Cancellation terms, fees can be confusing

Question: I recently booked a hotel room in New Orleans and had an unusual experience. We used Booking.com to make what we thought was a changeable reservation for a Monday and Tuesday night at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.

There was nothing on the Booking.com website to indicate that a three-day notice was required to cancel our reservation. Also, there was nothing indicating it would cost us almost $40 extra per day for parking at this property.

We would have never chosen the Bourbon Orleans if this had been made known to us.

We contacted Booking.com and they canceled the reservation on Sunday night. But Booking.com refuses to return our deposit. What’s more, it has charged our credit card for $383— that’s more than the $338 on the reservation.

Prior to retirement I traveled nearly 100 nights a year and have dealt with hundreds of hotels. I’ve never encountered such a dishonest, deceptive and unethical company in the travel business. Any help you can give us would be appreciated.

— Bob McIntyre, San Antonio, Texas

Answer: Your online travel agent, Booking.com, should have disclosed the cancellation terms and the parking fees when you reserved your room. I reviewed the Bourbon listing on Booking.com after wrapping up this case, and found that both the parking charges and the cancellation terms were listed. Sorta.

The parking fee is clearly disclosed on the first page. However, the cancellation terms vary, based on your room type. It’s possible that Booking.com could have been clearer with you about your ability to cancel, but it’s difficult to know for certain.

By the way, you are not required to park your car at the hotel. From the looks of it, there’s plenty of available parking nearby, which may have been cheaper.

If Booking.com said you would get a refund, then you should have received a full $338 credit— not a charge for $383. I’m not sure what accounted for the extra $45. Maybe they also charged you for a car you never parked in their garage?

It looks as if you got your wires crossed between Booking.com and the hotel. Since you made your reservation through an online travel agent, it would be your first point of contact in resolving this problem. As far as I can tell, the Bourbon Orleans was just enforcing its cancellation policy.

If Booking.com couldn’t help you, then you might have also been able to dispute this charge on your credit card.

Fortunately, that would be unnecessary. I contacted Booking.com several times on your behalf. At first it promised to investigate your claim, but ultimately referred you back to the hotel, which denied your refund. After a second inquiry, Booking.com offered you a full refund.

Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)." He’s also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. Email him at chris@elliott.org.

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