Bitten by’s gremlins


Q: I recently tried to make a hotel reservation on But when I got to the last step of the reservation, my browser crashed. Assuming the information had not gotten through, I tried again – and the same thing happened.

At that point, I called them up, confirmed that the reservation had been made and found out that two reservations had been made (one in each attempt). I asked the agent to cancel one of them.

Later I found out that I was billed a $10 cancellation fee. When I called to complain, assuming that it was a mistake, I was passed around from one sympathetic but helpless person to another after generous periods of holding on the phone.

When I got to the top of the pyramid, I was told that I was to blame. I was told it was my computer’s fault, not the Web sites’. I was told that I should have called them after the first crash instead of attempting a second reservation. I was also told that I had received an e-mail advising me of the cancellation fee after the first reservation (true enough, but I was on the Web so wasn’t monitoring my e-mail).

Can you help me get my $10 back? I would appreciate any help.

— Rafael Klorman

A: The problem you experienced is as old as the Web itself. In fact, the longer I write about online travel, the more convinced I am that every computer comes with its own little gremlin that goes to work at the exact moment you click the “book” button.

Travel dot-coms are often quick to blame your PC when problems like this pop up, but they ought to know better. In creating a Web site, it’s difficult to plan for every possible software and hardware configuration. Sometimes there are known compatibility problems that are simply ignored during the scripting process.

It’s hard to know if sloppy programming is the culprit here. Maybe it was your hardware or your browser. Or who knows – it could have been the gremlin. It’s an explanation that makes about as much sense as the way handled your initial complaint.

The representatives you spoke with were wrong to blame your PC and for saying you should have known to call after your first freeze. It’s unfair to just assume your computer made things go wrong. As for phoning the Web site’s reservations line, well that’s something I’ve failed to do a few times myself. Lucky for me there was no cancellation fee to worry about. should offer clearer instructions to customers about what to do if their Web browsers stall. Since your freeze happened at exactly the same place twice in a row, they might also want to take a look at the coding for the booking page. They should also review the way customer complaints such as yours are handled. By blaming your computer and then giving you the brush-off, the cancellation fee looks like a convenient way for to collect an extra $10 whenever someone inadvertently double-books. spokeswoman Kate Sullivan acknowledged your treatment was “less than professional and accommodating” and apologized for the way things went. She says she passed your comments along to the call center managers and that agents will be trained to better handle complaints such as yours. also refunded the $10 booking fee.