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Can this trip be saved? Charged $281 for three nights I never used

When Carol Pulido tried to check in to the Puerto De Luna Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a few months ago, she got some bad news.

The suite she’d reserved and paid for through Hotels.com wasn’t available.

“They said they were overbooked and no longer had any suites, but they could give us two rooms,” she says. “I wasn’t very happy with the arrangement because we wanted to keep our party together. But we went along with it.”

And then, more bad news.

About 45 minutes after we were in our rooms, the manager came by again and said the hotel was overbooked and he could only give us one room, but he would find another room somewhere else in the city. He was not sure where on when this would be accomplished.

At that point I told him if he could not give me what I had been promised by my reservation I no longer wanted to stay in the hotel. The whole point of getting a suite was for everyone to be together, not in two separate hotels.

Seems like a reasonable position.

Not to Hotels.com or her credit card.

Pulido says the Puerto De Luna Hotel’s policy is that if a guests cancel a reservation up to three days before their stay, they’re only responsible for one night and a cancellation fee. A manager from the Puerto De Luna assured her she wouldn’t be charged anything, and he “seemed desperate to get rid of my party.”

Instead, Hotels.com charged her $281 for three nights of a suite she never used.

“I contacted both Hotels.com and my Discover card and they both denied me a refund without giving any explanation,” she says.

When Pulido contacted me, I sent her case to Hotels.com. It hasn’t responded to my query, either.

So now what?

Clearly, the Puerto De Luna Hotel should have honored the reservation she made through Hotels.com. If it had, then this wouldn’t be a problem. But reservations made through discount sites are often assigned a low priority, so that in the event of an overbooking, they’re the first to be “walked” to another property. Splitting up a party, though, is highly unusual.

It appears that Hotels.com didn’t take the time to review Pulido’s complaint. If it had, it would know that she didn’t get what she paid for. Then again, it also appears Hotels.com didn’t take the time to review my email to it, either. Maybe everyone is still on summer vacation?

As for her credit card, which I don’t mind naming — it’s Discover — I don’t have anything nice to say about its dispute department. Had it even taken a minute to look at her issue, then it would have reversed the charge. Sure, the Fair Credit Billing Act doesn’t probably require it to do anything. But whatever happened to good customer service?

Here’s where I’m a little confused, and could use your help.

I need to get Pulido a refund — a full refund — no question about it. But who should I go after? Should I contact the overbooking Puerto De Luna Hotel? The “no-comment” Hotels.com? Or the customer-service challenged Discover card?

Update (Aug. 29): I contacted Hotels.com again and just heard from Pulido. Her room has been refunded.

(Photo: brianj matis/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Monica Lynn Kennedy

    I would have to say go after Hotels.com since they were her TA, took her money, and were ultimately responsible for making sure she got what she paid for.

  • Raven

    Go after Hotels.com. They were her agent and sold her an unusable reservation. Let them battle with their crappy hotel south of the border.

    Once again people:
    1. Avoid Mexico. Between the drugs and the corruption, I don’t see the appeal.

    2. Online “agents” and sites like hotels.com are NOT your friend, especially when booking a complicated or international intierary. 

  • K.

    The refund should come from Hotels.com, whom she should have contacted  while at the hotel.

  • Crissy

    I would go after Hotels.com since they are the travel agent and are responsible for the booking. 

  • Tom

    Although hotels.com should provide the refund, I would complain to Discover. Unlike hotels.com, Discover is a professional organization and they have leverage with hotels.com because they book millions of business each year. Also, if hotels.com is falling down on the job, Discover will be able to combine this failing with other failings and observe a pattern on unprofessional behavior.

  • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

    Hotels.com Her credit card was charged by Hotels.com and quite simply they did not provide the product they advertised and billed. It is not like they even provided an inferior one–no product at all!

  • cjr001

    All of the above, as they have all provided zero customer service.

  • Walt Blackadar

    Hotels.com needs to provide the refund.

    Discover needs to get ripped a new one for denying the chargeback.

  • http://travelingwinechick.com/ Elizabeth Smith

    Try hotels.com first, as the travel agent acting on behalf of the hotel and the customer.

  • Asiansm Dan

    She gave the money to Hotels.com who must give her the money back with some compensation for deception.

  • Rosered7033

    Ultimately, Hotels.com was paid for the hotel room that was not delivered, so, after no reply to the first email, give them one more opportunity then step it up – maybe a cert. letter to the CSR head with copies to whatever state agency would handle this type of complaint.  It gets very tiring trying to be the “nice guy” and waiting for a reply that should have been sent long ago.

  • BillC

    You should go after all three since each one of them has not performed.

  • Chris_curtis_99

    I’ve had problems with Hotels.com before and will never use them again!! Best to obtain the  rate and availability first  through the hotel directly then decide whether to book online. Either way can be tricky. You are right, online discount operators do get a lower priority and hotels really don’t care so buyer beware!! Price is not everything.

  • Chris_curtis_99@yahoo.co.uk

    Hotels.com is ultimately responsible for this mess as they are the first in the “chain of command”

  • MikeZ

    +1 on all the comments about going after Hotels.com. they are the company who took the money, so they need to be the ones to process the refund. i would also suggest the OP cancel her Discover card. Denying a refund even after a room was unavailable shows they just aren’t paying attention.

  • T.

    This is why I stopped booking through Hotels.com. I use the site to find rooms, then call the hotel directly and book, often getting the same rate.

  • Joe Farrell

    Who charged her card? That is the entity who you seek a refund from. Simple as that. And it is pretty simple. Did not get what they ordered = full refund.

  • DavidS

    Hotels (dot) com is acting more as Travel Provider in this case and not a Travel Agent. An agent processes a transaction on behalf of the client and in returns receives a commision. In this case, I would be willing to bet that the original sum went to Hotels (dot) com acting as a reseller and they settle with the hotel directly minus their profit.

    I would #1 go after hotels (dot) com. #2 Call and cancel Discover for lack of assitance in a dispute. #3 Go to sites such as yelp and tripadvisor and describe your treatment by the Puerto De Luna Hotel to discourage others from booking.

  • MikeS

    I voted for Hotels.com simply because they took the money in the first place.  It doesn’t matter who screwed up after the fact, the people who take the money must also take responsibility for all the suppliers.

  • Sar

    Typical of the lousey Hotels.com service.  Why anyone would use them is beyond me.

  • L2y2

    Hotels.com is responsible for providing a full refund. It may not be Hotel.com’s fault that the hotel overbooked, but it is certainly their responsibility to stand by the services they sell and back up the buyer. They should also give her some kind of credit for the inconvenience she and her family/friends endured. They had to find another hotel and schlep their things all over again. That took time away from their vacation. I don’t know about everyone else, but the little vacation time we have is very precious to us and we do not want to waste a moment….

  • frostysnowman

    Go after hotels.com first.  This situation is the exact reason I only use them to research rates, then book directly with hotels.

  • Heather

    Put pressure on hotels.com they can in turn fight it out with the Mexican hotel.

    While I would love to say cancel your Discover card, keep it open for just a little longer. Why? If by some miracle they give back real money instead of worthless vouchers they will try to refund it back to the card and you don’t want it to end up in the twilight zone since there have been precedents of that happening (common sense says if they have the billing address they could send a check, but that requires someone to think it through and they have not been able to get past stage one: reading the actual grievance)If all else fails go after hotels.com or Discover in small claims court. Discover for failing to protect you against fraudulent charges as they agree to in your CC agreement or hotels.com for services not delivered as promised. 

  • DavidS

    Great point about keeping the card open for the eventual refund.

  • VA Nancy

    Go after Hotels.com.  Why anyone would use them is beyond my understanding.  Three years ago I wound up spending hours days before my trip when I called the hotel to confirm.  The room was not what I reserved.  Hours later and many many phone calls during that time, I finally got the room I had reserved – but in another better hotel.  During that time I learned that Hotels.com is part of Expedia.  Having learned my lesson, I reserve directly with hotels, airlines, and car rentals.  Less problems. 

  • LeeAnneClark

    Agree with all – go after Hotels.  Also agree with those who said to keep the card open for now…but don’t use it again, and as soon as the refund comes through, cancel it with a brief but strongly-worded letter to someone high-up.

    Christopher, you’re the expert – if none of them will pay, what are her legal options?  Can she take a corporate entity (Hotels) to small claims court? 

    Clearly she got ripped off – and I’m dumbfounded that Discover denied her dispute.  That’s supposed to be one of the big benefits of using a credit card – if you don’t get what you paid for, you can dispute it!

    Please do keep us informed as to the outcome of this one.  This is about as clear-cut a case as you can get.

  • Mj

    I would say contact Hotels.com – since that is probably the merchant on record, who took the money. But I am curious to know – did the lady, at any point of time at the hotel, consider actually calling Hotels.com support and inform them that the hotel was overbooked, and she was being walked, and give Hotels.com a chance to work things out then and there, rather than later? As you keep pointing out, Chris, the time to fix things is when they are going bad, rather than after the fact.

  • Steve R

    I’d say go after hotels.com first, then Discover. While I’m not letting Puerto de Luna off the hook for failing to provide the room, hotels.com took the customer’s money so they should be the ones to refund them when the room that was paid for was not available. (And this is clearly an open-and-shut case where the customer is due a refund; it’s not like she complained about the view or said the room was a little dirty. She reserved and paid for a suite and they couldn’t provide one).

  • Brooklyn

    Mexico is my favorite vacation destination (though not the border towns these days); the
    people are warm and friendly, the food is good, the culture is rich and
    interesting and the shopping is fantastic!  However, as with any developing
    country, and I’ve visited many, you need to take a few precautions.  I always
    reserve directly with the hotel and try to get an e-mail confirmation, avoiding a
    third-party transaction with a site like Hotels.com or Expedia.  And if I get
    there and they don’t have a room, I ask for a written statement to that effect so I can take the matter up with my credit card company. 
    Some of the smaller hotels don’t use e-mail; you do everything by phone and pay
    in cash on arrival.  Even then, I’ve never had a problem.

  • Brooklyn

    Calling by cell phone from Puerto Vallarta might have been very expensive, and I doubt the hotel would have let her use their phone.

  • john4868

    They want the card left open because they get a rebate on the fees they paid Discover to process the trasnaction initially

  • http://blogs.ocweekly.com/stickaforkinit Dave Lieberman

    I agree with your assessment of going after Hotels.com… but unless you’re rolling in black SUVs with hard men nicknamed things like “El Kilo”, I don’t agree with your assessment of Mexico.

    Funny how the people who keep parroting how awful Mexico is are the ones who don’t go. Those of us who go know better—and I’m writing this from Tijuana.

  • guest

    Also agree with this.  Mexico has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (and I’ve seen a lot of the world.  For the value and the service, you can’t beat it.  I wouldn’t hang out in some of the areas that have had problems, but I wouldn’t discard the whole country either.  That’s like saying you won’t go to New York because Detroit isn’t safe…

  • apsalartoll

    In May, we had booked a room for 2 nights at a hotel in Vienna, Austria using Hotels.com and when we arrived, they had overbooked and said they had no place for us. We immediately called Hotels.com and they found us another hotel that was quite a bit more expensive but only charged us what we would have paid at the original hotel. This actually gave us a very good opinion of them, but if we’d waited until after we’d found another hotel ourselves (or whatever the original hotel manager could get for us), who knows what their response would have been.

    Added: we were using our cell phone to call Hotels.com, so it was very expensive, especially considering how long we had to wait on hold. But it was still the best option.

  • Chris

    I use Hotels.com quite often and never seem to have a problem with their service. It is clearly the fault of the hotel for overbooking the room. The hotel tried to make you somewhat whole but the terms were not acceptable to you. You should go after the hotel and get them to refund your stay, or else you can try Hotels.com again. If you’ve booked on Hotels.com over 10 times last calendar year, try calling their 5-star service line which will get you a human almost instantly. Perhaps Hotels.com considered your refusal to work with the hotel to get another room to be your choice? It’s not like Hotels.com can give you back your money, since they have already paid the hotel you tried to stay at.

  • cb

    I’m at a loss to pick one. I agree that Discover should have accepted the complaint, that Hotels.com should have processed the refund and that the hotel itself should have refunded the amount. So I’d say go after whichever you feel is easiest to deal with.

  • Bill

    Why do you always give either/or cases?  The problem is the hotel.  The problem is also hotels.com because the hotel did not deliver what hotels.com was given to sell.  Discover is at fault for not siding with a cardholder.  The hotel should give the money back to hotels.com who should give it back to discover, who should give it back to the cardholder.  However, now that they have all made this mess and been a pain in the butt, there should be at least $1000 in punitive damages and compensation due to lost time.  Get $261 from all of them and they should all smarten up.

    I’ve never been to mexico and from what I read about it, the sooner it sinks into the ocean the better.

  • Bill

    (Letter from hotels.com to Mexican hotel)
    Dear crappy Mexican Hotel,
    We will be deducting $261 from your next invoice due to the fact that you failed to deliver a suite to our customer as agreed.

    What do you mean hotels.com can’t get their money back??

  • DavidS

    Follow the money trail. OP paid hotels (dot) com. I would bet this was not an agency booking, but a reseller booking. They reimburse OP. Hotels (dot) com gets money back from hotel. No fraudulent use of Discover, but cut them up after this is settled due to their indifference.

  • Carver

    I couldn’t vote because the only reasonable position is ALL OF THE ABOVE.  Does the OP really care which entity refunds her money? I suspect not.

  • Carver

    What exactly is there to work with?  The op reserved a suite and the hotel refused to give them the suite that the reserved.  In fact, the OP attempted to work with the hotel by initially accepting two rooms.  Its only when the hotel then tried to split the party between two hotels did the OP say enough. The OP was extremely accomodating.

  • Carver

    Punitive damages are not available in breach of contract matters.

  • Guest

    Generally speaking, you go after whoever you transacted [b]directly[/b] with. In this case, Hotels.com as you first said.

  • Guest

    “Did not get what they ordered = full refund.”

    In some cases, anyway. But I agree overall.

  • Guest

    Heh, if only that option were available.

    In terms of who to go to first, though, generally it’s the one you directly did business with. Thus, Hotels.com is the first point as one works their way through.

    Why Hotels.com still hasn’t responded to either the OP or Chris is mystifying…and arguably not looking good for them.

  • DavidS

    But which is the RIGHT one to refund her money?

  • Raven

    I’ve been. I live close to the border. I HATE IT. And, I also feel that both our useless government and theirs did NOTHING to help that couple that were attacked on Falcon Lake. Call it a personal boycott, but I’m not spending money down there until they actually prosecute the cartel responsible for murdering that tourist.

  • Raven

    Hate it recently, I should add. Ten years ago, I’d have been down there enjoying the place. Lately, not so much. You can’t pay me enough to drive across the border these days.

  • Raven

    Beautiful beaches don’t make up for a corrupt government that does nothing to stem the spread of violence. If going to Mexico makes you feel good, fine. Just be sure to stay in your shiny resort and never look at the actual country where cartels run wild and murder tourists…all while the government looks the other way.

    And no, there is a difference between your analogy…both cities are in a country that for the most part prosecutes criminals. Mexico ignores its problems because the cartels keep the rich in power. But hey, if you’re fine with a cartel murdering a tourist on Falcon Lake and their government not even bothering to lift a finger…well, then…enjoy!

  • Heather

    Technically any of the above would work. If you are asking which is more responsible than the others I’d say the Mexican hotel since they started the massive chain of customer service failure by not providing the suite, but somehow I don’t think they will part with the money unless you involve the companies funneling the money to them. So Discover or hotels.com are best bets. If Discover does a chargeback it will be taking from hotels.com and presumably they’ll take it out of the amount they pay the hotel. They all had a responsibility and they all didn’t follow through on it so pick which company is easier to get the money (and make sure it IS real money not funny money) from.

  • DavidS

    My point is, go after the entity that took your money. Follow the money trail. Hotels (dot) com. The charge wasn’t fraudulent, but Discover is acting like “Peggy” in THEIR commercials by not assisting. A chargeback could be reversed if it determined to not be fraudulent. I would turn up the pressure on hotels (dot) com.

  • Mindy

    Hotel.com collected the $, that is who needs to refund her $.

  • Brooklyn

    Er, yes, but there are these shiny things called “airplanes” that take you far, far away from the border.  And no, sweetie, we don’t all stay in resorts!

  • Bobesi

    It seems that most problems happen with on-line travel sites, maybe most people should use a real agent who cares about the business.

  • Bodega

    Hotels.com is selling rooms at a discount, correct?  What do the rules of the rate booked through this website say?   What is Hotels.com’s policy on their website?  Know these things BEFORE paying for a rooms, especially booking a prepaid reservation in a foreign country.

    If I book a client their hotel through a vendor, then the client needs to contact me or if the vendor has a local rep, contact them.  I ALWAY provide that information.  If they make a decision without doing this, I can’t always help them afterwards.

    Also keep in mind, that booking discounted hotel rates can mean you are handled differently than those who book directly.  You might be the first to be walked.  You might be given the crappiest room in the category booked. 

  • Geoff

    The more that I read the stupider the clients get. USE A REAL LIVE ASTA AGENT. The internet cannot help in a problem. I had clients all over the Caribbean last week adn they all got home safely and they all are getting pro-rated refunds and some additional in insurance claims. I made this happen through ASTA trained work ethics. Get off the internet, make an appointment with an ASTA agent and relax.

  • http://www.allaboutcabo.com Lauriegourley

    I have had many problems with Hotel.com as well and would never book with them again.