No refund for my no-show

by Christopher Elliott on July 25, 2004

Q: On a recent trip with my family from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Boston, we encountered a problem with Hotels.com and the Hilton Boston Logan Airport.

When we arrived in San Francisco from Tokyo, we were told that our connection to Minneapolis on Northwest Airlines would be slightly late. As it turned out, we missed our flight from Minneapolis to Boston and had to spend the night in Minneapolis.

Before leaving Jakarta, I had made a booking at the hotel through Hotels.com because we were traveling onward to New Hampshire, and it would be too late to drive up there after such a long flight.

The hotel had a $25 cancellation fee, which had to be submitted 24 hours before check-in. Otherwise, we’d be charged for the room.

Of course, we didn’t know we would be delayed as the result of the airline. I contacted Northwest, and a representative promised to call the Hilton for me to explain the situation while we were in the air. But when I arrived in Minneapolis and called the Hilton, it said it couldn’t do anything since I had made the booking through Hotels.com and I would have to call the site.

So I called Hilton. A customer service agent told me Hilton wouldn’t mind making a change to my reservation as long as Hotels.com would agree. I called Hotels.com and a representative said they couldn’t do anything unless the Hilton agreed.

I was put on hold for awhile and then was told that the Hilton wouldn’t agree and I would be charged the full $218.

To me, it seemed that one of them was lying or they were conspiring together. Can you help me?

– Roger Kidder

A: No one seems to want to take responsibility for this unused room that cost you $218. Northwest isn’t about to cover your loss. Neither is Hotels.com, the online travel agent you booked this through, or Hilton.

And neither do you.

That’s right, you’re responsible for this mess, too. You were aware of the Hotels.com cancellation policy, but you decided it was worth the risk in order to save some money. (If you’d booked directly through Hilton or even through a regular travel agency, you might have avoided the extra fees.)

But just because you’re a cheapskate – and hey, who isn’t these days? – does it mean you should have to swallow the entire $218? I don’t think so.

Northwest shouldn’t have promised you that it would call your hotel to explain the situation. Did you really expect a customer service agent to call the property to advocate for you? Airline phone agents are hardly effective at advocating for their own companies these days.

The Hilton operator you spoke to shouldn’t have told you a refund would be forthcoming. I’ve run into this time and again: Nameless customer service reps that make assurances they shouldn’t.

This was Hotels.com’s problem to solve.

When you book a hotel for just one night the way you did, consider paying a little extra and buying through a travel agency or Web site that has a more lenient cancellation policy. In this case, it would have probably been the Hilton.com site (which incidentally also offers the lowest rate guarantee). You might have been able to avoid all penalties if you belonged to Hilton’s loyalty program.

However, having Hotels.com as your agent proved to be useful, too. After I contacted the site, it agreed to take another look at your case. A Hotels.com representative called the Hilton property, explained the situation, and the hotel agreed to reverse all of your charges.

I’m not sure if that’s the resolution you deserved. After all, you stayed in a hotel in Minneapolis the night of your flight, presumably at Northwest’s expense. You gambled on a hotel with lots of restrictions – and lost.

If anything, I though a voucher for a room night or a partial credit would have been more appropriate.

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