By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/13/2006 6:43:15 PM ET 2006-11-13T23:43:15
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: On a recent visit to the Hilton Austin, I decided to valet-park my Chevrolet Trailblazer. The valet service lost both my car and my keys. I have had to file a stolen vehicle report as well as a claim with my auto insurance company.

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The hotel did nothing except give me their insurance company’s contact information. They also offered to make a rental car reservation for me — but then told me that I would have to pay for the car. When I checked out, they gave me the full bill that included valet parking charges for a full week that my vehicle was lost.

I am completely appalled with the treatment I received. I have contacted the corporate office but other than saying it’s a “local matter” they have done nothing. Is there something more that I can do?
— Elizabeth Logan, Houston

A: If Hilton’s valet service permanently misplaced your car, it is reasonable to expect more than a phone number and an offer to make a rental car reservation.

The least it could have done was to remove the valet charges from your final bill. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have to tell you, this is a really odd case. How can a valet service “lose” a car? Did they give someone else your keys? Don’t you have to show a claim ticket before getting your car back? If nothing else, your case raises some significant questions about the security of valet-parked vehicles.

Is Hilton responsible for your loss? Maybe. My reading of Chapter 2155 of the state’s occupations code — the rules that hoteliers have to follow — suggests that Hilton may have been a little bit too dismissive when your car went missing. Although there is a $50 limit of liability for valuables, it only applies if your belongings could “reasonably have been kept in the safe or vault” and the loss doesn’t happen as the result of “negligence or wrongdoing of the keeper or an employee of the hotel,” among other things.

I’m not saying you should have hauled Hilton into court. Only that I’m not so sure the hotel chain was doing everything it should have when it handled your case.

In this kind of situation, I would have immediately hired an attorney who is familiar with Texas lodging statutes and could work with the property for a fair resolution. When you’re talking about a car that was presumably stolen, you’re in territory that’s way beyond this columnist’s pay grade. (I didn’t go to law school, and can’t offer legal advice.)

I asked Hilton to look into your missing car. This time, they didn’t treat it as a local matter. The property processed a claim through its insurance company, which covered the replacement cost of your car. It also offered you a free three-night stay for the inconvenience.

If you take the hotel up on its offer, consider hiring a taxi.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at chris@elliott.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, http://www.csr.elliott.org

© 2006 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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