By Travel columnist
updated 5/1/2006 4:36:17 PM ET 2006-05-01T20:36:17

Q: I recently booked a hotel room at the Holiday Inn North Miami-Golden Glades through Cheaptickets.com. I made the reservation late at night, after 11 p.m., but before midnight, for a check-in the next day.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Five minutes after submitting my reservation, I changed my mind and called Cheaptickets.com to cancel. A representative told me that Cheaptickets would charge a $25 fee for this cancellation, which I agreed to. I was told I would otherwise get a full refund of the reservation charge.

After several weeks, I called Cheaptickets.com to find out when I could expect to get my money back. A representative then told me the room was completely nonrefundable.

The reason? Cancellations made after midnight on the day of arrival cannot be refunded. According to Cheaptickets.com, I had canceled my reservation after midnight.

This is not fair. I called before midnight. Would you help me, please?

-- Blanca R. Alvarez, North Miami, Fla.

A: The Cheaptickets.com policy says reservations made before midnight are refundable, so you should have gotten your money back.

But you sure were cutting it close.

Around midnight can be the best, and the worst, time to buy travel online. On the "best" side: New airfares are often loaded into the reservations systems in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes, this is the best time to find bargains. On the "worst" side: You can easily get stuck with a worthless room.

A lot of online booking agencies, including Cheaptickets.com, set midnight as their cutoff time for refunds. It is not a good idea to press your luck with that kind of deadline, even by a few minutes. That’s because transactions don’t always go through immediately; e.g.: A hotel room canceled at 11:49 p.m. might not get processed until 12:09 p.m. Maybe the computers are slow that night, or maybe the reservations agent always takes a coffee break at 11:50. Whatever the reason, you’re left holding the room.

It looks like that’s what happened in your case. Even though you called with time to spare, the reservation appears to have been canceled after midnight — an "agent error," according to Cheaptickets.com.

Next time, don’t wait until the last minute to cancel your reservation — or to make the reservation, for that matter — especially if you have any doubts about it. If you are in any way unsure about the reservation, I recommend booking your hotel room through a company with a more lenient cancellation policy. For example, some hotel chains allow you to cancel your room without penalty with a direct booking.

Cheaptickets.com apologized to you and refunded the entire cost of your room.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments