Faith James likes to think of herself as a “pretty savvy traveler” but when she planned to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington next month, she couldn’t have foreseen the trouble with the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.
I couldn’t have, either.
James is taking her 78-year-old mother up to DC to attend the festivities. They were lucky enough to get tickets from their congressman, but accommodations proved to be a little more difficult.
“I’ve been combing hotel and airline websites for weeks to get the best deals,” she says. “Location of a hotel is, of course, key since getting around the district will be tricky. I lived in DC for a few years, so I know it will be madness.”
Her congressman’s office recommended the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C., an all-suite property on C Street, which is reasonably close to everything. She checked the rates for the inauguration, but they were out of her price range.
And that’s when things got interesting.
Like a good traveler, Faith began monitoring the rates at the Capitol Hill Hotel.
I checked again yesterday and saw a Travelzoo promotional rate of $114 per night, with a 4-night minimum stay, and a requirement of payment in full.
I took about 30 minutes to call my Mom to get her okay on the hotel, check TripAdvisor to make sure the hotel had good customer reviews, and even combed the hotel website to see what the layout of the room would be and what amenities they offer. I even emailed my congressman’s office and a couple of friends to tell them about the great rate.
Now, $114 a night is a very good rate for an all-suite hotel in Washington any time, let alone during the inauguration. Too good to be true? No, $14 a night would have been too good to be true — an obvious rate error due to a missed decimal point.
James found the rate through a legitimate source, too, and her motives were right. Had she picked up this rate on Flyertalk or one of those bottom-feeding mileage blogs, and then booked a block of several rooms and waved her elite card in the hotel’s face if it refused to honor it, then I would have politely turned down her request for help.
So James booked the room. But she had some misgivings about the transaction.
Thinking to myself that $114 per night was a really discounted rate, and wanting to verify that the reservation was complete, I called the hotel directly and spoke with the reservations agent.
She confirmed that the reservation was complete, and that the rate was $114.
I said “that’s a really good rate,” and she replied “Hmmm. Yes, it is,” hesitating somewhat.
She said, “You are confirmed,” and we hung up.
I went immediately to airline websites and booked travel for Jan 18 – 22. We had originally planned to travel from Jan 19 – 22, but for this great hotel rate at a 4-night minimum we decided to travel one day earlier.
An hour later, she received a call from a hotel manager.
In a very accusatory tone he said that I had “slipped in” and gotten a rate that was being uploaded onto the site for a promotion. He said that the rate was only up for 5 seconds, and that he was cancelling my reservation.
I told him very politely that the rate was up for way longer than 30 minutes, I booked it, and the hotel confirmed it not once, but twice, once in writing and once over the phone.
He completely lost it, and started yelling at me that the hotel was not honoring the rate, and would be sending me a cancellation letter.
I told him that I would not accept the cancellation, as the rate which I paid in full did not allow me to cancel, so should be reciprocal.
James and the hotel exchanged several messages, including another email from the hotel to her confirming the erroneous rate. The bottom line is that James now has airline tickets to fly from Dallas to Washington, but no accommodations.
“Am I correct in insisting that the hotel honor the rate for which I paid in full?” she wonders. “I did everything required of me as the consumer, yet the hotel wants to now say they should not have made the offer. Should they now be allowed to rescind the offer that has already been accepted?”
I can certainly see her point of view — and the hotel’s. A check of the Capitol Hill’s rates during the inauguration finds room rates start at $599 a night, so honoring the rate will mean a significant loss of revenue. Yet the $114-a-night rate wasn’t an obvious mistake, either, and this guest didn’t go looking for a rate error, which are both important considerations.
Should the hotel honor the rate? I think that if it cancels on James, it can’t just leave her without a room. It needs to offer her something. I also thought the way in which it handled her cancellation left something to be desired. You don’t call a guest and treat them like criminals; it’s just not good hospitality. Or good customer service.
I contacted the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C. on James behalf. A representative responded:
We have reached out to Ms. James today and confirmed her stay over inauguration. We look forward to hosting Ms. James and her mother in a few weeks and apologize for any confusion.