Missed my hotel reservation by a month – do I still have to pay?

Brian Jackson/Shutterstock
Brian Jackson/Shutterstock
Elise Chon’s reservation is off by a month – an error made by a travel agent. Does she still have to pay for the hotel stay she missed?

Question: I made a reservation for two rooms at Cedar Breaks Lodge in Brian Head, Utah, for our family vacation during Christmas break. I made the booking by phone through Hotels.com.

I received a confirmation email, but I didn’t check the dates. I failed to notice the reservation was for November, not December.
Today I received an email from Hotels.com asking about my “recent” stay at Cedar Breaks.

Suspecting an error has been made, I checked my emails and realized I did not catch the mistake. I called Hotels.com and requested the recording of our phone conversation, and they declined and did not help me.

I also called Cedar Breaks Lodge, and since my reservation was made on Hotels.com website, they said they could not refund me either. I am going to lose $980 for a hotel room I couldn’t use.

Can you please give me advice on how to get full or partial refund? I am willing to pay for one night, but getting charged for four nights for two rooms is excessive. — Elise Chon, Fullerton, Calif.

Answer: You’re right, that’s pretty excessive for a “no show.” Normally, you only have to pay for a night. Hotels.com should have reviewed the recordings of your reservation, and when it refused, you were right to contact me.

A miscommunication like this is easy to avoid. If you’re booking by phone, ask the representative to repeat the dates of your stay (they are trained to do that). Then check the dates on your confirmation, and if they don’t match your itinerary, contact the online agency immediately.

Crossed wires can happen easily when you’re dealing with an offshore call center, so my recommendation is to use the computer to make your booking After all, a site like Hotels.com is optimized for Internet bookings, and I’m sure if it could avoid having a call center, it would.

Getting a form letter rejecting your request isn’t the end of the line. You can appeal to Hotels.com through it website or directly to the property and failing that, you can dispute the charges on your credit card.

Fortunately, none of that would be necessary. I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf. It investigated your case and found it made “an error on our side.” Hotels.com changed your reservation, so you’ll be able to stay at Cedar Breaks for Christmas, after all.

Happy holidays.

Are hotel "no show" penalties unfair to 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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Bill___A

    Good work, Chris.

  • California_Dave

    “No show” charges are fair but should be clearly stated both verbally if booking by phone and in the written confirmation. If guaranteed with a credit card or deposit, the hotel is obligated to hold your room all night, even if it is the last available room and a walk-in is willing to pay more. Multiple night stays can forfeit the full deposit in a remote resort area like Brian Head since most reservations are booked well in advance and there is little opportunity to receive last minute bookings. Glad they worked it out.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No show fees can be appropriate. It really depends on the specific facts.

  • backprop

    So the mistake on hotels.com’s site – was it an actual technical mistake in which the OP put the correct dates but hotels.com screwed them up? Or was it a mistake in that they felt they should have cut the OP a break the first time even though it was her mistake?

    I don’t use the booking sites precisely because many of their rates are pay-in-full, no refunds, no cancellations at all. But unlike airlines, upgrading to a flexible rate directly through the hotel is usually very reasonable, with a one night no-show fee. That’s peace of mind very well worth it.

    So hopefully the OP learned something to tuck away for later: in the future, if you actually do fat finger dates like this, the booking sites are often a terrible place to do it! Book through the hotel.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I gave up booking travel through any means other than directly with the travel provider’s website. No booking engines for me. Too much drama.

  • Guest

    As the story says “I made the booking by phone through Hotels.com.”

    He called it in. He did not check the confirmation email. The phone rep screwed up.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    As the story says “I made the booking by phone through [the website given in the story]”

    He called it in. He did not check the confirmation email. The phone rep screwed up.

  • backprop

    Thanks! I skipped the ‘phone’ part.

  • sdir

    It shouldn’t have happened and I’m glad it worked out. The LW has also learned a valuable lesson to ALWAYS check the confirmation. Check it for dates, check it for spelling, check it for the hotel address, etc.


    Hotels.com did make a major error and should have listened to the recording as soon as the OP called. But the OP also has some responsibility for not checking the confirmation. The error is not her fault but all this could have been avoided if she simply spent time to check the confirmation when she received it.

  • Alan Gore

    Hotel.com’s refusal to reveal the call recording until being “Chrissed” is the red flag here. Sites like this are not real TAs, even though they legally function as such.

    Another point: Whenever I have booked at a major hotel, I’ve always received emails about “Your upcoming stay…” in time to have noticed an error this major before the scheduled time.

  • Alex Stanley

    As a travel professional, I have been known to mistype from time to time. At the end of each call, I remind my clients to review their email for accuracy. If they see a problem, they should call us within 24 hrs. No one is perfect and mistakes happen. Always verify dates on any bookings you make!

  • Nikki

    Over the years working in hotels, I’ve found that most people that have been in the business long enough, have their own loosely-scripted way of taking reservations. Their spiel usually is like my own – make sure that the cancellation policy (complete with one-night charge if it’s inside the cancellation period or as a no-show) and check-in time is spelled out after confirming the dates, rates and room type. I’ve never booked through an OTA, so I don’t know what their “script” is. Even with a well-crafted “script”, 9 times out of 10, the caller is too distracted to listen to the whole thing. Those seconds listening to that, could save a lot of problems later.

    But the OP really should have looked through her confirmation – that right there would have eliminated this problem.

    Good that it worked out though, and that she was even able to still get a booking at the holidays.

  • Harry Baxter

    Next time, be sure to check the dates, and retain the information.

  • Joel Wechsler

    It’s stretching a point to refer to Hotels.com as a travel agent.

  • ChBot

    It investigated your case and found it made “an error on our side.”

    Does the use of “” to stress that it is a citation allows for the grammatical … (how to stay politically correct here) … approximation ?

    On another topic, i’m surprised no one has yet to state that such a website is not a travel agent !

  • ChBot

    Well, with prepaid bookings on sites like “hotels.com” or others, you are often charged for the whole stay regardless of wether you’ll stay there or not !
    So I guess no show charges only applies to non non-refundable bookings

  • ChBot

    What is an LW ?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    LW = Letter Writer
    OP = Original Poster
    This site normally refers to the person in the article as the OP, but the advice columns comments section always refers to the person writing for advice as the LW.

  • ChBot

    Thanks !

  • Lindabator

    SHe phoned in, then didn’t bother to confirm the dates on the email confirmation she received – this is OPERATOR error – could have been fixed if she bothered to look the first time.

  • Lindabator

    And then the OP screwed up by not bothering to READ the confirmation. Easy fix at that point.

  • Lindabator

    Of course, when they sent the email confirmation and she FAILED to check the dates, she crewed up royally! SHE needs to take responsibility as well – especially when you book over the phone, where its easier to mix up dates.

  • emanon256

    I still don’t understand why people use these travel vending machines to book non-refundable hotels, when the hotels generally have the same or better rates, which are also refundable, available for direct booking. Also, why do people call a website to make a reservation, when the whole point of the site is that you can book online? When I call, there is often a language barrier, bad connection, operator is in a noisy room, etc. that can all lead to problems. When I book on-line, I know exactly what dates I am entering. I am glad hotels dot com finally owned up to their mistake, but booking on-line directly with the travel company and not though a third party can prevent problems like this in the first place. It’s sad it took a consumer advocate to get hotels dot com to actually own up to their mistake, shows me how much they values their customers.

  • jldamon

    Hi Alex! ha ha! How many times has this been drilled into our heads… ALWAYS remind the clients to check the itineraries. While unfortunate, mistakes happen – we are all human and we have all made errors. How many times have you heard this after asking if the client reviewed the itinerary: “No, I didn’t – but you still made the mistake!” I have always believed that if you do not check your itinerary for accuracy, you are just as much responsible as the person who made the original error.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Hotels. com made an error. They made a bigger error by not admitting guilt. The OP made the biggest error by not reading the confirmation. Come on now, it is in black and white and maybe color. All of the cancellations rules are printed on the confirmation. I use Hotels.com for my clients and have never had a problem.

  • Jason Hanna

    Convenience. You’re right, though, most times a booking site has a higher or the same price as the hotels own website.. I use the booking engines all the time.. To go in and see multiple hotels in an area and compare prices.. But I do the actual booking through the hotel (or airline) website.

  • DavidYoung2

    No Show charges are totally fair because the Resort missed out on revenue from two rooms that could have been sold. The OP got off easy on this one. They didn’t review the reservation after receiving the confirmation? Big mistake – Hotels.com sent it; if the OP didn’t read it carefully that’s all on them.

    I wonder why more companies don’t do what a lot of airlines and hotels do: Send reminders. Southwest sends a “your trip is coming up” e-mail about a week before a scheduled flight. The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas does it two weeks before your stay (trying to get you to book show tickets or restaurant reservations too), but this sure would help avoid ‘mistakes’ like this. Of course, the OP would have to read them, so not sure it would help here.

  • Marj Riniker

    She was taking responsibility, and was willing to pay for the normal and usual ONE night that most hotels charge for a no show. What she had an issue with is that they were charging her for all 4 nights, for BOTH rooms reserved. That is definitely over the top for the hotel.

  • Dutchess

    Sorry, who doesn’t check their email confirmation when you make a phone reservation?

    Also, this isn’t a normal no show situation. Virtually all the rooms on sites like Hotels.com and hotwire are all fully prepaid rooms. I think calling this a no-show fee just confuses the situation.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I remember the good ol’ days when you could actually find lower prices on booking websites such as Hotels.com. I used to spend hours searching through all the different sites until I found the best deal…and there would sometimes be substantial discounts, so the time was well spent.

    Those days are gone. I cannot remember the last time I found a better price elsewhere than I could find by booking directly through the hotel or other travel provider. These days all I use those booking websites for is to compare different venues. Once I’ve found the one I want, I ALWAYS go directly to the actual venue to book. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would use one of those booking sites. For what? It’s just another layer, another point of failure. They do NOT act as travel agents – you can’t rely on them to fix any mistakes, either on their part or on the part of the venue itself, unlike REAL TAs. And if there is a problem, you just have more complications in getting it resolved, as they will often point fingers at each other.

    So, the LW’s first mistake: booking through a booking site. Second mistake, which so many others have noted: not bothering to verify dates on the confirmation email. That’s what the confirmation email is FOR!

    All that being said, in the end I believe the right thing happened, as clearly it was the booking site that made the first error, followed by the LW. The fact that they were unwilling to provide the call recording is smarmy, and for that reason I’m glad that they got stuck with the whole thing. Had that not happened, I might have felt more inclined to feel that they should split the pain, because IMO the LW and the booking site are equally at fault here.

  • bodega3

    I am not aware of the destination or the property, but over the holidays, many hotels have limited availability, so the OP lucked out being able to get this date changed.

  • emanon256

    Pre-paid non-refundable reservations do not have a normal and usual one night penalty for no shows.

  • bodega3

    This is actually a very common cancel policy for prepaid rates.

  • bodega3

    No show charges are for no shows, prepaid or even refundable rates.

  • Jennifer Finger

    Looks like some responsibility falls on both parties-Hotels.com got the date wrong, and the OP didn’t check her confirmation.

    As to whether the charges are fair, I’d say some probably are, but it’s situational. Part of it may just depend on why the guest in question didn’t show up on the scheduled day.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    There is a perception that the OTA gives better rates. I found that to be true exactly once. Afterwards I said, why bother?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    A lot of folks are placing blame on the OP. Certainly she should have reviewed the confirmation (because of course, in real life, every traveler checks the confirmation), but if she were to sue in small claims, and could prove Hotels_DOT_com made the error, the court would place 100% responsibility with Hotels_DOT_com

  • y_p_w

    I’ve stayed there before, but in the summer while on the way to Las Vegas from Bryce Canyon. It was almost empty and rates were excellent. The prime season there is winter for the Brian Head ski resort ski season. It’s probably not ski season in November and I’m guessing the rates are better.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve stayed at this place before and booked directly with them. Or at least with their booking subcontractor. (Webconnect at the time). Price was excellent.

  • y_p_w

    Most Hotels.com reservations are functionally the same as the direct reservations, with identical cancellation policies. Hotwire and Priceline specialize in prepaid (mostly opaque) bookings.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve actually stayed at this place before. Summer 2006. Sounded like a nice place even though I didn’t have too much information other than the location. Brian Head is really sleepy in summer, but business picks up during the winter for ski season. This place is actually a timeshare and not a hotel per se. It is not the original Cedar Breaks Lodge that was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood for the Union Pacific Railroad and built on the site of Cedar Breaks National Monument. That place burned down in the 60s.

    It was very nice. All their rooms are built in the “villa” concept with at least a mini kitchen and pots, dishes, and utensils provided. All bathrooms include a large whirlpool bath. The only issue I had was that I stayed in the interior room, which had no window. The place has no A/C and is heavily insulated for their prime winter season. I was sweating up a storm while the other room had a window that could open. It was probably 50 deg F outside, but inside I was probably at about 85 deg F.

    I stayed for $80 a night. It more than doubles during the ski season, and I suspect that availability will be poor because more units will be occupied by timeshare owners.

  • Lindabator

    NO – she didn’t show up for the 4 days, and noticed a month later – so she would HAVE to have paid for the 4 nights she missed. THAT is taking responsibility.

  • LongTimeObserver

    Yeah, and Hotels.com will be nice enough to charge him again!

  • Justin

    Customer “Unsupport”. Offshoring to a 3rd world country, with 3rd world English Comprehension. packaged into an American Name. 3 Hours later of hair pulling and nothing has been resolved.
    OP made a cardinal mistake of not verifying the booking once receiving an email confirmation. However, OP did offer to pay one day, though Hotels.com conceded the ultimate fault was their own.
    Happy ending.

  • Justin

    Customer “Unsupport”. Offshoring to a 3rd world country, with 3rd world English Comprehension. packaged into an American Name. 3 Hours later of hair pulling and nothing has been resolved.

    OP made a cardinal mistake of not verifying the booking once receiving an email confirmation. However, OP did offer to pay one day, though website conceded the ultimate fault was their own.

    Happy ending.

  • Justin


    A huge “Maybe”. Hotels_dot_com admitted fault. So a court sides with OP.

    If Hotels_dot_com denied fault and the existence of a recording, the OP had an untenable battle. No proof, no case, dead in the water.

  • wiseword

    You should have expanded your comment about off-shore call centers. They’re disastrous.”Shirley” does not actually speak or understand English.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Depends. (Lawyers standard answer)

    It depends on the totality of the circumstances. Let’s say that I have my Xmas vacation planned. I’m traveling from 12/24 to 1/5. The chances that I told the phone reservation 11/24 to 1/5 is extremely unlikely, as relatively few people have 6 weeks of vacation. I would then present evidence of my plane tickets, the fact that few can afford 6 weeks in a hotel, etc.

  • $16635417

    I’m just curious if this is this year? If it was solely a wrong month…but right dates of the month…it’s too early in November for the stay to have passed. Sounds like the month AND dates were incorrect.

  • foggybear

    I don’t think an offshore call center was to blame in this case. Expedia and its “partners” have US call centers, including one here in my hometown. They are one of the largest employers here, employing hundreds in the call center as well hundreds of other support personnel.

  • Annie M

    I agree with you – two errors and had Hotels.com not made the initial mistake, then the client not reading the confirmation wouldn’t have mattered. I will bet the client will make sure she reads confirmations carefully going forward. Why Hotels.com had to be contacted my Christopher is ridiculous – they should have done the correct thing right away.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Yea, the error commited by the operator she was talking to.

  • Cybrsk8r

    No comment.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Good thing I hate hotels.com

  • jpp42

    I use the web site booking.com (which doesn’t seem to get much mention here) for hotels in Asia because there are usually good reviews and info in English, and I’m familiar with the layout and function of the web site. The prices never seem poorer than the hotel directly, although I agree they aren’t always better. While many hotels have English language web sites (obviously the big international chains), sometimes they are hard to use or poorly done. Using these web sites gives reliable access to lesser known hotels that offer great value.

  • Texan78730

    Before retiring in 1999, I was in the travel industry for 37 years as a travel agent, an international tour manager, and on the cruise staff of small 100-passenger yacht-like ships. It is beyond me why travelers deal with sites such as hotels.com, travelocity.etc, et.al., rather than booking with a well-respected travel agency. These Internet sites are very likely staffed with people who have not been more than 50 miles from their home. Travel agents deal with airlines, hotels, etc. at levels not available to the general public. Customers are not put on long hold queues, and any difficulties encountered by them can be dealt with by a professional and not some nameless person in a call center. Establish a close relationship with a good travel agent and stop dealing with these Internet sites!