Hyatt charged me for my canceled hotel room and now I’m stuck

Songquan Deng/Shutterstock
Songquan Deng/Shutterstock
Question: I recently attended a job fair in Marietta, Ga. Because I was unsure of the number and date of interviews I would have at the event, I decided to book a room for one night at the Hyatt, in case I had to extend my stay.

I didn’t need the room, so I called a full day before I was supposed to check in to cancel. But a Hyatt representative told me they could not find my reservation and that I would need to call back later in the day to cancel. I called back that afternoon and was transferred to central booking. A representative said they could not process a cancellation for me. So I called the hotel and they agreed to cancel my reservation.

When I tried to book a flight back home this morning, my card was rejected because of insufficient funds. I checked my account and found the Hyatt had charged my card $141.

I immediately called the hotel and they told me that if I did not have a confirmation number there was nothing they could do. I kept calling back until someone in accounting said they would research the issue but no one ever said they would be able to refund my money. Without a cancellation number, they said, I would be considered a “no show.”

I have $10 in my account and am stuck in New York. Can you help me? — Fallon Speaker, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Answer: Hyatt should have canceled your room as promised. But you had a few warning signs that it didn’t — or couldn’t. That included the hotel not being able to find your reservation, the central reservations line not being able to process your cancellation, and a promise (but no verification) from the hotel that your reservation had been deleted.

Any one of these should have sent up an enormous red flag. But the one that should have sent you into a panic was the lack of a cancellation number. When a hotel doesn’t offer you one, you should assume your reservation is still active. Unfortunately, yours was.

Although some hotel rooms are still cancelable, many are not. In fact, there’s been a steady move toward the airline model, where the most affordable rooms can’t be changed or canceled for any reason. So it’s worth making sure, as you did, that your room can be canceled and ensuring that if your plans change, you give the property ample notification.

I checked with Hyatt, and it turns out your reservation couldn’t be found because someone — it’s not clear who — misspelled your name. Within an hour of asking the hotel to investigate, it had reversed the charge, allowing you to buy a ticket from New York back to North Carolina.

As a gesture of goodwill, Hyatt enrolled you in its loyalty program and deposited enough points in your account for a one-night stay at one of its hotels.

Are hotels responsive enough to erroneous billing questions from guests?

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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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • larry

    She used a debit card? This is one more reason I would never have that trash in my wallet.

  • Michelle

    Some of these hotel stories confound me! I managed a Marriott property for 7 years, and there was never, ever a time when I didn’t refund money – whether it be a pre-paid and guaranteed room or a GNS. I would push a little, but if the customer balked, the refund was given. Reason being, if I refused and they called Marriott Corporate, I knew I would get a call telling me to refund the money.

  • EdB

    One part of this story had me scratching my head…

    I have $10 in my account and am stuck in New York.

    Okay. The OP said they only booked a room for one night not knowing how many interviews they would have and it turned out the room wasn’t needed. Let’s say they had enough interviews where they needed the room. They would have been in the same position, a legit hotel charge, and only $10 in their account. How were they planning to get home in the first place? They tried booking a flight home, the charge would still have been rejected due to ISF. Did the OP only book a one way ticket there and then planned on buying a walk up fare for the return trip home? Things just aren’t adding up here.

  • MarkKelling

    It could have been any number of cards, debit was not specified. But I agree with you as far as never using a debit card to make purchases with.

  • MarkKelling

    Also, I know Chris is good, but is he really able to turn something like this around the same day? And would the refunded charge be immediately available for use?

  • BillCCC

    There is a lot of problems with this story. I know that Chris can be fast but the way I am reading the story is the OP contacted Chris and this whole process took less than a day.

    Why would the name matter, whenever I have to talk to any business about a reservation they ask for a reservation number not a name.

    I have never heard of a business being able to reverse a charge so quickly. Was the OP at the airport with card in hand waiting for the money to appear?

    The job fair was in Marietta , GA, what does NY have to do with this? How/when/why did the OP end up penniless in NY?

    Chris, what is up with this story.

  • John Baker

    Chris … I’m really glad you could help the OP because it really appears that they shouldn’t travel without adult supervision. This one case highlights so many travel no-nos its not even funny.

    1. Never ever use a debit card for a hotel booking. Not only are they going to put a “hold” on funds at check in (so you won’t be able get that money out of an ATM) but in case of a dispute, its not “funny money” that you are arguing over but very real dollars your bank has already removed from your checking account.

    2. Always make sure you can get home. EdB said as much… If you didn’t have enough money to get home after they charged the room, what was the OP’s plan if the OP needed to stay the night?

    3. If you use your debit card while travelling, watch your bank account. Your debit card number can get stolen as easily as your credit card.

    Anyway … How does the OP get from a job fair in GA to being stuck in NY? Something isn’t right with this story.

  • John Baker

    @MarkKelling:disqus I tried, and failed, to be one of Chris’s volunteer advocates at one point. The case he had me working on was a rolling delay and was in “real time.” The case literally ended with the “OP” saying “they’re calling the flight.”

  • Christopher Elliott

    I can see the confusion. The OP was in NY when she was stuck because of the charge to her card. That’s the only reason NY was mentioned. And yes — this one was basically resolved in real time.

  • Deborah Orth

    Have to agree. Very puzzling like 2 + 2 = 5 Her story raises many questions!!

  • Daddydo

    There is a lack of any intelligence in today’s travelers. They feel that they are entitled to have everybody know everything that the travel did themselves. When you travel, you have your airline reservation showing your ticket number, your reservation number and seat assignments. You should have on the next paragraph your hotel and your confirmation number. After that, your rules and penalties for cancellation. A decent travel agent provides that information and a great ASTA agent will have your back for taking care of the cancellation if necessary. My guess is that the travelers had none of the above. As Christopher always says, sometimes you need a travel agent to take care of things that get just a little complicated.

  • Raven_Altosk

    OP goes down as “one of the biggest idiots on this site.” NEVER USE A DEBIT CARD. And she had $10 to her name and was stuck somewhere? Let’s hope that’s hyperbole for sympathy and not the truth. Because, if it’s the truth, she should never, ever, travel ever again.

  • Michael__K

    The room was in Georgia….

    Sounds like the OP got back home to North Carolina and then took a separate trip to NY. And then while in NY they suddenly had $141 less in their account than they expected to have there.

    Which does seem like a dangerously thin margin when you’re travelling that far from home (unexpected things happen).

  • Rinacres

    For everyone raging about the OP using a debit card for the purchases – maybe that is all she had. Unfortunately, not everyone is eligible to have a credit card – they do turn down some people with poor credit, or people who have gone thru bankruptcy. Many banks will issue a debit card, but it is NOT also a credit card. It can be used to make purchases such as hotels and airfare, but the funds do come immediately out of your account. My sister has been in this position for 5 years now, and while it makes things difficult in today’s consumerism world, it has been the only option for her.

  • Bill___A

    A “travel agent” is the one who changed my name on a recent reservation at a Westin, where I was attending a conference. My typing was just fine (yes, I have screen shots). Fortunately, I did not follow the front desk clerk’s suggestion to just “start a new reservation” and helped them find it…even though they seemed to be very lacking in ability to do so. It is not always the guest’s fault when the hotel can’t find something.

    The “op” was going to a job fair and seemed quite short on funds. I don’t know how she would have returned home if she’d stayed the extra day. It has got to be rough. I’m glad Chris and Hyatt got this fixed so quickly. Although hotels have always fixed things for me, there is not the expectation of having it done within the hour…
    Way to go Chris…and in this case, we shouldn’t be hard on the OP.

    Sorry but just about every screw up I run into involves a travel agent of some sort.

  • emanon256

    I’m really curious how the OP expects to get a walk up fare for $151 on the day of a flight? I guess they are still not getting home.

    I actually voted yes, I think Hayatt went above and beyond in not only refunding, but giving something extra as good will. Shame on the OP for not planning ahead and at least having their confirmation number with them.

  • emanon256

    I was wondering if it was a debit, it doesn’t say.

    However, Back when I did financial work I went through many many national fraud prevention and money management seminars and after all that I learned, to this day, I will still never carry or use a debit card.

  • EdB

    2+2=5 for extremely large values of 2.

  • Bill___A

    That’s interesting. If I’d booked a non refundable room and didn’t use it, I don’t think I would have even asked for a refund because my expectation would have been to not get one.
    Generally, I don’t make non refundable reservations. I have noticed, however, that the Marriott normal policies for many hotels in Germany result in much of the reservation being non refundable in the case of a cancellation. Probably explains why I did not stay in a Marriott last time I was there…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’ve seen credit cards that are for people with very bad credit. The credit limit is basically how much you have in your account. It could be one of those…

  • emanon256

    Good call. This one is very fishy to me too. Maybe the OP thought they woudl get a job at the job fair and would get a cash signing bonus on the spot? Joking of course. I am baffled by the fact they thought they could get a walk up fare for $151.

    On a side note, I did interview with a company at a job fair once who gave me an offer on the spot with a signing bonus (only time I was ever offered a signing bonus). They said the bonus would be direct deposited in 2 to 3 days and I gave them a voided check with my paperwork. I was to start in 3 months so I could finish up my current project. I never got the signing bonus, they kept telling me it was on the way, then one day when I called the phone had been disconnected. I later found out the office shut down. It was Arthur Anderson. I never ended up working there. It was sad, but still makes for a great story.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    My question is, if the OP is really in a situation where she could be stuck with $10 credit and NO access to more money, should she REALLY be staying at a Hyatt?!?

  • Bill___A

    Some people don’t have a choice..

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I had the same knee jerk reaction, but the fact that she’s going to a job fair probably means she’s unemployed. She may be down on her luck. I’ve interviewed people who have been unemployed for an extended time and they just seem beat down. In this case, she’s “traveling” but obviously not for pleasure. But why she booked a stay at a Hyatt when she obviously has very little money is beyond me. Motel 8, anyone?

  • emanon256

    Not sure if this is still the case, but back in my financial days, if I put in a charge it would pre-authorize and put a hold on the account, but not actually charge the card until I ran the polling process (I think that was the name). The hold would stop them from over spending. If I put in a refund it would hit the card as a refund authorization but not actually process it until I polled again. However, I could force a poll and remove the pre-auth in real time if I wanted to manually run the polling process. In that case it would remove the pre-auth and free up their balance instantly.

    That being said, it means Chris had to be working this in real time.

  • pauletteb

    If the OP made the reservation online, she could have been the one who misspelled her name. (My fingers think ahead of my brain on occasion too.) But didn’t she have a confirmation number? That would have vacated the name issue. Good on Hyatt for the added touch, but too bad Chris had to contact them to get the charge reversed. Since the OP was attending a job fair, that might explain why her funds were so close to the edge.

  • Michael__K

    I’m really curious how the OP expects to get a walk up fare for $151 on the day of a flight? I guess they are still not getting home.

    She/he may have a voucher or a cancelled ticket credit.

    In any event they could easily get a bus to North Carolina for far less than $151…

  • sirwired

    This should be a reason you should always have your reservation number; all this hassle could have been avoided if she had that.

  • sirwired

    I don’t like debit cards either, but I don’t see how that would have made a difference. If her credit card was maxed out, putting something in dispute doesn’t free up available balance. (You just don’t have to pay when the bill comes…)

  • larry

    I was not sure if it was debit either, hence the question mark.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The only thing I could think of is that was where the job fair was, so they wanted to be right there.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, the pre-auth can be made to disappear freeing up the available balance. But I do not know of any bank or card issuer that would immediately process a refund real-time making the funds available. Maybe the OP called the bank after the refund was authorized and they allowed the new charge to go through knowing the credit was there? Or maybe the pre-auth was what was still on the card (and the hotel had not actually charged the room) and it just had to be forced to clear it?

  • MarkKelling

    If the job fair was at the Hyatt, maybe there was a special room rate for attendees that was lower than the available rates at other nearby hotels? Also, $141 doesn’t sound like a 5-star hotel room rate anyway. Hyatt now has multiple brands at differing rates, some are nearly as low as Motel 6. :-)

  • Carchar

    Is the op just out of school and looking for a job? I don’t know her age, but it takes a few years to learn some of life’s travel lessons, as well as others. I certainly would not call her an idiot, just green.

  • SallyLu

    I wondered the same thing!

  • Bill___A

    Chris, although I enjoy the articles, I’m sure I am not the only one who has noticed that you tend to use “overly sensational” headlines in order to grab attention to stories. Although I do regard you as having a lot of journalistic integrity, this does not apply to your headlines and taglines.
    When I first started reading your columns, you did not do this. (If you had, I would have stopped at the first article).
    I might refer to your headline in Facebook, which is leading to this story and it refers to an “overdrawn account”. This is what seems to be typical as one is drawn to think there is an “overdrawn account” and yet, I see no evidence of one. I see that the bank refused to let the account be overdrawn (and approve the ticket purchase) but it seems the account balance went to $10.
    Why do you do this? MOST of the time, the headline is over the top. Truthful headlines and taglines are important. I think your stories are compelling enough without the misleading headers….

  • Michelle C

    2 weeks ago or so, Hyatt Regency in DT Atlanta had a $139.00 rate on their website. It is labeled a 4* hotel. I paid 65.00 per night through priceline NYOP. Priceline winning bids for buckhead 5* was around 90 for the same time. Atlanta has always had some of the least expensive hotel rooms I have seen.

    There are plenty of even less expensive hotel rooms nearby Atlanta. There is more to the story than is being told.. I would hope most people wouldn’t gallop around the country with just a few bucks.

    I’m glad Chris got their money back quickly, no matter the extra details, the refund was appropriate.

  • Nikki

    In some cases, an authorized person from the hotel can call the bank and fax something in saying that the mistake was theirs and to please release the hold on a particular reservation. It usually requires a few steps on the hotel’s part to verify the authorizing person (GM, FDM, shift supervisor, etc) and the account number in question.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Admittedly this shouldn’t have occurred, but kudos to Hyatt for fixing the problem quickly and for their gesture to make it up.

  • joe

    Travelling around with a limit of about $200 and no cash on hand? Duh

  • bodega3

    It appears that the OP is a college student, so living close to the edge at that age, just goes with the territory, especially if she is supporting herself. Been there myself a few decades ago and in selling travel, I have worked with many who were/are in a similar financial place.

  • bodega3

    Looking her up online, I believe she is a college student. Remember when you were young and foolish? Heck, we would have $1 left between pay checks back then and we did dumb stuff, too, that would probably get others wondering where our brains were. I’ll cut her some slack on this one!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Been there, done that, eaten the bologna sandwiches at 2 a.m. in a Greyhound bus station . . . Thanks for the reminder that I was young and foolish once, rather than just foolish. :)

  • y_p_w

    Not everyone flies. Maybe Amtrak. There are several lines that go from NY Penn Station to either Raleigh or Durham. Some last minute fares could be as low as $135, but that varies. Still – there are plenty of banks in NYC, and I bank with major national banks with branches in NYC.

    I show Megabus at $77 from NYC to Durham, NC for tomorrow. They’re also different in that they don’t take cash at all.

    However, only having $151 in reserve on a credit card is extremely tight. I’m guessing maybe she was staying at a youth hostel? I’ve stayed at a hotel in NYC and it was not cheap.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve stayed at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Avetine for $109 + taxes. I’ve stayed at various higher-end hotels pretty cheap. None were special rates that couldn’t be cancelled nor opaque booking except maybe for a small discount for AAA and those rates would have still been less than $141.

    Once I was thinking of staying in Philly, and the Sofitel Philadephia was $99/night on the weekend. We ended up staying in a suburban residence-type hotel, but I wouldn’t have liked to have stayed there.

    You can find really good deals – especially when demand is low. A lot of hotels that deal with mostly convention center business can be really cheap when there’s no major business convention in town.

  • emanon256

    I only said that because the OP said in their email to Chris that they tried to book a flight home that morning.

  • Cat

    Kudos? Hyatt did not respond to the customer, it took Chris getting involved for them to do the right thing. By the time you have to contact a consumer advocate, the business has dropped the ball.

  • cowboyinbrla

    My point was that as soon as they figured out the problem (yes, with Chris’s prodding), they did fix things. Up to that point, all they had to go on was a caller telling them that she had tried to cancel the reservation, which she couldn’t prove and the hotel couldn’t find a record of. Once the original reservation was found and they determined it had been overlooked when she tried to cancel (because of a misspelling when it was entered), they took responsibility and fixed it. They could have argued that it was her responsibility to check the spelling when she made the reservation. They could have argued that she should have done this or that or the other. They could have refunded her money with the standard 7-10 days to post and up to two statement cycles to appear on the statement. But they not only processed the refund immediately, they reached out to her as a future customer and comped her a night (via points) as an apology and hoping to do business with her again in the future. I think that’s a good thing. Your mileage may vary.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    debit cards don’t usually incur fees that credit card do.
    The whole idea that reversing a charge with a credit card is easy is a fallacy !!

  • EdB

    In the US, debit cards usually cost the merchant less in fees, but can cost the consumer more in fees than a credit card. Some debit cards charge the consumer a per transaction charge.

    As for reversing a charge, it is about as easy on a debit card as a credit card. The difference is while the charge is in dispute, on a credit card, it is not your money being held. On a debit card, it is.

  • Robin Harly

    Thanks for sharing this story Chris!! Something that we all could learn from.

  • daniel

    next time try using it can be very helpful!