By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 7/22/2008 9:34:43 AM ET 2008-07-22T13:34:43
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I’m disappointed with Days Inn’s “no cancellation” policy reply and frustrated by its indifference to my predicament. I hope you can help me.

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I’m visiting the United States next week, and I made two separate hotel reservations. The first was for a night at a Days Inn in Bakersfield, Calif., and the second was for a night at a Days Inn in Williams, Ariz.

Instead of generating a reservation for each property, the hotel’s Web site gave me two confirmations in Bakersfield. Since Days Inn has a “no cancellation” policy, my credit card was charged and I couldn’t get my money back.

I’ve e-mailed Days Inn, since I feel I’m a victim of its bad online system. I want a refund on the second reservation. It refuses to help. I think Days Inn should be more understanding, don’t you? — Chan Hoe Yip, Singapore

A: No question about it, Days Inn should have a little heart — especially if this was a Web site glitch.

The Days Inn Web site can be confusing. I tried to book a room at the Bakersfield property and wandered through multiple screens in search of information about refunds. Instead of saying up front whether a particular room was nonrefundable, it presented me with a boilerplate notice that “any required deposit or pre-payment will be charged to (my) card immediately.” Its terms and conditions were equally vague.

I don’t know if Days Inn is trying to pull a fast one — I’ll leave that for you to decide — but I find its online reservations system to be problematic in many ways. For example, it doesn’t include an estimate of the total price, instead offering a deceptively low “base rate” and warning that, “local surcharges or service charges are not included in the total room rate.” You don’t get to actually see that information until you type in your credit card information. Nor do you find out if the room is refundable until then, as far as I can tell.

Also, Days Inn pre-checks boxes that sign you up for “special offers” from the hotel chain and promotional offers from its partners. That kind of pre-checking — assuming that you are interested in getting the company’s junk mail and depending on you to uncheck the boxes if you aren’t — is generally frowned upon by the online community.

I asked Days Inn to take a look at your reservation. It determined that you had made a mistake when you booked your rooms. While that may be true, I think the Days Inn site has what designers might call “usability” issues that make these errors easy to commit. I think it should refund your second room.

If you ever run into this problem again, don’t just e-mail the hotel chain. Try sending a message directly to the hotel (email addresses are listed on the Days Inn site). Work the phones, too. Applying pressure from all sides is perhaps the most effective way of getting your money back quickly.

Days Inn recommended that next time, you book your room using its toll-free number, which, given the fact that you live in Singapore, might not be practical advice. Even though it believes you erred, a representative from Days Inn corporate contacted the management of the independently owned and operated Days Inn property in Bakersfield, which agreed to issue credit for the room.

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 Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2008 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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