Harvey Kaplan books a refundable rate at the Holiday Inn, but when the hotel changes its name and his card is charged early, it refuses to adjust his rate to a cheaper, prepaid price. Now his charge card has sided with the property. Is he stuck with the bill?
Q: I recently had an unpleasant experience with a Holiday Inn that became a Wyndham property in Boca Raton, Fla. I was hoping you could help me sort things out.
I booked a refundable room for my son at the hotel. I had the choice between prepaying a lower nonrefundable rate or a higher, refundable rate. I chose the refundable rate because I wanted to be flexible.
I assumed the hotel would charge my credit card at the end of my son's stay. But somewhere between the time I made the reservation and the time my son checked in, the Holiday Inn converted to a Wyndham, and my credit card was charged the full $753. From my perspective, the hotel had changed the terms of its reservation by charging the cost of the full visit in advance without informing me.
I disputed the charge with American Express and they sided with the innkeeper because my son had approved the rate we originally agreed to. I don't think I was treated right. What do you think? -- Harvey Kaplan, Boca Raton, Fla.
A: I think if you prepaid for your hotel stay, you should have been offered a prepaid rate, which is less expensive than the price you paid for your fully refundable room.
And I'm sure the Wyndham would have done this the right way, if it weren't for the reflagging.
Reflagging is lodging industry-speak for changing the hotel name. The property converted from a Holiday Inn to a Wyndham. When that happened, the hotel needed to close out Holiday Inn's records, so it charged your card. If it hadn't, it would have lost all of its credit card information during the conversion, according to Wyndham.
So why didn't anyone explain this to you? Part of the problem may have been the way you approached the resolution. Although you contacted the hotel in writing, you didn't keep corporate Wyndham in the loop. When the property denied your request for a rate adjustment, you could have appealed your case to Wyndham instead of jumping straight to a charge card dispute. A dispute is your second-to-last option, just before small claims court.
I might have given Wyndham one more chance to make this right, or at least to explain what went wrong. Instead, American Express sided with the merchant, leaving you with only one other choice (besides contacting me): taking this to a judge.
I contacted Wyndham on your behalf. The hotel offered you a refund of $52, the difference between the rate you paid and the prepaid, nonrefundable rate.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2009 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.