By Christopher Elliott
Question: I was scheduled to attend a veterinary dental seminar in Colorado a few months ago. Somehow, I accidentally booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Colorado Springs for an entire month — February 16 through March 16 — and I didn’t realize the mistake until the day before my departure.
I called the hotel to let them know I had made the error. They said that a refund would be at the discretion of the manager and that they would leave her a note, and we would discuss it when I arrived.
Unfortunately, that day at work I was severely bitten on my right hand by a dog. I had to go to the ER after work and the doctor told me I had to cancel my trip for the next day, as I would most likely need surgery.
I called the Holiday Inn that evening to tell them that I would not be able to make it and asked the office manager to return my call to discuss the error I had made.
She did call and left me a message saying that I would be charged for the entire 30 days — $2,305 — because I had made a noncancellable, nonrefundable reservation. I have always offered to pay for the three nights that I intended to stay.
I have disputed the charge via my credit card and have also repeatedly contacted the guest relations department. I know that I made the mistake, even though I have no idea how I did it. I just feel that this is wrong. Thanks for any help you can give me.
Amy Rossi, Seattle
Answer: This is one of the strangest cases I’ve ever heard of. Not just being bitten by a dog before a dental seminar, but also being charged two grand for a room you never used.
Let’s break this problem down into its components. Holiday Inn, like many hotels, now offers some nonrefundable rooms. Terms are clearly disclosed, whether you’re booking through an online agency or the Holiday Inn site. So before you made the reservation, you should have been informed that you’d be charged, whether you showed up or not.
Keying in the wrong dates is an easy mistake to make. I’ve done it a time or two. Those helpful online calendars that allow you to click on your desired date can sometimes get slippery, depending on which browser you’re using.
That’s why you have to double- and triple-check the dates, first when you make the reservation, then when you pay and then when you receive the confirmation.
I think you may have skipped a step or two. That’s perfectly understandable, but Holiday Inn is right. Technically, it can charge you $2,305.
I guess the question is, should they charge you $2,305?
Had you made it to Colorado Springs, then your request for a refund might be difficult to grant. But since you couldn’t travel because of circumstances beyond your control, I think the hotel should have shown some leniency.
After all, when a hotel can’t accommodate you for reasons beyond its control, like severe weather, we’re asked to be understanding. Shouldn’t it be, too?
I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf. It agreed to refund you for all but two of the nights.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. He’s also the author of “Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, www.elliott.org or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
&Copy; 2012 Christopher Elliott/Tribune Media Services, Inc.