By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 6/14/2007 12:05:29 PM ET 2007-06-14T16:05:29
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I recently booked a room at the Casa Del Mar Beach, Golf and Spa Resort in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. My travel agent at American Express Platinum Travel confirmed a rate of $425 a night. But Casa Del Mar did not honor that price and charged us in the native currency — anywhere from 4,611 pesos to 4,675 pesos per night. Converted into dollars, that came out to anywhere from $443 to $450 per night. Including tax and service, this resulted in an overcharge of $276.

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Everyone I’ve talked to has indicated that the overcharge is American Express’ responsibility. I’ve asked them to adjust our rate, but it’s been more than eight months and they’ve done nothing. I believe that a full credit on the overcharge of $276 is warranted. If a price quote from American Express Platinum Travel isn’t valid, why would anyone make reservations through them?
— Bernard Horwath, Vadnais Heights, Minn.

A: Why, indeed? When a travel agent gives you a price for a hotel room, you should expect to pay that price. And when you’re overcharged, your travel adviser should do whatever it takes to make things right.

It turns out the Casa Del Mar’s rate policy is slightly different than the one your agent appeared to communicate to you. Rates are “only guaranteed in the hotel’s native currency due to conversion issues,” according to its Web site. In other words, your actual price may fluctuate as the value of your dollar increases or decreases against the peso.

Here’s what should have happened. That weird room rate in pesos should have been a red flag. Before checking out, I would have phoned American Express Platinum Travel to find out what rate you’re actually being charged. Remember, you’re using a travel agency — and paying your agent a booking fee for certain transactions — in exchange for its professional services.

Next, I would have spoken with a manager about the peso rate on your bill. At that point, you would have discovered the overcharge. By showing a printout of your confirmed price from American Express Platinum Travel, you might have persuaded a manager to adjust your rate then and there — if your travel agent hadn’t already reached the same manager and resolved the problem for you.

By waiting until you return home, you limited your options. The resort is now far more difficult to reach because of language barriers and distance. And now that your trip is over, your agent may or may not help you — in your case, unfortunately, not.

How about a credit card dispute? Well, that probably won’t work if you used your American Express card to pay for the hotel. In a credit card dispute with itself, whom do you think American Express would side with?

I think travel agents provide a valuable service, and I often encourage people to use them. But remember, they’re not just there to make your reservations and take your money. You can do that on the Internet. You’re paying for an adviser and an advocate who can help you when things go wrong.

I contacted American Express on your behalf. A short while later, you received a phone call from a company representative who said American Express Platinum Travel had reviewed your dispute and concluded that it failed to inform you that the rate at the Casa Del Mar was subject to currency changes. It has credited your card for $276.

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

© 2007 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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