By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/17/2009 12:16:58 PM ET 2009-03-17T16:16:58

Q: I made a huge error when I was making a reservation through Ramada Inn's Web site, and I need your help fixing it.

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I was traveling for business to a military base in Enid, Okla. I had just booked my flight reservations to Oklahoma City, which is the closest airport.

I knew that I wanted to stay at a Ramada Inn, but when I searched for the property, I accidentally typed the airport code for Oklahoma City — OKC — and ended up reserving a nonrefundable room near the airport, which is 1-1/2 hours away from the base.

After I got the confirmation, I noticed what I had done. So I called the hotel to correct the error. I told them I needed to stay at their hotel in Enid, not Oklahoma City.

They told me I could not cancel this prepaid reservation because it was some kind of cheap, online, nonrefundable rate. I was transferred to the customer service department, but they told me they couldn't do anything either. Am I stuck with this room?
— Donald Johnson, San Antonio, Texas

A: In a word, yes. You clicked on the hotel's Web site and booked a nonrefundable room. Rules are rules.

But that doesn't mean you're out of options. I think you had a reasonably good case for asking Ramada to at least transfer your reservation — with any applicable rate difference — to the Enid property. But calling the company isn't the best way to get its attention.

A brief, polite e-mail is far more effective. I would start by sending a note through its online form.

If that doesn't work, try a written appeal to the general manager of the Ramada in Oklahoma City. It's pretty easy to find the manager's address, either by calling the hotel or by running a quick online search. (Here's a tip: most addresses at Ramada follow the convention of firstname.lastname(at)wyndhamworldwide.com).

Why not a phone call? Because the written word is easier to track and harder to ignore.

I tried to duplicate your erroneous reservation, and I couldn't. In order to book a nonrefundable rate at the Oklahoma City airport property, you would have had to gloss over the hotel names and locations and ignore important rate information. I'm not saying it's impossible, but you might have been in a real hurry when you made your reservation.

At the same time, I think Ramada's site could stand to be a little clearer when it comes to its rate restrictions. I pulled up several quotes, and I was never entirely sure if the rate was refundable or not. To be fair, I didn't follow the booking through until the end, because I didn't want to end up like you — stuck with a room that I didn't want.

But my point is, I think the site can be improved. That, plus your willingness to make a booking at the Enid property, should have given you a relatively strong case. I think a written request would have done the trick.

Next time, either slow down when you're booking a hotel or use a travel agent. A qualified travel counselor knows the difference between Oklahoma City and Enid, and can make sure you're staying at the right hotel for the right price.

I contacted Ramada Inn on your behalf and it refunded your first reservation.

Every Monday, my column takes a close look at what makes the travel business tick. Your comments are always welcome, and if you can’t get enough of my column, drop by my blog for daily insights into the world of travel.

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