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updated 3/8/2005 4:58:07 PM ET 2005-03-08T21:58:07

Patty Rosenberg’s business trip ends three days early, but she’s billed by Travelocity for the unused nights. To make matters worse, the online agency appears to be charging her for an additional five nights. She calls the company to sort things out, but after spending hours on the phone, there’s no resolution in sight. Find out how to prevent this from happening to you.

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Q: I recently booked a hotel room through Travelocity for an eight-day business trip. I ended up having to stay only five nights. When I checked out of the hotel, I was surprised to find that the price I was being charged was $30 less a night than Travelocity’s.

I was happy. I invoiced my customer and was reimbursed for five nights at the lower rate.

Then my credit card charged me twice — once for the hotel and then once for Travelocity. I could not reach the customer support area on Travelocity’s Web site (the link went nowhere). When I called Travelocity, I was put on hold for anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. In the end I contacted the hotel, which credited me for five nights.

But Travelocity was still charging me for three nights that I didn’t use. I got on the phone again and spent what seemed like forever on hold. I was told that I would get a refund, but after more than two months, they have yet to credit me.

No organization can be this incompetent. I think they feel that since they have lost you as a customer anyway, they might as well keep the money they promised to refund you.

I have given up on ever getting my money back.

— Patty RosenbergNewport, Ore.

A: Don’t give up! Remember, travel companies are quick to take your money and slow to return it. After communicating with Travelocity on your behalf, I believe the agency (while dreadfully slow) had no intention of pocketing your money.

As best I can tell, here’s what happened.

You did, in fact, give Travelocity your credit-card number, but your rate appears to have been nonrefundable. Any time you give a hotel or agency your credit-card number to “guarantee” a reservation, odds are you’ll be billed.

When you checked out early, the hotel generated a new bill at a different rate. But no one reminded you that your original reservation was nonrefundable — or bothered to tell Travelocity that the hotel had billed you separately.

So who’s to blame for this mess?

Travelocity shouldn’t have put you on hold for hours at a time and sent you a link to nowhere. It dragged its feet with a refund, which is irritating. If we paid companies like Travelocity at the same speed they paid us, then they would declare bankruptcy in short order.

Your hotel screwed up, too. It shouldn’t have charged you again, although it was awfully nice to reduce the rate by $30 a night. Kind of makes you wonder how much of a “deal” those Travelocity rooms are, doesn’t it?

You should have paid attention to the terms of your hotel reservation. When you saw the new rate, you should have asked to speak with a manager in order to prevent a possible double-billing.

If my understanding of this case is correct, you weren’t entitled to a refund on the remaining three nights. But after all that you endured, Travelocity agreed to refund your card $383.07 for the nights you didn’t use.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.

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