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A reservation, but no room

Expedia confirms a reservation for one night in a New York hotel. But there’s just one problem: the booking doesn’t exist. That leaves one unhappy traveler homeless for the night—and Janice Japa, the person who made the booking, is trying in vain to get her money back.
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: I recently booked a one-night stay at the Grand Hyatt Hotel New York through Expedia on behalf of a manager in my company. My credit card was charged for $789. Within an hour of finishing the transaction online, I phoned the Hyatt to confirm the booking, but was told they didn’t have any reservation from Expedia and that they were sold out on that day.

I called Expedia and a customer service representative said they were faxing the hotel and that they would call the hotel to confirm this room reservation. Then they placed me on hold. After a lengthy wait, an agent came back on the line and promised there was indeed a room for my manager.

But when my manager tried to checked in, there was no room. There had been no fax from Expedia to the hotel. The hotel clerk called Expedia but never resolved the issue, because Expedia put him on hold for too long. My manager was unable to get a hotel room and had to sleep in the airport that night.

I’d like to get my money back, but Expedia is telling me that they have to contact the Hyatt before they can issue a refund. I don’t understand this. Can you please help me? — Janice Japa, St. Louis

A: If Expedia confirmed your reservation, your colleague should have had a room. The least that the online agency can do now is to apologize and refund your money immediately.

Your experience raises a question that’s plagued travelers since the first computerized booking: What’s a reservation worth?

In your case, not a whole lot. The “confirmation” you received from Expedia turned out to be an empty promise for a room at the Hyatt. And what’s worse, the agency took its time returning your money — even after your manager had to bunk down at the airport.

The unfortunate truth is that a confirmation isn’t really a confirmation these days. It’s more of an agreement in principle to provide you with an airline ticket, cruise berth, hotel room or rental car. If a better offer comes along — or if the company just forgets to follow through on your reservation — then you’re sleeping in a terminal.

I think you handled this grievance pretty well. Calling the hotel was an excellent idea, and so was following up with Expedia. But you should have pinged Hyatt again after getting off the phone with Expedia to make sure your manager was in the system.

I asked Expedia to take another look at your case. Its records show that when you called, the online agency had an indication your reservation wouldn’t be honored by the hotel. (The booking was made on short notice and there was severe weather in New York on that day.) The agent should have tried to find you a room at a different hotel.

“Instead, the agent simply re-sent the original reservation to the hotel,” said Expedia spokeswoman Katie Deines.

Expedia apologized for the error, refunded the $789 and credited your account with $400 in vouchers.

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