When Jack Whalen found an unbelievable room rate of $58 a night at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago — and on a holiday weekend, no less — he was thrilled. “This was to have been an anniversary trip, and my wife would love to stay at a high end hotel at a great price,” he says.

But the price, which he found through Travelocity, was unbelievable. Turns out it was a fat finger rate. A Ritz-Carlton employee had misplaced a decimal point, turning $580 rooms into $58 rooms. Oops.

Although Ritz-Carlton tried to make it up to him by offering a discounted, but significantly more expensive rate, Whalen is unhappy.

I decided to take Whalen’s case, and here’s why: From what I can tell, he wasn’t trolling the online discussion groups, waiting for an obvious rate error (in my book, that’s stealing). He found the price by searching Travelocity, fair and square. He also believed the rate to be legitimate, and I’m buying it.

You can get a hotel in Chicago for $58 a night. Just not at the Ritz-Carlton.

Finally, Whalen wasn’t trying to play the media card to get Travelocity or Ritz-Carlton to cave. He just had a question:

I am writing to get your opinion on something. Two weeks ago I was browsing Travelocity and found an outstanding price of $58 a night for a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago Memorial Day weekend 2011.

Yesterday I got a call from Travelocity saying the price was an error, and the Ritz was not going to honor it. Travelocity was not willing to do anything to assist me, other than offer the same reservation for $290 a night.

I was surprised that Travelocity was distancing themselves from this and blaming the Ritz, since I booked the trip through Travelocity and was charged by Travelocity. I called the Ritz directly, and was told the price should have been $580 a night, and not $58. The associate was unsympathetic and also only able to offer the room at $290 a night.

Do you think I have any recourse other than to take my business elsewhere? How can I ever feel safe booking a reservation through Travelocity if they go ahead and cancel my reservation? I do understand the price is very low, but a company like the Ritz, which prides themselves on service, is not willing to honor a price that they themselves input, and it seems very unfair that I suffer from their mistake.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

I put the question to Ritz-Carlton. I had a conversation with a representative by phone and she later followed up with this explanation:

This was an unintentional human rate loading error by our hotel and Travelocity cancelled the reservation at our request.

In acknowledgement of the error and inconvenience, we did extend a generous offer but I cannot comment further on the contents of the letter.

We have provided the name of a senior contact at the hotel who is happy to speak further with Mr. Whalen about the reservation.

Well, let’s go right to that letter then, which Whalen was kind enough to forward to me.

As a result of a rate-loading error, an incorrect rate appeared for the room type you reserved. It was not our intention to offer the room for the rate of $58, which is substantially lower than any other rate offered at our hotel or at any comparable hotel in Chicago.

We regret that we did not catch the error sooner. In recognition of the inconvenience our error has caused you, we wanted to offer another option of 50% off any of our available room categories below the Executive Suite level that you requested. So, if the moderate room is listed for $375, you would receive it at $187.

If you would like to take advantage of this offer, I would be happy to confirm your booking at the new rate.

That’s not a bad offer.

I’d take it. Ritz made an honest mistake, and has offered a discounted rate to make up for it. If the tables were turned — if they’d put a decimal point in the wrong place when they charged Whalen’s credit card — I’m sure they’d be quick to fix it. (After all, we’re not talking about an airline, here.)

But fat-finger rates, as regular readers of this site know, are an endless source of controversy. If you think Ritz and Travelocity should have given Whalen the room at $58 a night, please speak up. The comments are open.

(Photo: OZ in OH/Flickr Creative Commons)