Billing error leads to maddening runaround

  • By Christopher Elliott
  • Friday, February 24, 2012 5:36pm
  • Life

Question: I recently booked a two-night stay at the Hotel am Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria, through the Accor website. I was supposed to prepay $135 per night, but somehow, I made two reservations. My card was charged twice for one stay.

I called Accor’s A-Club hotel loyalty program phone number, since I’m a frequent Accor customer. They said there was nothing they could do, and asked me to call the Accor help line. Accor told me I needed to contact the hotel directly.

A representative in the hotel’s reservation department told me that since the booking was booked through Accor, there was nothing they could do as far as refunding the duplicate booking. I was sent back to Accor, which sent me back to the hotel again. Finally, the Hotel am Konzerthaus told me they would “try” to issue a refund for the duplicate booking.

I received an email reply from Accor customer service this morning saying they investigated and found that the hotel had refunded my money last week. I checked my bank account this morning and saw two duplicate charges for $270 each and a random refund of $81, all dated this morning.

I am absolutely at my wits’ end dealing with Accor, the hotel, several unanswered emails, and no ability to actually speak with anyone. Can you help?

Michael Roessle, New York

Answer: Talk about getting a runaround. Accor should have offered a way to report your double booking through its website and given you a prompt refund when you pointed out the problem.

It’s not entirely clear how you ended up with two prepaid rooms. Maybe you accidentally clicked “buy” twice or refreshed your Web browser, triggering the extra purchase. Accor took the money out of your credit card account almost immediately, and it should have figured out a way to return it quickly, too.

What makes this even more maddening is that you are a frequent guest. The A-Club should have been empowered to fix this problem on your behalf instead of passing you off to the main help line. But even when it did send you to another department, the reservationists with whom you spoke should have been able to see your status and to fix the problem — even if it meant they would have to place several calls to the hotel.

Incidentally, none of this would have happened if you’d booked through a travel agent. Even if a travel professional had mistakenly bought two rooms, you’d have someone to turn to for getting this error corrected.

I believe part of your problem is European bureaucracy, under which everyone has a carefully defined role to play. The loyalty desk couldn’t help you because they can only help with award redemption.

Accor’s help desk must defer to the hotel because it’s a nonrefundable, prepaid rate, and so forth. Having spent the first 16 years of my life in Europe, I can certainly understand the hotel’s point of view. But it makes no sense for the customer.

I would have advised you to appeal to an executive, but a review of your correspondence shows you tried that, too. So I contacted Accor on your behalf. You received a call from the hotel, which promised to refunded the balance of your money and deposit 40 euros worth of loyalty points into your A-Club account to make up for the trouble.

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 celliott@ngs.org.

&Copy; 2012 Christopher Elliott/Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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