Dave Bucher books a hotel room through Cheaptickets. But when he checks in, he's told there's no reservation. So he's forced to find another room, and now Cheaptickets is keeping his money. Can it do that?
Q: I have a problem with a missing hotel reservation that I need your help with. I recently booked a room through Cheaptickets.com (www.cheaptickets.com) at the Executive Inn Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
I prepaid for the room by credit card and I confirmed my reservation with Cheaptickets about a week before the trip. But when I checked in, I was told there was no record of the reservation.
I tried to contact Cheaptickets several times from the hotel lobby, but got through to a variety of representatives who either put me on hold or tried to transfer me to someone else.
Ultimately, I had to find another hotel room at a higher rate. I sent a letter outlining the problems with my experience to Cheaptickets' Chicago office via certified mail. I also sent an email to them outlining my concerns and got an "auto reply" but no further response.
At this point, I would be satisfied to get the initial cost of my room at the Executive Inn refunded, if not the difference between my first hotel and the second one. Is this something I can get any help with? -- Dave Bucher, Minneapolis
A: Cheaptickets should have honored your prepaid reservation. And if it couldn't, it should have found a suitable hotel room instead of making you listen to elevator music while waiting on "hold."
There are two possible explanations for why your reservation was lost. First, Cheaptickets and the hotel might have had a failure to communicate. That happens a lot. Some hotels still handle their confirmations by old-fashioned fax. And faxes can run out of paper or ink or the associate could enter the wrong dates in the property's reservations system.
The hotel might have also accepted more reservations than it had, a practice called overbooking. Hotels use sophisticated property management systems that predict room demand, set prices and allow them to accept more reservations than rooms, because they calculate some guests won't show up.
The system usually works, but when everyone tries to check in during the week of the boat show, the hotel would have to send you to another property at its expense, unless, of course, it can't find your reservation.
That's why it's important to not only contact your online travel agency to confirm your reservation, but also the hotel. If the Executive Inn doesn't have your reservation, what's the point of a Cheaptickets confirmation? I would be reluctant to accept any verification unless it comes directly from the airline, cruise line or hotel. The paperwork from your online travel agency is helpful, but you shouldn't rely on it.
I think you could have pressed your point with the hotel and Cheaptickets. Don't allow someone to place you on hold. There are polite ways of doing this. Tell the representative your cell phone is almost out of battery, and that you need to speak with a supervisor. (I don't know about you, but my cell phone is always almost out of juice.)
You could have also asked to speak with a manager at the Executive Inn. If you had a printout of your confirmation, you might have been able to negotiate to be "walked" to another hotel, meaning the hotel would have covered at least part of your hotel bill.
I contacted Cheaptickets on your behalf, and it credited your card for the full amount of your prepaid room at the Executive Inn. An apology and a refund for the price difference on your second hotel would have been nice too, but at least you got your money back.
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.