Ridiculous or not? Hotels eye airline-like rebooking fees

I‘m always on the lookout for new fees, so when Katherine Walton emailed me about her recent stay at the Chateau Timberline, a hotel in Packwood, Wash., she had my attention.

Walton needed to cancel her reservation a day before her arrival.

“An agent told me they would charge a $100 fee – the price of one night,” she says. “So even if they are able to rebook the room I will not get a refund.”
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Why do I have to pay a $477 cancellation fee?

Question: My husband and I were planning a weekend trip to New York to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. I have mobility problems and we always book a hotel as close as possible to Broadway in the theater district.

For the trip in question, I searched Cheaptickets.com and found the W Hotel right off Broadway. We thought we booked the room, but when reviewing the confirming email, we found that we had accidentally booked the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue — not the W Broadway hotel.

Within less than 24 hours, we canceled the reservation and tried to rebook the correct W hotel. I did not notice the cancellation notice on the screen and the original booking confirmation disappeared from my files. I did not retain a printed copy of it.

We were stunned when we were billed $477 for the cancellation. After many phone calls and emails to both Cheaptickets.com and to the W Hotel, Cheaptickets.com told us that billing one night’s charge for a cancellation was a policy of the hotel. The hotel told us it was not their policy.

After much correspondence with Cheaptickets.com and our credit card company, we were told that we had to pay the charge, which we did. However, we still feel that a $477 charge for a cancellation made in less than 24 hours after the reservation is very excessive and unconscionable. Can you help? — Beulah Saideman, Philadelphia

Answer: If the W wasn’t charging you a cancellation penalty, then it must have been Cheaptickets.com. But since you didn’t keep your records, it’s difficult to say exactly what was going on.
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She had a stroke and can’t fly — should her airline waive the $150 change fee?

And now, a follow-up to yesterday’s post about reservation change fees. Passengers are upset about these surcharges, which often reduce the value of their ticket credit to just a few dollars. Airline apologists call the fees a “proven revenue model” that will continue for as long as people fly.

But there’s a glimmer of hope for air travelers.

Consider what happened to Norma Goldwyn, who abruptly canceled her flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to New York on Delta Air Lines last month because of health problems. Goldwyn asked her travel agent for a refund, and was told Delta would only offer her a ticket credit, minus a $150 change fee, which would have left her with a $59 voucher.

Delta charged an astounding $406 million in reservation change fees last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (Only American Airlines collected more in 2009.) In the first quarter of 2010, Delta collected $165 million in change fees, which means that if the current trend holds, it will have extracted $660 million from its customers this year. That would be a new record.

But where does the business model end and compassion begin? Goldwyn had every intention of making her flight, but couldn’t. It was an event beyond her control — what airlines might call a force majeure event, or an act of God. Airlines aren’t responsible for these events, according to their contracts of carriage. Should her health problem have cost her $150?
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London hotel takes a hard line on stranded air traveler’s refund request

Yotel is a Japanese-style capsule hotel at London’s Heathrow airport. It won the Business Travel World Award for best accommodations — a fact that its managers repeat endlessly in their email signatures. But volcanic eruptions? Not their problem.

John Ward discovered that when he was trapped in Istanbul last week after the volcanic eruption. An associate tried to secure a refund of his room deposit, with disappointing results.
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Starwood tweaks onerous cancellation policy after customers compare it to airlines

wWhen Stewart Sheinfeld redeemed 10,000 Starwood points for a night at the W Chicago Lakeshore, he found a strange new rule at the bottom of his confirmation. It said if he canceled his room after 6 p.m. on the day of his arrival, he wouldn’t just lose his points — he’d also have to pay $689.

“I was shocked,” he says.

Sheinfeld checked the W’s rates on its site, and found that they were $279. That meant instead of forfeiting his points for being a no-show, Starwood was threatening to charge him the rack rate — the hotel equivalent of sticker price — for the room.

“This makes the airlines’ rules look good,” he says.

Has Starwood lost touch with reality here?
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