By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 8/16/2007 12:29:37 PM ET 2007-08-16T16:29:37

Q: I booked a hotel room directly through the Web site. I thought I had reserved a room at the Days Inn in Franklin, Ind., but somehow I ended up with a room at the Days Inn in Franklin, Ky.

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When I realized my mistake, I called the Days Inn in Kentucky and asked them to cancel my reservation. I was told there was nothing that they could do since my credit card charges are “handled by corporate.” I called the Days Inn customer service number, but was told that with the rate I was paying, I couldn’t cancel my room. As far as I know, this was the only option offered on the site.

I did not get any help from customer service — except for a plain “no” and the fact that the CEO of Days Inn is very adamant about the “no cancellation” policy. But I didn’t want to cancel my reservation, only to change it to the correct Days Inn property. I won’t be able to use a room in Franklin, Ky. Is there a way to get my money back or switch my reservation?
— Pradeep Sanghvi, Schererville, Ind.

A: Mistakes happen. And when they do, you should expect your hotel to help you fix them — not to throw the book in your face.

To be honest, I’m not sure how anyone could have confused the two Franklins. When I request a room in Franklin from the Days Inn Web site, I’m required to enter a state from a scroll-down menu. In order to pick “Kentucky” as a state, I would have to fly past two selections: Iowa and Kansas. Then it also displays a map of Kentucky before you make a reservation.

It’s possible that the booking interface was changed after you brought this error to Days Inn’s attention. Then again, it’s possible that you were in a big hurry when you reserved your hotel.

Either way, most travel companies will make allowances for honest mistakes brought to their attention immediately. Days Inn’s nonrefundability policy for rooms booked online isn’t rigid. Instead, it’s up to the “cancellation policy outlined by the hotel for the rate and dates booked,” according to the Days Inn site, which suggests there’s more flexibility than you were told on the phone.

There are advantages to reserving hotel rooms directly through a company’s Web site. The company often offers more favorable cancellation terms or bonus award points. But if you want to be absolutely sure you’ve got the right hotel, you might consider hiring a competent travel agent.

As I review your side of the story and Days Inn’s side (I’ll get to that in a moment) I’m convinced that what we had here was just a failure to communicate. Which is to say, either they didn’t understand what you were asking for or you didn’t understand what they were saying. Or both. That’s why it’s important to create a paper trail when you have a grievance — e-mail and letters to the company and its response — that spell out both your grievance and the company’s position.

In other words, next time, consider sending Days Inn e-mail instead of calling.

I contacted Days Inn on your behalf. The Days Inn Franklin has canceled your reservation and your credit card won’t be charged.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations,” on the Fine Living TV Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs. org.


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