Patrick Kerr books a hotel in Paris for the unbelievable rate of €10 a night. Turns out it's a mistake - the rate is off by a decimal point. His online agency promises a refund, but sends him a voucher, instead. What should Kerr do?
Q: I recently booked a hotel in Paris through Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) for €10 a night. Great rate, huh? Afterward, I booked airline tickets separately.
Not long after that, in the course of e-mail conversations with the hotel, they told me this was a mistake and that they could not honor the rate. Instead, they offered to increase my rate to €100 a night.
I then contacted Travelocity via phone, told them the problem and they called back and left me a voice mail saying it was a mistake and to go ahead and travel and then when I got back to contact the consumer relations department for a refund. I still have the voicemail. I contacted the hotel via e-mail and I said I would accept the new rate.
Now Travelocity has offered me a $50 voucher for my trouble. A few days later, they upped it to $250. This is pretty much worthless to me as I usually travel using miles and book my hotels using points. Can you help? -- Patrick Kerr, St Louis
A: You're right, that's a great rate for a hotel room. Unbelievably good. And if Travelocity hadn't left a voicemail promising to refund €90 a night, your case wouldn't stand much of a chance.
Think of it like this: If you see a kitchen appliance on sale for 99 cents at the department store, instead of $99, would you demand the store honor the first price? No. Someone obviously put the wrong tag on the merchandise.
Contacting Travelocity was a good call. Saving the voicemail was even smarter. An e-mail might have worked in this case, too. But the point is, you have a Travelocity representative on tape promising to make good -- and it didn't.
Do I really need to quote the Travelocity "Guarantee" that promises, "Everything about your booking will be right, or we'll work with our partners to make it right, right away." No, I don't. You can read the whole warranty here if you're interested:
Never mind guarantees. If a company promises you something -- as in, a refund of your rate -- it should deliver.
I have mixed feelings about your problem. On the one hand, Travelocity shouldn't have offered to pay the difference between the real rate and something that was obviously a decimal point error. On the other hand, because it did, I think it should be held to its promise -- not allowed to backtrack and offer you a voucher.
I would advise you to review each price carefully before booking. But a 10-euro a night hotel room in Paris at the time you were buying it, when hotel rates were at their lowest levels in decades, almost could have been correct.
This is all so confusing.
I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. It took another look at your case and found "obvious breakdowns in communication," for which it apologized. You've received a full refund, as promised.
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) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.