Hang on — are you sure your hotel’s closed for the season?

Question: I booked a stay in Ocean City, Md., through Hotels.com. When I arrived to check in, I found it was closed for the season. All numbers I was able to find for the hotel — front desk, reservations, housekeeping, and administrative offices — either rang forever or had a voice mail saying that the hotel was closed.

I do not know if it was the fault of the hotel or Hotels.com, but in either case we wound up staying at a more expensive hotel at the last minute. We wound up spending approximately $100 more on a hotel than we had planned.

I would not have been overly bothered about this if Hotels.com had immediately apologized and promptly refunded the money I sent them. I was told that since Hotels.com could not contact the hotel, I would have to wait until the hotel re-opened (sometime in the spring) so that they could speak to someone there before they refunded my money. After I said that was unacceptable and asked to speak to a supervisor, I was put on hold and then told that my money would be refunded within the next one to two days.

I called a few days later after my refund still hadn’t been processed, and was told it would take three to seven days to process. I just called Hotels.com this morning and was told that my refund had been “escalated” to another department and to check back next month. Help! — Steve Broman, Baltimore

Answer: I don’t understand how Hotels.com can accept a reservation — let alone send you to a hotel — that’s closed. It would be one thing if the hotel closed suddenly, because of a fire or foreclosure. But this was a seasonal closure.

When you were standing in front of the closed property, you should have phoned Hotels.com right away. A representative should have found you a suitable replacement room immediately at the same rate you paid for the original hotel. That employee could have also verified that the hotel was closed for the season.

Instead, you waited. I can understand why you’d postpone this — after all, you needed a room right away, and Hotels.com hadn’t exactly proven itself as reliable. Still, resolving this problem right then and there would have spared you a lot of grief later on.

You called Hotels.com when you returned, which didn’t really work. You need something in writing, preferably by email. Proving the hotel is closed should be as easy as sending a Hotels.com representative a link to the inn’s website, and also, you can forward the entire chain to a supervisor instead of waiting on “hold” for someone who may or may not be in a position to help you.

I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf. It apologized for the problem with your hotel, confirmed that it was closed, and refunded $401, the cost of the original hotel. What had happened? “The hotel did in fact close but they did not update their information in our system for the dates Mr. Broman booked,” a representative told me.

Hotels.com said it would take additional steps to make sure this didn’t happen again. It also agreed to refund you for the extra expenses incurred as a result of your hotel mishap.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Nica

    Whoa! I think that in the end Hotels.com did the right thing, but I think it was more because Mr. Elliott called and they did not want the bad press. I think if he had not called, the OP would still be waiting…. and waiting…. and waiting for his refund.

  • cjr001

    Regardless of whether Steve called Hotels.com while standing in front of the closed hotel, the next day, or a few days later, Hotels.com should have very easily been able to confirm Steve’s situation.

    Instead, it seems Hotels.com couldn’t be bothered to do anything at all, whether it was make a phone call to the hotel or refund Steve’s money. So, yeah, they got it right in the end. But this was yet another situation where it shouldn’t have taken your intervention to do so.

    Does Hotels.com not keep track of seasonal hotels on their own? I’ve never used the site, but I would think this would be part of the basic information they would need to know about a hotel before listing them. So, we really have no reason to believe that this won’t happen again in the future to others.

  • SoBeSparky

    A few years ago, when travel companies were still interested in customer satisfaction, the buzzword was “employee empowerment.” In other words, give employees the ability to make on-the-spot decisions.

    Fact: reservations was made with hotels.com
    Fact: hotel was closed for the season
    Fact: customer was forced to walk

    So what is in dispute? An easy way to increase customer dissatisfaction is to create layers of management to make a decision, such as the four different company representatives in this case. The company clearly corrected the wrong problem. It is clueless on how to handle customers.

    Today’s question should have been, “Does hotels.com make an effort at customer satisfaction?” Then an appropriate “no” vote would result.

    Both results, failure to correct the customer complaint promptly, and then failure to identify the real internal problem, leads me to avoid doing any business with hotels.com.

  • EdB

    Another poll I really couldn’t vote one way or another. Did Hotel.com do enough for the OP? In the end, yes. But because Chris had to get involved for it to happen, I would vote no. This is another example of a business refusing to do what is right unless the press gets involved. The business act like nothing is wrong if the customer states something, regardless of how much evidence is provided to the business. It’s not until they hear for the press they bother to even look at the issue. I no longer do business with Hotel.com, Priceline, and other sites like these because of incidents like this. It was because of a problem with one of these sites I found out about this blog while searching for help. No more. I may use them as a research tool, but book directly with the property now.

  • Nikki

    An opaque site actually did something… actually came through? Be still, my heart… pardon me while I recover from the shock…

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I find it insane that 1) Hotels.com would have the audacity to say, “Wait till next year” and that 2) a hotel would close without verifying whether it had any outstanding reservations. Both are FAILS.

    The OP deserves something else for his aggravation and lost time, like a free weekend stay at Hotel Clueless…

  • $16635417


  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    A long time ago, I gave up third party bookings. The he said, she said, isn’t worth the few pennies saved. I always book directly with the travel provider, usually by the internet, occasionally by telephone with e-mail confirmation. Its not that its drama free, but when drama arises, its usually resolved fairly easily.

  • Lindabator

    I think it is because Christopher knew best how to handle it, and who to go to. Just calling those res agents gets you nowhere fast. And calling IMMEDIATELY would have been preferred to waiting until afterwards. And I agree with Chris – EMAIL, don’t call. :)

  • Lindabator

    Of course, if he had called immediately, they may have had more options for him then waiting to talk to the low guy on the totem pole AFTER the fact. True, they dropped the ball, but Chris has stated plenty of times here not to just call a res agent and expect to get anywhere – they are NOT empowered (due to financial and legal reasons), so you are better off emailing the proper chain of command.

  • Lindabator

    But hotels can change those dates (as they apparently did here) and fail to notify Hotels.com. It would probably be close to impossible to track EVERY hotel available for such things. And although I understand mistakes happen, the client really should have called immediately and been given a new room. Did they drop the ball? Heck yeah! But I think it would have been easier to get an immediate re-accommodation, rather than dealing with the gen res guys after the fact. (That is always a dead end)

  • cjr001

    Having re-read the article, I see nothing to indicate that the hotel changed anything. For all we know, yeah, they could have changed the dates. Or, being a seasonal hotel, they could be closed the same dates ever year.

    Now, we don’t know what Steve did before the booking. We don’t know if he checked the hotel website (if they even have one), or anything else. So maybe he should hold some level of responsibility here, too.

    But (surprise!) Hotels.com dropped the ball with their lack of customer service.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I pretty much agree with all the posters here, but most specifically with @cjr001:disqus . I shouldn’t have mattered WHEN the OP called, Hotels.com owed him/her money back.

    It would have taken mere seconds to confirm the hotel was closed by using the same avenues used by the OP, except going there. According to the OP, calling some of the numbers, the message is given they’re closed for the season. Did they suspect fraud on the part of the OP? Did they imagine he/she snuck into the hotel and changed the hotel’s outgoing message on the answering machine to reflect a closure when it was, in fact, open?

    For Hotels.com to use the excuse, “We need to wait until it’s open in the spring to confirm it’s closed now” is utterly ridiculous and an obvious ploy to stall the OP into throwing up his/her hands in frustration and walking away. They knew/understood it was closed enough to give this as a tactic, but didn’t understand it enough to give the OP their money back? Puh-leeze!

    I just woke up an hour ago so maybe I’m making too much of this due to my lack of caffeine but this stinks like yesterday’s garbage sitting in the hot Arizona sun!

    I’m glad the OP got their money back but I’m with the others here – it shouldn’t have taken Chris to get them their money back. The right thing to do is the right thing to do, no matter WHO is making contact to get something resolved. I have to wonder if situations like this, not returning someone’s money for a bad sale, is part of their budget under the line item “Suckers who gave up while we stalled the crap out of them”.

  • bodega3

    Of course Hotels.com owned them and sad that it took Chris’ contact to get it done in a timely manner. I do wonder though, did the OP look up the resort before paying for the reservation? If the hotel normally closes each year, this would have noted and wouldn’t you have called and questioned the closing dates vs the stay dates before paying?

  • Nica

    I totally agree! :0)

  • LeeAnneClark

    Exactly the reason I voted no. Yes, Hotels.com did the right thing, but it was too late – there is no valid reason it shouldn’t have IMMEDIATELY processed a refund, as this was wholly and indisputably their error.

    I’m done with Hotels.com now after reading this, because it’s clear that if they screw up, it takes the intervention of a mediator to get them to give back money to which they are not entitled. That’s unethical, and I don’t do business with unethical companies.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Hotels.com is not opaque – you choose the property in advance. And keep in mind that the only reason they came through was due to the intervention of Christopher Corleone.

  • IGoEverywhere

    They did not call their travel agent. They made a rash decision. When they did call, they were eventually compensated. I have clients call daily with problems with air, hotels, cars, and we usually have all resolved in 15 minutes. It’s not brain surgery, it’s knowledge and service.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Trust me, it’s not your lack of coffee. ;-) I completely agree.

    I get frustrated with Christopher’s constant reminders that we need to do this via email because phone calls won’t work. Not frustrated with HIM, mind you – he is entirely correct. Just frustrated that it’s so…so…WRONG! It’s just plain wrong that you can’t make a phone call to a company that has hundreds of dollars of your money to which they are CLEARLY not entitled, speak to someone with authority, and get your money back. Especially for a situation as simple, basic and indisputable as this one. Customers shouldn’t have to go to all the trouble to seek out email addresses, document everything, send off an email and hope it doesn’t go off into never-never-land, and then wait for a response. You should be able to make the call and get an immediate response…especially when you are dealing with large amounts of YOUR money.

    But we all know it doesn’t work that way. Customer service has gone to the dogs these days.

    Well this is one of the reasons I read Christopher’s blog. Now I have yet another company to cross off my list.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I like this – Christopher Corleone…

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I find myself wondering if the hotel was closed BEFORE the reservation was made, thus knew nothing about it? Either case, you’re correct – FAILS. (Epic? *Shrug*)

  • LeeAnneClark

    Hotels.com is not a travel agent. They are an online booking service – that’s all.

    I disagree that it was incumbent on the traveler to contact Hotels.com. They had every right to seek out a place they wanted to stay themselves, then demand their money back for the fraudulent (yes, I consider it fraudulent) booking. Bottom line: Hotels.com took their money for something they didn’t have the ability to sell because it didn’t exist – a room in a hotel that was closed. They may not have known it at the time they took the money, but the moment they found out, they should have instantly refunded it. Not doing so was unethical and, in fact, illegal. It is not legally permissible to take money for something you don’t (and can’t) sell. That’s fraud. Or theft. (I’ll let the lawyers untwist that one!)

    Yes, it’s possible that Hotels.com might have helped them find a place, but after discovering that your “travel agent” booked you in a closed hotel, that kinda blows one’s confidence in them, no? I can certainly understand why they didn’t want to chance relying on them again.

    As for “knowledge and service” – given they way they handled his contact after the fact, it’s clear they don’t put a high emphasis on either of those things. You’re right, it’s NOT rocket science – and yet they couldn’t take care of it, could they? The only reason they were “eventually compensated” was due to the intervention of a professional mediator.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Full disclosure: I did not make that up. Christopher used it himself in one of his articles a long time ago – I can’t remember the context, but I think somebody else called him that and he found it funny and mentioned it in an article, and I seized on it and have been calling him that ever since. He’s probably sick of it by now… ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a good point. I probably wouldn’t have very much confidence in them either. I think its perfectly reasonable for the OP to either call Hotels.com or say screw this, let me take care of it myself.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, not at all. Hotels.com is a reputable site. I would expect that they actually had the ability to sell a room that is represented on its website. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable assumption to make.

    To suggest that the OP should have been skeptical about Hotels.com’s ability to deliver is Monday morning quarterbacking to me.

  • bodega3

    No, not beening skeptical, but if you are booking a hotel, don’t you check it out online before paying? I do. I check reviews, their website, my professional materials.

  • Michael__K

    OTA’s like hotels.com instruct users to use email for “non-urgent questions.” You typically need to allow a few days for a response (often a form response).

    Have you tried to call an OTA’s publicly posted phone number to get immediate help?

    I have several times (not with hotels.com) when a hotel could not honor a reservation because it was oversold.

    Between the typical “unusually high call volumes” and the hold times (the offshore agents have no authority and need to track down someone who does), you’re ahead of the game if you can get to any resolution within 60 to 90 minutes.

    Depending on the time of day and the OP’s plans and how fully-charged their cell phone was, I can’t blame them if they didn’t have the time or patience for that.

  • Me

    This is why, IF possible I book direct with the hotel in question or through their main “chain” number. I mention the price found on one of those sites…sometimes they honor the price; sometimes they don’t.
    I have been to Ocean City,MD for years….what time frame did this person go down…hard to believe during the high tourist season that a hotel there was closed.

  • SoBeSparky

    Agreed with your suggested protocols. Still, after all is said and done, with nothing in dispute, three contacts with four persons shows a internal structural problem. “Financial and legal reasons” is corporate speak for don’t let anyone do anything too fast or too definitively while the customer twists in the wind.

    All channels of customer service should be open wide to solving problems, not to obfuscate and delay.

  • Nikki

    New things you learn every day. I thought Hotels.com was one of those pesky ones out there. Thanks LeeAnne! :D

    I do agree that Chris’ intervention was the only reason these guys even budged. Either way, at least the OP got something…

  • Nikki

    The others probably have a better explanation than I would, but basically, opaque travel sites are the ones where you don’t get to pick out your hotel/airline/what-have-you.

  • LeeAnneClark

    That’s why we love him! ;-)

  • andi330

    I voted yes and here’s why. The customer was not asking for any more than the refund of their money and that’s what she got. Should Chris have had to get involved? No. But there are other factors to consider that didn’t help the customer. If the customer had called the hotel to confirm her reservation before leaving on her trip (even the day before) she likely would have discovered the hotel was closed for the season before she got there, and could have contacted Hotels.com before she was standing in front of a closed building. Also, the customer should have contacted Hotels.com before going to a new hotel. They could have gotten her another room without her having to pay any additional out of pocket, and again, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

    That doesn’t excuse Hotels.com not immediately refunding the money once the OP called and explained the situation (or at least issuing the refund within say 24 hours, after verifying that the hotel was closed). But the situation was not helped by the OP failing to confirm her reservation, and then failing to call Hotels.com as soon as it became apparent that the hotel in question was closed.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You know, before reading this blog on a regular basis, I would never have thought to call and confirm a previously made reservation, especially if I had a confirmation number in hand. I’ve been doing just that for the last three years. However, I did run across a situation last year where I had the confirmation number, made the call to confirm two days prior to arrival and arrived at the hotel to find I didn’t have a room. I realize that my situation and the OP’s weren’t exactly the same, but I did want to point out that even calling to confirm the room doesn’t guarantee a place to stay when you arrive.

  • TonyA_says

    How many damn calls should one need to make?
    One call to make a reservation with the OTA.
    Another call to the hotel to make sure they have the booking.
    A call before you leave to make sure the hotel is open.
    A call from the airport to make sure the hotel didn’t decide to go on a Sabbatical.
    A call to request a refund.
    A call to Elliott because you did not get a refund.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Nope. Its usually not that serious. However, most of my travel is for business in which proximity to the court/conference/airport is the issue. I generally only stay at national chains, and I book with the travel provider directly, e.g. SPG.com, MARRIOTT.com, etc.

  • JenniferFinger

    Well, Hotels.com did in the end get Broman his refund, but it shouldn’t have booked him at that hotel in the first place. Having done so, it should have gotten him his refund ASAP and not dragged its feet. Telling him “You have to keep waiting” continuously was very poor customer service. That said, I’m not sure what else it could have done for him, after Chris advocated for him, that it hasn’t done. It apologized, issued the refund, agreed to reimburse Broman for the expenses he incurred due to their error, and is going to take steps to prevent this from recurring. Perhaps it could fire someone, but that’s really an internal matter.