Norman and Mary Lou Vitrano are by their own admission not Internet-savvy, which is why they phoned the Doubletree Beach Resort Tampa Bay/North Redington Beach to make their room reservations last August. When the couple’s plans changed and they tried to cancel their reservation, a hotel representative informed them their room was completely non-refundable.

There’s just one little problem: No one had told the Vitranos that the room was non-refundable. “We wouldn’t have made the reservations under those conditions,” says Norman Vitrano.

And here’s where the story takes a strange twist.

We complained to American Express, and they investigated. Hilton denied the claim, and sent copies of e-mail that we supposedly exchanged with the hotel. These e-mails described the no-refund policy. But, in fact, we didn’t receive or participate in this e-mail. We were shocked to find that $1,167 had been charged to our American Express card!

The emails aren’t necessarily fabricated. The Vitranos may have furnished Hilton with an email address, and an electronic confirmation (along with the terms and conditions) may have been sent to the couple. But that’s not the same thing as disclosing the room’s non-refundability before the purchase.

It is, however, enough for Hilton to prevail in a credit card dispute.

In this case, it’s Vitrano’s words against Hilton, as far as I’m concerned. Unless Hilton can send me a transcript of the sales call in which someone discloses the room’s non-refundability, I would think the hotel should consider refunding the money. Many companies record sales calls, so this isn’t an unreasonable request.

I contacted Hilton on the Vitranos’ behalf. Yesterday, they got a call with some good news.

Per our telephone conversation today, you will be receiving a full refund of the $1,167 for your reservation at my hotel.

I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding and hope you will give Doubletree hotels another chance to serve you in the near future.

If you have any questions, please contact me at any the numbers listed below.

Sincerely,

Terry Graber, CHA
General Manager
Doubletree Beach Resort

I’m happy that Hilton fixed this problem. (Incidentally, I’ve stayed at this hotel — it’s a great property.)

For anyone making a reservation by phone in the future, here’s a little advice: Ask about the terms of your stay and get them in writing. If the conditions that were disclosed by phone don’t match what you see in the email or letter, call the company and get it straightened out before you check in.

(Photo of Tampa Bay by ShootsNikon/Flickr Creative Commons)