I want a refund for my canceled hotel room

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When Meldra Driscoll tries to check in at the DoubleTree, she gets some bad news: Her reservation’s been canceled. So why is her online travel agency keeping her money?

Question: I booked a room at the DoubleTree hotel in Vancouver, Washington, through Hotwire, for our children’s and grandchildren’s stay over Thanksgiving.

We received a confirmation of the reservation for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights for a total of $272. We had no further communication with Hotwire.

When our children arrived at 10 p.m. with their kids — 7-month-old twins and a 2-year-old — they were told that the reservation had been canceled by Hotwire.

I didn’t get any message or email from Hotwire saying that it was canceling my reservation. The kids were all stranded at the DoubleTree. That was frustrating and embarrassing.

I called the customer-service line three times that night. None of the representatives knew why the reservation had been canceled. They just said that they would call us back. But they never did.
This was horrible customer service, and our children were stranded. We had to pay a much higher rate for a new reservation at the DoubleTree.

I’d like a full refund from Hotwire in the amount of $272, the amount we reserved the hotel for. — Meldra Driscoll, Vancouver, Wash.

Answer: Hotwire shouldn’t have canceled your hotel reservation. And if it did, it should have at least told you about it, so you could make alternate plans. And even if it didn’t tell you, Hotwire shouldn’t be able to keep your money.

So how did you get yourself cornered like this? Well, Hotwire’s discounted “Hot Rates” rooms are completely nonrefundable. I checked with Hotwire, and it says your initial booking was flagged by its fraud department, which means that your card was charged but the reservation was on “hold” pending a verification.

“There are a variety of things that can cause a booking to be flagged with fraud,” a Hotwire spokeswoman told me. “In this instance, there were several reasons, including an unregistered cellphone number.”

Hotwire’s fraud team tried to contact you to validate the transaction, but according to its records, the phone number associated with the booking did not have voice mail set up.

“Based on this, the transaction was canceled and refunded as fraud protection for the credit card holder,” the Hotwire rep told me, adding that the company was “very sorry” for what happened.
So why didn’t the refund show up on your account?

Refunds can take time to process. Although yours was made on Nov. 25, it might not have shown up on your account until a few weeks later, which is why you might have believed Hotwire was actually keeping your money.

How could you have prevented this? According to Hotwire, it would have been as simple as setting up your voice mail. But I’m not sure if that would have prevented it. Fine-tuning Hotwire’s fraud-detection algorithm might be another way to make sure your kids don’t end up homeless on Thanksgiving.

Hotwire also could have tried to find a room for your family when you were turned away. Good thing there was still room at the DoubleTree for them.

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 our help forum.

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  • Blamona

    How can you prevent this? Book direct!

  • Michael__K

    Am I following this correctly? Hotwire had the guest’s money and cancelled the reservation before it had enough time to process a refund? And no notice was sent to the email address that received the reservation confirmation, and even Hotwire’s own call center agents did not know why the reservation was cancelled?

    If so, and if she had to pay a much higher rate for a new reservation, why isn’t she owed the difference between the rate she paid and the non-refundable $272 amount that Hotwire was still holding when her family tried to checkin?

  • Ben

    The consumer messed up by not being contactable. Hotwire screwed up by not providing useful, actionable, timely information to the consumer. I this situation I side with the consumer, Hotwire ought to handle this sort of situation much better.

  • DChamp56

    The second that Hotwire cancelled the reservation, the money should have been back in the OP’s credit card account.

  • She was contactable by email, she received a confirmation. They shouldn’t rely solely on one method of communication, when they have at least one other.

  • HulkSmash

    How to avoid this? Avoid Hotwire! If they can’t be bothered to help their stranded clients, they are the worst thing ever.

  • Sharon

    This is somewhat scary for me! I have a U.S. cellphone (prepaid version with Tracfone) for the brief periods of time we are in the U.S., but purposely do not have VM on it after being told by Tracfone that it could not be altered once set up. Since our permanent residence is in Europe. I chose to not set up VM for our U.S. phone as the Tracfone cannot be used outside the U.S. If Hotwire did not bother contacting me via email about a questionable reservation, I could be in the same position as Ms. Driscoll (although I no longer use PL or HW regularly).

  • The Original Joe S

    You try to go “cheap”, you get what you paid for. As Blamona wrote, book directly with the establishment.
    Hotwire had her e-mail address? They are at fault; they didn’t do their job.

  • Lindabator

    or check with the hotel – always a good idea if booking 3rd party

  • Lindabator

    we don’t know if she had another email come in – or if it went to spam. But not giving them a valid phone (a second number, like home or work), not much a vendor can do.

  • pauletteb

    The list of people/companies that have my cell number is very short. Hotwire is definitely not on it.

  • Alan Gore

    Find a good hotel loyalty program, picking one based on where you stay most often and what kind of room you like there, and book direct. Having status will help you over most reservation problems. This problems seems to have originated at the OTA itself, but going direct with status gives you the best assurance of being notified if something like an oversell or a local disaster happens at the hotel.

  • KanExplore

    I agree. I give that out sparingly. The whole thing smells. I think Hotwire handled it poorly at several stages.

  • Alan Gore

    Hotwire should have emailed her that her phone number was invalid according to some criterion she was unaware of. If it’s the number she is used to being contacted on, she assumed they would call her.

  • just me

    “There are a variety of things that can cause a booking to be flagged with fraud,” a Hotwire spokeswoman told me. “In this instance, there were several reasons, including an unregistered cellphone number.”

    Hotwire’s fraud team tried to contact you to validate the transaction, but according to its records, the phone number associated with the booking did not have voice mail set up.

    “Based on this, the transaction was canceled and refunded as fraud protection for the credit card holder,” the Hotwire rep told me, adding that the company was “very sorry” for what happened.
    +++++++++++++++
    Bottom line – no voice-mail setup. What a hogwash. How these people can even make up such demented excuses. How such people get hired to “fraud departments” – they are frauds!

  • just me

    “Consumer messed up…” Really – get a life please.
    I am deeply offended by your pronouncements. Next time you’ll say – that the consumer should have worn pink underwear or else the reservation gets canceled.

  • cscasi

    Hotwire did not say the phone was invalid. They said it was “unregistered” (whatever that meant. Still, Hotwire’s Fraud Team called the phone number, got no answer and without voice mail being set up on it could not leave her a message. Still, they should have sent her an email to the email address used to book the reservation.

  • cscasi

    Correct. The issue is the she did not answer her phone when the Fraud Team called about the reservation and she did not have voice mail set up on it so a message could have been left.
    Still, if as mentioned before, the charge went through on her credit card, why hold it up? It it had become a contested issue, her bank that issued the card would have handled it for her whens he reported the fraudulent use (which there was none in this case).

  • cscasi

    But, she gave Hotwire her cell number in the reservation.

  • judyserienagy

    The “reason” HotWire is stating for their action is just plain baloney. No voicemail on her phone? Do their rules state that your reservation will be cancelled if they can’t leave you a voicemail? Ridiculous. Why didn’t they email her with their questions? She made the res online, therefore she should expect to receive electronic communications. I know that fraud and security are the latest buzzwords for messing with the customers, but this is one of the lamest one I’ve ever heard. HotWire should refund ALL her costs, just for the inconvenience. If people insist on booking with these third party OTAs, they need to confirm directly with the hotel.

  • Ben

    Even if 99.9% of reservations are accomplished successfully without a hitch, there are always edge cases where the travel agent or hotel will need to get in touch with the customer and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the consumer to provide a working number where they can be reached in such an event.

    So many cases on this site wouldn’t be a problem if the company had just gotten in touch with the consumer as soon as an issue appeared, but that can’t be done if a consumer doesn’t provide a way to be contacted.

    While I ultimately sided with the customer in this case, I don’t think they’re entirely blameless and I stand by my statement that they should have provided a working phone number.

  • LZ126

    Nice pic, but wrong Vancouver! :-)