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Travel Troubleshooter: Charged for canceled room

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • October 20, 2012 - 3:10 PM

Q I recently tried to book a four-star hotel in New York through Expedia's unpublished rates section, which doesn't reveal the name of the hotel until you pay for it. The hotel we ended up with was DoubleTree by Hilton New York Chelsea, which is only listed as a three-star hotel on other popular websites. I understood before calling that Expedia has a no-cancellation policy, but I called Expedia almost immediately after the booking. At first, the agent echoed what the website said, and that the reservation could not be canceled, refunded or changed. But she finally agreed to cancel the reservation. We received a cancellation e-mail confirmation and a reference number.

A few weeks later we found a charge for $509 on our credit card statement. A subsequent investigation by Expedia couldn't prove that we spoke to anybody who offered us the refund. We were told to contact our credit card to get a refund. We disputed the $509, but our bank sided with Expedia. What can we do?

A Expedia should have canceled your hotel room, as promised. It appears that you did everything you could, with maybe one exception. While you were able to get a cancellation number from Expedia, you might have asked the hotel to also send you an e-mail to that effect. Having something in writing might have made this case easier to dispute once your credit card company became involved.

You also fell victim to the star confusion that afflicts the "opaque" sites like Priceline, Hotwire and now Expedia with its "unpublished" rates. Simply put, the stars don't align. A four-star property on Hotwire might only be a three-star property with AAA. Pay attention to the amenities, not the stars.

It's highly unusual for an opaque site to cancel a booking like this. But it is even more unusual for it to issue a cancellation number and then renege on the cancellation. I think Expedia got a few wires crossed.

I see you repeatedly contacted Expedia by phone. You would have been better off sending a brief, polite e-mail, asking Expedia to honor its agreement. I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It reviewed its call records, and agreed to refund the entire amount of the booking.

Christopher Elliott is ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog at www.elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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