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Be sure to get a cancellation number

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009, at 12:04 a.m.

I wrote to Hotels.com, asking it to adjust my charges. I received a letter from the hotel stating that they showed no record of the cancellation, and that we were listed as a "no-show" for the second night. Can you help me with this?— Elaine Farkas, Parma Heights, Ohio

A: If Hotels.com canceled your room, you shouldn't have been charged. But according to the online travel agency's records, your room wasn't canceled.

So what happened? I contacted Hotels.com to find out.

Its records show that you called to cancel the room and were advised that you were inside the property's cancellation window and would incur a one-night penalty if you canceled. In other words, you'd be charged whether you canceled or not.

"According to our notes the customer said she did not want to be charged and hung up before processing any modifications," says Hotels.com spokeswoman Maureen Carrig. "Because of this, no cancellation was processed and the booking remained intact."

You say you didn't understand every other word the representative told you, which in these days of offshore phone centers, is believable. They claim you hung up after getting bad news — a detail I probably would have left out of my complaint, too, if I were asking for help from The Travel Troubleshooter.

Not that I'm taking sides here.

When you cancel a reservation, be sure to get a cancellation number. That's your verification that you've actually given the room back to the hotel and that a refund is due. If you thought you had a cancellation, then you should have asked for that number.

If your online travel agency or hotel refuses a refund, you can always go back to your credit card company with the cancellation number and dispute your charge. That's usually an open-and-shut case in your favor. But it shouldn't come to that, because if you cancel and a refund is due, a hotel will do the right thing.

How do you avoid a misunderstanding with a foreign call center? My best advice is to not deal with the call center at all. Many online travel agencies allow you to cancel or change your reservations electronically, which eliminate the likelihood of crossed wires.

This is a difficult case, from my point of view. If the terms were disclosed and a representative told you that you would be charged two nights, then you weren't entitled to a refund. However, if you were left with the impression that you'd canceled your room and would get a refund, then Hotels.com should give you a refund.

As a "goodwill gesture" Hotels.com offered you a $114 credit, which you accepted.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

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