Cheryl McClure reserves a room at the Hampton Inn in Asheville, N.C., and is offered an $81-a-night rate. Then the hotel has second thoughts and changes the rate to $149 a night. Can it do that? And what, if anything, does a "confirmed" rate mean? Should McClure cancel her hotel stay, or can the Hampton Inn be persuaded to honor its first rate?
Q: I can't get my hotel to honor a rate it confirmed, and could use a little help.
I recently called the Hampton Inn Asheville to reserve a room for two nights to attend a database software training class on federal government travel orders. I asked for, and received, their version of the government rate, which was $81. A reservations agent also gave me a confirmation number.
Another colleague attending the training class did the same in a separate phone call and received the same rate and a confirmation number. Several days before the class, my colleague got a phone call from Hampton Inn with some bad news. Apparently we'd both been offered the wrong rate. The new rate for Friday night was $149. The representative asked her to pass the news along to me.
I contacted Hilton, which owns Hampton, and was told that someone from the Hampton property in Asheville would contact me. But when I got the call from Hampton, they continued to refuse to adjust their rate. They insisted that no one traveled on government business on Friday or Saturday. I can assure you that this is not correct.
I have not yet canceled my reservation, but I find it odd that I can go online and get a $114-a-night rate for Friday. What would you advise me to do? -- Cheryl McClure, Atlanta
A: Don't cancel your reservation. Hampton Inn needs to honor the rate it offered you and your colleague when you phoned.
This isn't a "fat finger" rate -- a price that's too good to be true. It appears to be a legitimate government rate that somehow, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, was arbitrarily withdrawn.
It should be obvious to even the janitor at the Hampton Inn that the government doesn't stop working on the weekend. And besides, there are ways to confirm that someone is traveling on government business. Why not ask for an ID, for starters? I'm sure you would have been happy to show yours to the hotel when you checked in.
Instead, your government rate was taken away and replaced with what looks like the hotel's undiscounted room rate, also known as the rack rate.
You could have done one of two things. First, you might have phoned the Hampton Inn in Asheville and spoken with a manager. A one-minute conversation would have cleared this whole matter up. Second, you could have just shown up at the property with a printout of your confirmed room rate and insisted that the hotel honor it, even though you knew it didn't want to. A manager would have been called and after a one-minute conversation, I'm sure your rate would have been adjusted.
Oh, there's a third option that I almost forgot about. Me.
I contacted Hampton on your behalf, and it turns out the hotel had goofed. It never should have changed your rate, and it blamed the screw-up on a trainee, according to a phone call you received from a manager. Hampton reset your rate to $81 a night.
Or so it said. When you checked out of the hotel, you were presented with an invoice for $149 a night, and had to ask to call a manager, who readjusted your final bill back to $81.
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)2007 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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