The nightly room rate at the Best Eastern Sovietsky Hotel in Moscow is $279. At least that's what the Expedia sales agent promises Ilan Saadia. But the hotel begs to differ when he checks in. It jacks up his rate to $839 a night. Who's right? And who should pay the bill?
Q: I am writing because I feel I've exhausted all my options. I recently booked two rooms at the Best Eastern Sovietsky Hotel in Moscow for three nights by phone through Expedia. The total price per room was confirmed at $839, or about $279 a night.
When I checked in, the clerk looked at my confirmation and said there was a mistake with my room rate, but that as a courtesy they would set my rate at $839 per room -- per night.
I immediately called Expedia from the lobby, which agreed to contact the hotel on my behalf. But an Expedia representative insisted it was getting a busy signal. That didn't make any sense. I offered to connect her to the front desk using my phone, but she refused and said she would have to call them directly.
The Expedia representative told me that to go ahead and check in, and promised it would all get straightened out. It didn't. Over the next few days, I phoned Expedia numerous times, and never got anywhere. It was always the same problem: they couldn't get through to the hotel.
When I checked out, I was presented with a $5,200 bill. I did not sign the credit card slip and instead wrote "in dispute" on it. After several more weeks of calls, I was finally connected to a supervisor, who told me Expedia bears no responsibility and that it merely posts information on its site that is given to it by the hotels. "Expedia can't guarantee your price quote will be honored anywhere," she added. Is that true? -- Ilan Saadia, Houston
A: That's nonsense. The online agency is responsible for quoting an accurate price, no matter what a supervisor says.
I'm flabbergasted by the way Expedia treated you. The company's so-called "promise" assures customers that "we'll be here to help if you need us" and that you can "count on us to provide support throughout your trip." Expedia appears to have done neither.
The "promise" addresses your situation specifically, guaranteeing that the travel you booked with Expedia will meet the descriptions on its site and in your itinerary "or we will work with our partners on your behalf to find a solution." It adds, "We'll take responsibility -- at no additional cost to you -- if we make a mistake booking your travel."
I think you had a strong case for a full refund of the extra money the Sovietsky Hotel charged you. So why did it fall apart?
First, you spent a lot of time trying to call Expedia. That's a waste of time. Instead, I would have sent a brief, polite e-mail to the agency with your confirmation, a synopsis of what happened, and references to your rights under its "promise." Start with the general e-mail form but if that doesn't work, escalate your case to an executive.
I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It turns out the sales agent who booked your hotel overlooked an important detail. Your rate for the first night was $839, and for some reason, the second and third night was priced at $0. Expedia says it was the hotel's mistake, but that it should have caught it. It refunded $3,362 -- the difference between the rate it quoted and the one you were forced to pay.
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) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.