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 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 and to the W Hotel, 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 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 But since you didn’t keep your records, it’s difficult to say exactly what was going on.

Your case underscores the importance of keeping good records when you act as your own travel agent. But let’s take one more step back. Given your situation, I think you might have benefited from using a travel agent. If you have mobility problems, an agent won’t just ensure that you’re staying at the right hotel, but also in the right room. Hotels often have larger, handicapped-accessible rooms that are available at no extra charge.

You can find a competent agent through the American Society of Travel Agents site.

Although your case was resolved a while back, I’ve decided to write about it now because I’ve notice more travelers keeping lax records and self-booking when they probably shouldn’t.

Using a site like is perfectly fine when you’re comfortable booking online and you don’t have any special requests. But I’ve dealt with guests who’ve tried to request adjoining rooms, nonsmoking rooms and even specific rooms, online. That’s not what these sites were designed to do. They’re meant for the “average” guest with no special requirements.

Likewise, if you’re liable to lose documents or delete emails or type in the wrong name of the hotel (happens to all of us) then you may want to use an agent. Bottom line: I think this could have been avoided.

I asked to look into the $477 charge. It contacted you and offered a full refund.

(Photo: J. Yu ng/Flickr Creative Commons)

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Jennifer

    I am a wheelchair-user who used an agent to book a trip to see a Broadway show over Easter weekend. She saw me in person and we discussed my needs. It turns out that all she did was book the show tickets for me, and then gave me a recommendation for a hotel “as close as you can get” to the theatre, that had accessible rooms. She didn’t charge me any fees for working with her and that should’ve been a warning sign, I guess. It was my first time working with a travel agent. The hotel she suggested was not accessible at all, and nowhere near where I needed to be, which I found out by calling myself. There was a hotel practically right across the street from the theatre which was exactly what I needed. I had to tell her to try to get that hotel, and she said I was better off calling myself and telling them my situation.

    In short, using an agent to book accessible travel seems a waste of time to me. In fact, if other agents are like her, and do the same amount of work, what is the point of using them? She never charged, but did nothing, although she knew I was only slightly familiar with NYC and needed special accommodations and transportation (she told me to arrange that myself too). I’m glad this lady didn’t use an agent, as she might have had to pay a commission/fee for the level of service that I got, in which case using would have resulted in basically the same thing.

    I’m glad she got her money back and I hope she enjoyed her trip.

  • Raven

    Just another reason not to use websites like Cheaptickets. Often the “cheap” isn’t much and you’d be better off dealing with the hotel directly, especially if there are special needs involved.

  • Anna

    This is just bizarre!? A proper travel agent would not tell you to arrange practically everything yourself.

  • Monica

    I think you had an unfortunate incident. I hope that doesn’t taint your opinions of TAs forever. I’ve had excellent experiences with the ones I’ve used.

    We had an itinerary once that involved 15 people (9 adults, 6 kids) coming from Chicago & DC, all needing to arrive by plane in Orlando at approximately the same time, plus hotel and cruise. She was excellent. My family landed an hour before the other half of the family, had transportation from the airport to the hotel, the rooms were all side by side, and then we had transportation to the port, and finally from port to airport after the cruise. Our traveling party consisted of three different surnames, and she got all of them right.

    All we had to do was show up, which is exactly what should happen if you have a competent, professional TA.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    “I’m glad this lady didn’t use an agent, as she might have had to pay a commission/fee for the level of service that I got, in which case using would have resulted in basically the same thing.”- – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – —  —  – – – – –
    The OP in this article paid a commissionfee to  How do you think make money?  All of these online travel booking sites charges a commissionfeemarkupetc. or receive a discount or commission from the travel provider. 

  • Raven


  • ChrisY

    Why on earth is this posted on the article about the cancellation fee?

  • Elizabeth Smith

    Not all travel agents are like that.  If you had come to me, I would have booked everything, as well as contacted the hotel prior to booking to ensure that the property was wheelchair accessible.  Unfortunately you got a bad agent. I would have saved you time, aggravation, and maybe even money. Most agents are like me, I think. We work on behalf of you, the customer, and put your needs and preferences at the forefront of any travel research.

  • Elizabeth Smith

    A good travel agent saves you time and often money, and does all of the research, legwork, and booking of the trip. It really is a good idea to use one for special needs. That being said, if you prefer to plan and book your own trip, do your own research and legwork in advance of booking. Contact travel providers and properties directly and ask questions. My advice is also to NOT use third-party travel websites. You really do get what you pay for when you do use them. Book through a good travel agent or directly with the travel provider.

  • cjr001

    Because part of Christopher’s answer to the OP was to recommend a travel agent. So Jennifer tells of her own bad experience in dealing with a travel agent.

    I mean, I know it’s early in the morning for many of us, but it isn’t that difficult to put this set of 2 and 2 together.

  • DavidS

    Curious, not sure who billed her…Cheaptickets or the W. Each seemed to blame the other.

    Another story of someone being their own travel agent and an online website problem. Wonder if she saw the non-refundable statement on the screen if she would have booked it in the first place.

    Glad it worked out.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Call we old or outdated or traveler of the last century, but, me and my sisters preferred the TA services. When itineraries involve more than 2 destinations or 4 travelers, we always use the service of a good TA. Most of the times the availabilities of airlines are not there for our complicated itineraries but the TA can always call the airlines yield manager to add more seats for the wanted fares.
    Each, we do more than 4 Round the World trip without any problem with any Airlines, Car-Rent, Hotel and most of the times our TA arrange a customized tour/excursion so very flexible. May be it’s a miracle but I believe more that we have good TA and we know what we want. The TA fees worth the times consuming, hassles and much less error, we didn’t have one yet.

  • Tony A.

    Re: A good travel agents DOES ALL THE RESEARCH AND LEGWORK.

    Precisely! This is the main reason to go to a GOOD travel agent.
    Again and again, we have many people fooled that Online Travel Agents (OTAs) like Cheaptickets, Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity are TRAVEL AGENTS. No way. These OTAs are nothing but VENDING MACHINES in the internet. At most they can call themselves as AUTOMATED BOOKING agents.

    How in the world can these sites do any research and legwork? Most of their staff are from outsourced call centers in India and the Philippines – many of whom cannot afford to travel and obviously do not have any first-hand experience and thus, cannot provide any professional advise.

    So once again, people, if you book a flight or hotel from an ONLINE site, be prepared to do your own and complete homework. It’s time people understand that internet travel sites are nothing but pages of glossy brochures with NO SERVICE. Caveat Emptor.

  • Anna

    I don’t think this is “just” another story of online booking mishaps. Eh, how do I put it nicely… it sounds like this Mrs Saideman is perhaps not completely up to date with how online booking works in this century. She deleted files and e-mails – eek!?! She didn’t check the policies before cancelling her reservation – eek!?! I do think Elliott sometimes plays the “use a travel agent” card a little too soon, but in this case I agree.

  • Lindaj

    I usually do all my own travel arrangements, but on occasion have used a TA. They have aways been great and helpful. However, I have never been charged for their services.  They get commissions on the bookings from the various companies. Once thing I ALWAYS do when booking myself is to make a new folder in my email and give it the name of trip (ie; Ireland, Italy etc.). Then when the emails start going back and forth I put them into so it’s all in one place. This way it’s all in one place and you have the records from you to them and them to you.

  • DavidS

    I am always shocked that people expect top caliber service from online booking websites…aka Travel Vending Machines. (Tony A. …I like that!)

    If I want to paint a room in my house and go to wal-mart, I better know exactly what I want because the clerk at the store only knows how to stock it and ring it up…if I’m lucky.

    I can go to a large home center take a chance that someone knows what they are doing…or at least sounds like it, but they still rush me out and I may miss some details of their advice.

    I can go to a paint store or locally owned hardware store and find someone who will sit with me, advise me on the right type of paint, color, texture etc. They may even be willing to come to my house to check out what I plan to do and offer suggestions.

    I hear so many times that people want THAT type of travel service from their internet booking website (Travel Vending Machine) and THEN want it fixed when they mess it up themselves!!

  • ChrisY

     The OP was not about booking accessible travel.  The only thing Chris mentioned was to potentially consider a travel agent if you have trouble following instructions for whatever reason (not internet savvy, can’t read well, etc.). 

    Chris simply said:
    “Likewise, *if you’re liable to lose documents or delete emails or type in
    the wrong name of the hotel (happens to all of us)* then you may want to
    use an agent.”

    (emphasis mine).

    The follow up says:

    “In short, using an agent to book accessible travel seems a waste of time to me. ”

    It wasn’t about letting an agent book accessible travel.  The two have nothing to do with each other.  Sorry, I remain befuddled despite your snarky response.

  • Julie Northrop2009

    If all you were doing is wanting to book a hotel, why not contact the hotel directly?  The only time I have ever used a site like is when I needed to buy plane tickets.  If I want to stay in a hotel, I contact them directly.  There is one exception to that rule, and that was when I booked a flight to Orlando to stay in the Nickelodeon Hotel & Suites for a family vacation through Expedia.  Because I did both flight and hotel I got a nice discount and some extras at the hotel as well.

  • Kevin

    OK, try this:

    “Using a site like is perfectly fine when you’re
    comfortable booking online and you don’t have any special requests. But
    I’ve dealt with guests who’ve tried to request adjoining rooms,
    nonsmoking rooms and even specific rooms, online. That’s not what these
    sites were designed to do. They’re meant for the “average” guest with no
    special requirements.
    Likewise, if you’re liable to lose documents or delete emails or type
    in the wrong name of the hotel (happens to all of us) then you may want
    to use an agent. Bottom line: I think this could have been avoided.”

    While the OP didn’t specifically say she needed a particular type of room,  Chris’s point is that a travel agent could have helped her book a hotel that suited her needs and made sure it was the right one. I think it’s a relevant point–she was not an “average” guest with no special requirements, and as such, she might benefit from using a travel agent instead of

  • David

    Lax records are a problem but there’s an easy solution. Create a separate file folder with the name of your trip and store all the documents in it.  For things you should print, use the FREE program called “Cute PDF Writer” which allows you to convert documents normally printed (like confirmations, e-mails, etc) to a pdf and store them in the folder for future reference.  No more lost documents!  It’s super easy even for me, a tech ‘retard.’

  • LeeAnneClark

    Agree with every word.

  • ChrisY

    I agree with you (and Chris).  I was questioning a reply to the blog post, not Chris’s advice.

  • Tony A.

    I believe it’s called SELF SERVICE on the internet with an OPTION to “Blame the Vendor For Any Reason” also on the internet at sites like this.

  • cjr001

    The point is that often travel agents are recommended, but travel agents are also not infallible, and if you use one, you still may find yourself up a creek without a paddle.

    Much like how travel insurance is often suggested yet there are still stories of people having trouble getting companies to pay out for things that should be covered, it’s right to point out that there are times when a travel agent will screw up.

  • Jennifer

    I still would like to take the trip to NYC. Next time, I’ll know what to expect from a travel agent and hopefully I will get someone as helpful as you. Thank you.

  • Jennifer

    I’m sorry if my response didn’t seem appropriate to the original post, but I thought it was worth sharing my experience, as the OP and I both had mobility issues that affected our travel plans and we both require special hotel accommodations. I was simply saying that using an agent, in my case, still did not help me to secure the specific room type that I require. My conclusion was that using a travel agent, contrary to Mr. Elliott’s suggestion, was no more helpful in planning a trip for a mobility-impaired traveler than a third-party site. However, I have now discovered that perhaps I just had a bad agent, and perhaps his suggestion is worth another try.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Chris Elliott posted a link to the American Society of Travel Agents website in his article.  There’s a spot to “search for agents” by zip code.  There’s also an “Advanced Search” link under that option, which allows you to pull up a search based on areas of expertise.  One of those is “Disabled/Accessible”.  Happy travels!

  • Lindabator

    MOST agents are absolutely NOT like this!  I book accessible travel for my clients all the time — I BOOK, not send them off on their own.  And I book the correct room type, the correct transfer vans, correct cruise cabin, etc.  Next time, try asking the agent if they have booked accessible travel in the past.  If not, try elsewhere!  Once you find the right agent, it will all work out great.

  • Anna

    I think it was perfectly alright and certainly relevant for you to share your experience with travel agents in response to this post.

  • Joe Farrell

    You made the wrong reservation.  Ooops.  You are traveling on a once in a lifetime 50th anniversary trip and you try to save $10 a night by booking with  Horrible cancellation penalty.  Just horrible – yep you made a mistake.  They don’t care.  Ooops.  You made the mistake you need to live with the consequences of your cheapness..  .  this is one of them.  Sorry, I have no sympathy for you.  Forrest Gump was right . . .

  • Anna

    “…we always book a hotel as close as possible to Broadway in the theater district.” 

    It may have been a special occasion, but it does sound like she has successfully booked hotels before. Luck?

  • Linda Loudermilk Tomberlin

    This is awesome.  On the site Chris recommended, to find a good travel agent, I typed in my digits and searched for a local, certified, recommended agent.  Here in the DFW area, the agent with the most good reviews?  An agent who works for Travelocity! 

    So much for online sucking, huh?

  • Dixie

    Travel agents don’t make commissions on all their bookings. They may be limited by agency commission minimums for small trips or one-night hotel stays, or by providers such as airlines or Amtrak who pay no commission at all. 

  • Sales

    There is a major difference between a professional travel agent and many people who call themselves travel agents.  Jennifer apparently dealt with an order taker who did not do any research.  As far as booking with cheap tickets, buyer beware because you are signing away all rights when you click on the purchase buttom.

  • Traveling man

    Sounds like you got a newbie travel agent. Was she an ASTA agent as suggested above? I don’t know everything, but I listen and learn from anything. New York is a very difficult city to work with. I want near Times SQ, Rockefeller Center, Macy’s, etc. We pull out our maps, we call the local reps, we ask. Asking the hotel is our last resort until the room booking! Theyy want to sell the room, not necessarily give you the best location. I would have been happier if she did not get her money back. ASTA travel agents still do a better job than any computer can.

  • Meredith Putvin

    Preface this… I used to work for Starwood’s Reservation Call Center. I
    had the opportunity to stay in several of the NYC properties as part of
    site inspections. I’ve personal stay at the St Regis Club at the Essex
    House, The W Times Square, The W the Tuscany and the Sheraton Meadowlands just over the river.

    Yeah, all of the W Hotels would have been able to cancel those
    reservations up to 24 hrs prior to arrival at No charge, provided you
    are not using a rate that has special terms and conditions. If you are
    not familiar with the brand or the chain, at last count there were 4 W
    Hotels in NYC. So it is easy to make the mistake, like the lady in this

    Now, that being said, I went to see a Broadway show when I stayed at the
    Tuscany. The Doormen at the Times Square helping us flag a cab after
    the show. Soooo, being at Lex wasn’t a bad thing, she just wanted the
    convenience of walking back to the hotel. (Admittedly, I liked the rooms
    at Times Square better than Lexington.)