By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 10/4/2007 9:17:13 AM ET 2007-10-04T13:17:13
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I’m having a problem getting a simple matter cleared up with Hotels.com. I booked a room at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Panama for two nights and received a confirmation number by e-mail.

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When I arrived at the hotel, they couldn’t find my reservation. Instead of charging the $140 per night rate that Hotels.com had confirmed, they raised my rate to $250 a night.

It was impossible to reach Hotels.com at the toll-free numbers provided on that date, so we had no choice but to stay at the resort’s rate.

Since that time, I’ve asked for a refund from Hotels.com, but have received nothing but delayed responses and excuses. It’s been four months, and I’m really getting frustrated. Can you please see what you can do?
— Donna Katos, Clearwater, Fla.

A: Gamboa Rainforest Resort should have honored the price it confirmed through Hotels.com. That is, if it actually confirmed the rate.

Often, even though a booking is made online, the actual transaction happens by fax — a technology that isn’t entirely reliable, especially when the paper runs out. I’m willing to bet your hotel never received the reservation from Hotels.com, and therefore had nothing it could confirm.

After that, the hotel charged you what appears to be full price for your room. I checked room rates for the time of year you stayed there, and ironically, you could have gotten a $25 discount by booking your room online with the hotel when your first reservation fell through.

I can’t blame the Gamboa Rainforest Resort for charging you a higher rate. Prices are usually set by a hotel’s reservations system, not the employees who are helping you at the front desk. Rates booked at the last minute are almost always higher than those purchased in advance.

But instead of letting this rate discrepancy go, the hotel should have tried to sort things out with Hotels.com. You could have applied a little pressure, too. Had someone reached out to Hotels.com while you were a guest at the resort, I think this could have been fixed before you checked out.

Refunds can take three to four billing cycles these days, which can add up to more than four months. I’m reasonably sure that Hotels.com would have given your money back eventually, but I think you’ve been more than patient. A travel company can take your money with the swipe of a credit card. It really shouldn’t take four months to return it.

Next time you make a booking online, consider calling the hotel to confirm your reservation before you arrive. You might also think about consulting a travel agent, who you could have phoned from Panama and who would have made sure that the rate you were originally offered was the one you paid.

I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf, and it apologized for your experience, blaming the lost reservation on a “back-end” issue at the company. It promised a prompt refund of $220, plus a $200 credit.

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.

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

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