next month. Help! - Steve Broman, Baltimore
A: I don't understand how Hotels.com can accept a reservation - let alone send you to a hotel - that's closed. It would be one thing if the hotel closed suddenly, because of a fire or foreclosure. But this was a seasonal closure.
When you were standing in front of the closed property, you should have phoned Hotels.com right away. A representative should have found you a suitable replacement room right away at the same rate you paid for the original hotel. That employee could have also verified that the hotel was closed for the season.
Instead, you waited. I can understand why you'd postpone this - after all, you needed a room right away, and Hotels.com hadn't exactly proven itself as reliable. Still, resolving this problem right then and there would have spared you a lot of grief later on.
You called Hotels.com when you returned, which didn't really work. You need something in writing, preferably by email. Proving the hotel is closed should be as easy as sending a Hotels.com representative a link to the inn's website, and also, you can forward the entire chain to a supervisor instead of waiting on "hold" for someone who may or may not be in a position to help you.
I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf. It apologized for the problem with your hotel, confirmed that it was closed, and refunded $401, the cost of the original hotel. What had happened? "The hotel did in fact close but they did not update their information in our system for the dates Mr. Broman booked," a representative told me.
Hotels.com said it would take additional steps to make sure this didn't happen again. It also agreed to refund you for the extra expenses incurred as a result of your hotel mishap.
(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 co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at [email protected]. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)