Is Celebrity’s last-minute price switch legitimate?

Kathi McGaffigan and Bruce Nordqusit’s upcoming Italy cruise on the Celebrity Constellation came with an unpleasant surprise just a few days before they set sail. The company discovered a pricing error and reset their rate from $999 per person to $1,549, and although it apologized for the mistake, it insisted on charging the couple the difference.

These pricing errors — often called “fat finger” fares — are not uncommon in travel. I’ve written about them several times, and I generally believe a company has the right to fix a legitimate price mistake.

But this didn’t fit the traditional definition of a “fat finger” rate, and Celebrity had no business changing their price at the last minute.
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Rooms for $58 a night at the Ritz Carlton Chicago? No way!

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.
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“They have declined to honor the discounted rate”

Question: We were offered a special rate of $199 a night at the Hilton New York, as part of a package deal by the organizers of a trade show. Although we specifically requested this rate at the time of booking, the reservation agent reported that she could not find it on Hilton’s system. We were denied this rate and instead booked at $239 a night rate for three nights for two rooms, resulting in a $250 overcharge.

We took up the matter with the organizers of the trade show, who later informed us that there was some kind of glitch in the reservation system and that we should get the special rate. When we checked the hotel Web site, we saw that they were indeed offering this special rate — though it was not offered to us.

I have spoken with the reservation agent and also emailed the hotel but they have declined to honor the discounted rate without offering any reason other than saying that the erroneous bookings made by them are nonrefundable. I would appreciate it if you can resolve this. — Joy Valentine, Chapel Hill, NC

Answer: If you were offered a $199 a night rate, you should get it.

A review of the email correspondence between you and Hilton — which I’m sparing my readers because of its length — shows you repeatedly asking the hotel to fix the rate error, and hotel representatives repeatedly refused your request.
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No “big deal”? Advantage raises rate, skips paperwork on car

Matthew Stephens is a humanitarian aid worker in Tbilisi, Georgia, but after renting a car from Advantage last Christmas, he found himself in need of assistance.

The car was a disaster from start to finish. Advantage charged him more than the price he’d been quoted and gave him a vehicle that was potentially unsafe, he says. Stephens thinks he’s entitled to a full refund for the car, which is an unusual request.
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“What can I do to get them to honor this rate?”

Everyone knows that hotel rates can fluctuate from day to day. But when Preston Moore tried to book a room at the JW Marriott Denver at Cherry Creek, he was surprised to find they wanted to raise his rate by $130 from one day to the next — a price he says he couldn’t afford.

Can Marriott do that?

Yes it can.
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‘Keystroke error’ turns $289 rate into $28

keyQuestion: I recently found a $28 per night rate at the Westin Imagine in Orlando. I was amazed. I booked the room, and several days later I called the hotel to ensure that it was a legitimate rate. They confirmed this, so I booked nonrefundable airfare, and have been happily anticipating my getaway weekend ever since.

That is, until this past Monday morning, when I received an e-mail from the hotel’s director of revenue management saying that the rate was caused by a “keystroke error” during data entry. The actual rate was $289. The Westin offered a rate of $99 per night as an apology, but refused to honor the original rate.

I contacted Westin at the corporate level, and the hotel offered to waive its mandatory valet parking charge of $18 per night, but insisted it couldn’t honor the $28 rate. Then the manager of the hotel responded, offering to throw in an extra 5,000 loyalty points.

I’m writing because I don’t think I’m getting fair treatment by this Westin hotel. If there is anything you can do to help, I would be extremely appreciative. — Terry Capps, San Diego

Answer: If you book a rate that you know is an error, then you shouldn’t expect the hotel to honor the price. But $28 per night wasn’t an obvious “fat finger” rate, and the fact that Westin confirmed it certainly didn’t help.

If the hotel had offered rooms at $0, then this would be a different story. Actually, it wouldn’t be a story at all. If a business mistakenly prices something at a rate no reasonable customer believes is valid, it shouldn’t be required to honor that price. But you can find hotel rooms at $28 a night.
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RCI posts bogus rate, won’t fix it — or talk about it

playaCarla Hill thought she’d found an unbelievable rate at the El Dorado Royale & Spa in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, through RCI, a vacation timeshare company: one week for $189.

It was unbelievable. Not just to her, but to me.

Turns out the price was not available, which isn’t that unusual. Rates can change by the minute online.

What is a little odd is that RCI initially refused to fix what it claimed was a pricing error and wouldn’t talk about it. Not even to me.
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A rate reversal at the Residence Inn

Question: I hope you can help me persuade Marriott to live up to its commitment. My wife and I are being relocated to the Washington area for her work. I found a room at the Residence Inn at Dulles Airport with a two-bedroom unit for $149 per night.

Because we would be staying for about three months, I called Marriott’s reservations line to see if I could negotiate a better rate. I was told to call the hotel directly, and a representative there offered a rate of $116 per night, which I accepted.

I didn’t hear anything from the hotel for almost two weeks, so I called Residence Inn to confirm my reservation. That’s when a representative told me the person to whom I spoke wasn’t authorized to offer a lower rate. I was told they were not going to honor their commitment to me and the best rate they could offer was $149 a night — take it or leave it.

Now, with less than two weeks until we leave our current home, I’m stuck in the position of having to find housing again. I am terribly disappointed in Marriott, which owns Residence Inn. Do you have any suggestions on how to get them to live up to their commitments? — Michael Tushan, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Answer: The Residence Inn should have honored the rate it offered by phone. It should have sent you a confirmation immediately instead of making you wait almost two weeks. And the words “take it or leave it” shouldn’t be part of anyone’s vocabulary in the hospitality business.

When someone offers you a rate by phone, ask for it in writing. If the Residence Inn didn’t follow up with an immediate confirmation — either by email or snail mail — you should have called back as soon as possible. No news is usually bad news.

I don’t understand Residence Inn’s rationale for letting someone answer the phone that wasn’t allowed to offer a lower rate. But if they are going to negotiate with you, they should honor their rate, whether they’re “authorized” or not.

I think a brief, polite letter to Marriott might have yielded a better response than the ultimatum you got. You could have started at its Web site. Here’s the address.

If that didn’t work, I would have appealed your case to an executive. Tim Sheldon, the executive vice president for brand management at Marriott’s extended stay properties, would have been my first choice. Email addresses at Marriott are firstname.lastname@marriott.com.

But with just two weeks before your move, I understand you couldn’t wait around for a response. Contacting me under these circumstances was the right thing. I got in touch with Marriott, which called you and offered to split the difference between the published rate and the one you were erroneously offered.

Summer hotel rate slump could be sign of imminent fire sale

Here’s more evidence that hotel rates may be about to fall off a proverbial cliff. Earlier this week, experts predicted some modest rate declines. But after Wall Street’s meltdown, it became a more significant downturn. Now there’s evidence that the trajectory was already set long ago.

Here are average daily room rates from last summer, according to our friends at Travelocity.

Now, the idea with any business is to increase rates over time. But that’s not what happened last summer …

Rates in these cities were off by anywhere from $2 to $5 a night. That’s the wrong direction.

Let’s go to the tape. Here’s Travelocity’s Genevieve Shaw Brown:

Hotel average daily rates in many cities have remained relatively flat year-over-year and in some instances decreased. Travelers are able to find value in their hotel stays and keep a vacation within reach. The hotel stay is typically the most expensive part of any trip, so a discount on your room can offset other costs, whether it’s an increase in airfare or higher gas prices.

From where I’m sitting, I see hotel rates heading south in a pretty dramatic way.

For the sake of the hardworking men and women in the lodging industry, I hope I’m wrong. For the sake of the travelers who have been priced out of an affordable vacation for the last four years, I hope I’m right.