THE TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: I paid for a room through Hotels.com, but I got nothing for it
Uros Rustja shows up at the Hotel Korkem, in Astana, Kazakhstan, with a prepaid reservation. But the hotel turns him away. Does he deserve a refund from Hotels.com?
Q: I booked a room at the Hotel Korkem, in Astana, Kazakhstan, through Hotels.com. When I tried to check in at the hotel, an employee told me they had no reservation from Hotels.com. The hotel was full, and they did not give me a room.
My booking was guaranteed and paid for at Hotels.com. So, I told the hotel manager I would need it in writing that they do not have my reservation or room. He did so and gave me a paper in Russian stamped with the hotel’s stamp. I found another hotel that night.
After my visit to Astana, I wrote to Hotels.com, asking for a full refund of my prepaid hotel, along with the taxi fare to get to my new hotel. I sent Hotels.com a photo of the stamped hotel note.
Hotels.com says it can’t confirm the booking problem with the Hotel Korkem. It will not refund the hotel rate. I think this is theft. Hotels.com took my money and gave me nothing. What can I do? — Uros Rustja, Ljubljana, Slovenia
A: The Hotel Korkem should have honored your Hotels.com reservation. If it couldn’t, then either the hotel or Hotels.com should have offered you a prompt and full refund.
Your case reminds me of another recent problem with an online travel agency and a prepaid rate. You might remember Liam Goodman, who tried to check in to his hotel in New York but couldn’t because it was full. He’d booked the room through Priceline, which refused to refund the room because it couldn’t verify his story.
I think you were really smart to get a signed and stamped note from the hotel when it sent you packing. If you hadn’t done that, you might have no case. Why? Because it appears both Hotels.com and the Hotel Korkem had a different version of events. They thought you were a no-show, apparently.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm billing with the hotel,” a Hotels.com representative wrote to you. “For that reason, we will not be able to issue a refund at this time. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
I’m not sure what “confirm billing with the hotel” means in this context, but Hotels.com was crystal clear about one thing: It’s keeping your money.
In this type of situation, you want to calmly escalate the problem to a manager. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the Hotels.com executives on my consumer advocacy site. I noticed that, instead, you became agitated and demanded your money back — an understandable response. But the low-level employees you’re dealing with have no power to change the outcome. You have to take it to the next level.
I’m a little perplexed by cases like yours. If Hotels.com guarantees a room and takes your money, it should also give you a room. If there’s one thing I might have changed, it would have been calling Hotels.com immediately after being turned away. The company could have found a room at a different hotel for the same price.
I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf, and it promptly issued a refund for your prepaid night at the hotel.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.