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Travel Troubleshooter: A Reservation and a Charge -- But No Room

A traveler arrives at a hotel only to find out that his reservation is missing. Later, he's charged for the phantom room. How can he get his money back?

When Mike Ray checks into a timeshare hotel in Kissimmee, Fla., he's told he has no reservation. He goes to another property, but then finds out that he's been charged for the room anyway. Now the reservation service refuses to refund the room. Is it allowed to do that?

Q: My family is a member of Marriott Vacation Club International ( and we have a timeshare with them. As part of that purchase, we were told that we have the ability to purchase "getaways" for either a week or a weekend. (A getaway is simply a low-cost way to rent an unsold timeshare condo like a hotel room.)

My wife contacted Interval Travel, which handles reservations for Marriott, to purchase a getaway at a Marriott Vacation Club resort in Orlando. Interval told her that there were no Marriott properties available for getaways at that time, but instead suggested another property called Westgate Vacation Villas in Kissimmee, Fla.

We paid $339 for four nights at Westgate. We received a booking confirmation by mail the day before the getaway was to begin and it appeared to be in order. It wasn't. When I reached the front desk, they advised me that they had no record whatsoever of our reservation. Eventually, they offered us a "spare" room but only after sitting through a sales presentation.

Once I opened the room, a strong smell of mold and mildew blew out at us. The room had clearly not been maintained, the air conditioning was not on and the air quality was intolerable. With the added complication of severe allergies in our family, there was no way that we could possibly stay in this room.

I was told that there were no other rooms available and that nothing could be done. I told the desk agent that we could not stay in that room due to its condition, and she apologized and said that the only option would be to leave the resort. She then printed me a "zero balance" receipt to show that I had not stayed, and told me that I needed to seek refund from Interval for this experience. I've called Interval repeatedly since then, but it has told me there are no refunds for its getaways. Can you help? -- Mike Ray, Bradenton, Fla.

A: If you had a confirmation, you should have had a room. It's as simple as that.

A review of your paperwork, which you sent along with your letter, suggests the website kicked out an invalid reservation (your confirmation number was a suspicious-looking "009999999"). But I wouldn't have known to look for that, and neither would anyone else who isn't familiar with the resort's reservation system.

But Westgate didn't just lose your vacation. The website Marriott Vacation Club sent you to for your reservation kept your money, even though it didn't offer you the room you were promised. Let's not even get started on the mandatory sales presentation -- highly inappropriate, given your circumstances.

Calling the resort and the website was an understandable response, but it didn't help your case. I would have started with a short, cordial e-mail to Marriott Vacation Club, which after all referred you to Interval and Westgate. Marriott would have passed your complaint along to the appropriate parties, ensuring a faster resolution.

Why not phone calls? Well, picking up the phone works when you're standing at the front desk and there's no reservation. Again, I would have begun with Marriott Vacation Club, since it apparently got you into this.

You might have also considered calling the hotel before leaving for Orlando to double-check your reservation. By doing that, I'm certain this problem could have been fixed before you checked in.

You might be wondering: If you have to call the hotel, then what good is the paper a reservation is printed on? That would be a fair question. The reservations systems that handle hotel and timeshare bookings are far from perfect. You're better off calling to confirm, just as you would for an airline reservation.

I'm a little mystified by how you could be charged for a reservation you never had, but I'm willing to chalk that up to the same reservation system that churned out a nonexistent booking. Things like this happen.

I contacted Marriott Vacation Club on your behalf, and you received a full refund for the room you couldn't use.

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

(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.