Kicked out of my room

by Christopher Elliott on July 18, 2004

Q: I booked a room at the Castle Creek Inn Resort & Spa in Escondido, Calif., through Priceline. The reservation was for four nights at a total cost of over $200. When I arrived in the afternoon and tried to check in, I was told that I needed to pay an additional $70 per night for the extra two people in our party.

I was shocked. This added up to more than the hotel’s posted nightly rate for four people. I asked if there was a way around this – if my four- and six-year olds could sleep on the floor. I was told “no” and then informed that Priceline has no policy on how much they can charge per extra person, even if they are children, and that they didn’t care if it was over the nightly rate. They said they were perfectly within their rights to charge it.

I then asked to see a manager. I explained the situation to her and she said again that they would not wave or change anything – and if I didn’t like it I should leave.

I have always been treated with courtesy at every hotel I have booked through Priceline. But the Castle Creek Inn treated me very much like I was a second-class citizen. I said that I still didn’t think it was fair to charge me more for a room than their regular guests. I was quite upset at their rudeness by this point, I must admit.

I was told by the manager that I was an “unhappy guest” and that they didn’t need any unhappy guests in their hotel and that she was going to ask me to leave.

I said, “So you won’t even let me check in to your hotel?”

She said, “No, I am going to ask you to leave our hotel.”

I said, “But you have my money.”

She said, “No, Priceline has your money but we have the right to ask you to leave and not refund it.”

I left because I had no idea what else to do. It was a Sunday. I phoned Priceline right away and a representative said that if I didn’t get service they were sure I would be reimbursed but that no one in corporate was there on a Sunday.

I did not get reimbursed.

I wrote to Priceline. They did not comment on being kicked out. Instead, they focused on the extra charges and said that they can’t ask a hotel to lower the per-person charges. But I wasn’t asking Priceline to do this – I was simply asking them for a refund based on the hotel asking me to leave and refusing me service and keeping the money. I understand a company can refuse service to anyone, what I don’t understand is how they can refuse service and keep the money?

I am at a loss. I just really need to know if there is anything I can do about this?

– Dawn Manwell

A: The Castle Creek Inn and Priceline were technically correct to remove you from the hotel and deny you a refund, respectively. But just because they were within their rights doesn’t mean they did the right thing.

You prepaid for a nonrefundable room at the Castle Creek. Priceline’s rules clearly state that “all rooms will accommodate 2 adults” – leaving the status of your children as something of a gray area. (I have booked a room through Priceline and taken my two-year old without any problem. I even requested, and received, a crib at no additional charge.)

Under the terms of its agreement with Priceline, The Castle Creek could ask for more money. But $70 a day? If that’s true, it’s highway robbery. You were well within your rights to be shocked.

Here’s where things get a little murky. The Castle Creek informed Priceline that it expelled you because it perceived your expression of “shock” as disruptive to other guests. A hotel – any hotel – can send you packing if it thinks you’re a troublemaker. Further, the Castle Creek decided to keep your money because your room was completely nonrefundable, according to Priceline.

The Castle Creek Inn disputed several facts in your account. It said its upgrade fee for rooms booked through Priceline is $35 for one extra person and $50 – not $70 – for two people. “Our prices, even with the upgrade fees, are still lower than, or consistent with, our regular prices,” explained Ellie Walton, the hotel’s general manager.

In addition, the manager insisted you weren’t treated like a second-class citizen.

“We are not rude with people,” Walton said. “However, if people are rude or belligerent with us, we have the right to ask them to leave.”

So should the Castle Creek have refunded your money when it showed you the door?

“We would not refund the guest’s money, as the guest paid Priceline, not us,” said Walton. “And furthermore, as the guest is aware upon making the reservation, Priceline’s policy is that reservations are nonrefundable.”

Your version of events is a little different. You claim the hotel staff rudely demanded more money – and when you balked, it kicked you on to the street.

Next time you’re traveling with your family, be sure to call ahead and let the hotel know there’ll be four of you instead of the one or two guests they’re expecting. Ask about a rollaway bed or a crib, and make sure you get the name of the person you speak with. Odds are, the property will be very accommodating (most of them are).

That way, if you’re checking in and someone starts to give you a hard time, you can say, “Listen, I spoke with so-and-so, and you’re expecting four of us.”

I asked Priceline to take another look at your case, and it agreed that there were enough discrepancies between your story and the hotel’s to warrant a complete refund on your room. Which is the right resolution, considering you never stayed at the hotel.

Note: The original version of this story contained the hotel’s version of events as provided by Priceline. After this story appeared, we were contacted by the Castle Creek Inn, which requested that we delete this column because of its “slanderous” inaccuracies. We asked for the hotel’s side of the story and as of Aug. 1, 2004, have updated the column to include it. In retrospect, asking the Castle Creek Inn for a comment when we initially researched the story – even though the dispute was between Manwell and Priceline – would have made it a more complete story.

Nonetheless, we stand by both versions of the column. Manwell’s statements do not meet the criteria for slander; nor does our response, which is protected under several common-law statutes, including fair comment and criticism and neutral reportage.

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