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Quoted $135 for a room, charged almost $400

His hotel quotes him a rate of $135 a night by phone. But when he checks out, Shoubhanik Makur is charged $169.99. Then his credit card is billed for nights at $192.66. What's going on here?
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Q: I recently stayed for one night at the Summerfield Suites Hotel in Whippany, N.J.. When I made my reservation, I asked for the same corporate discount that I received last year at the same property.

I was offered a rate of $135 a night by phone, which I agreed to. I also asked for a late check-in on my day of arrival, which was granted.

When I checked out, I discovered the bill was $169.99. I inquired about the new rate, and was told that my corporate rate was no longer valid. Apparently, my employer hadn't renewed the contract for 2006.

Later, when I reviewed my credit card statement, I saw two charges of $192.66 from Summerfield Suites. I called the hotel. The agent maintained that I had booked the room for two nights, but only stayed one, so the hotel charged the first night as a no-show and the second night as a guest -- both at the standard rates.

But I didn't book two nights; I booked one night with a late check-in. When I was transferred to the manager on duty and explained the situation, she argued with me. I wish someone had told me I would be billed for two nights and that my corporate rate was no longer valid before I checked in to the hotel. Is there anything that can be done?

-- Shoubhanik Makur, Newark, Calif.

A: There is. When a hotel reservations agent quotes you a rate, and confirms it by phone, the hotel should honor that price. But talk is cheap.

I can't even begin to tell you how often I've come across a "he said/she said" problem like this one. A traveler hears one thing; a sales agent thinks she said something else.

These days, most phone calls between customers and reservations agents at call centers are taped. In the event of a customer grievance, the company has a record of the conversation. But when you phone a hotel directly, chances are it will be your word against the hotel's in a billing dispute.

That seems to be what happened to you. Summerfield apparently revised its rate after it realized that your company hadn't renewed its corporate agreement. Then it billed you for two nights because there was confusion about your check-in time. The system somehow registered you as a no-show.

Next time, don't rely on the phone. Get everything in writing -- not just the rate you will pay, but also any details about a late check-in or other special circumstance.

Chances are, you signed a document when you arrived at the hotel that basically guaranteed you would pay the room rate that was quoted. You should have taken some time to review that document because it is possible you agreed to pay $192.66 a night for two nights.

That would have been the time to speak up.

I don't know that Summerfield fraudulently raised the price of your room several times (the old bait-and-switch). Instead, it probably misunderstood the timing of your original reservation.

The hotel agreed to back down on the new rate, offering you a refund of $77.

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 or visit his . Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting .