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Overcharged for my hotel in New York

Hilton offers a $199 rate at its New York property, but can't find the price in its system, so it charges $239 instead. The rate is nonrefundable, so Hilton refuses to fix the gaffe. What next?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: We were offered a special rate of $199 a night at the Hilton New York, as part of a package deal by the organizers of a trade show. Although we specifically requested this rate at the time of booking, the reservation agent reported that she could not find it on Hilton's system. We were denied this rate and instead booked at $239 a night rate for three nights for two rooms, resulting in a $250 overcharge.

We took up the matter with the organizers of the trade show, who later informed us that there was some kind of glitch in the reservation system and that we should get the special rate. When we checked the hotel Web site, we saw that they were indeed offering this special rate — though it was not offered to us.

I have spoken with the reservation agent and also emailed the hotel but they have declined to honor the discounted rate without offering any reason other than saying that the erroneous bookings made by them are nonrefundable. I would appreciate it if you can resolve this.
— Joy Valentine, Chapel Hill, N.C.

A: If you were offered a $199 a night rate, you should get it.

A review of the email correspondence between you and Hilton — which I'm sparing my readers because of its length — shows you repeatedly asking the hotel to fix the rate error, and hotel representatives repeatedly refused your request.

The main reason they won't do anything is that the rate you booked is a special prepaid, nonrefundable price. So in Hilton's view, you accepted a higher rate and agreed to its terms, and you're stuck with it.

Now, let's just say for argument's sake that Hilton is correct. Let's say you reserved a room and paid for it, and agreed to all of the terms and conditions. And let's also assume you weren't entitled to the $199 rate. Would you be out of luck?

I think not.

Since Hilton is a hotel company, it should care if you're having a negative experience (particularly if you haven't darkened the door of its property yet). So, while this hotel may technically be right — and I'm not saying it is — it still has a compelling reason to ensure you're happy.

Hilton could have worked with you or, even if it didn't adjust the nonrefundable rate, it could have offered a voucher to offset the extra cost, or a free room night, or at the very least, a sincere apology for the misunderstanding.

It did none of those things, as far as I can tell.

You might have enlisted the help of your conference organizers to fix this. Meeting planners have a lot more power than individual hotel guests, because they not only represent a huge number of customers, they also make decisions about future conventions. A problem with a hotel can be enough reason to choose a different hotel for next year's meeting.

As I look at e-mails between you and the hotel, I think you should have also considered using another argument. You wanted Hilton to revise your rate on a technicality. Instead, I might have simply mentioned that you were not having a positive experience.

Hotel employees are trained to do everything in their power to make an unhappy guest happy. I think your argument about rate availability for a convention just took this discussion in the wrong direction.

I contacted Hilton on your behalf, and it agreed to honor your $199 rate.