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Motel working on cancellation policies

  • Published Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.

Because of a death in my family that required me to travel to Oklahoma to attend the funeral, I called Days Inn and requested that my reservation be canceled. I was informed that online reservations could not be canceled and that my credit card would be charged — the reason for the cancellation request notwithstanding.

I sent an e-mail to the corporate office using the Web site's "Contact Us" feature, requesting a review. My Amex card was charged a few days later, and I received a call from a Days Inn customer service agent shortly after that, who informed me that nothing could be done to reverse the charge. Can you help me get a refund?— Art Wallace, Miami Beach, Fla.

A: Days Inn should have given you a refund, or at least allowed you to apply your $415 credit toward a future stay. But its "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude just doesn't work for me.

Days Inn should have clearly disclosed that the online rate you were quoted was nonrefundable. I'm sure if you went back to the booking screen, you would see the terms. But were they adequately disclosed? If you learned about them for the first time when you called Days Inn to cancel, the answer is "no."

Even airlines, which have some of the most restrictive and customer-hostile policies in the travel industry, allow you to rebook another flight when you cancel. And air carriers frequently offer full refunds when there's a death in the family. Why is Days Inn being so difficult?

I believe the answer is that Days Inn franchisees don't want to give the money back. And why should they? From the hotel owners' perspective, they offered a lower rate in exchange for a commitment from you to show up on the day of your reservation. If you don't check in, they get to keep the money. You're essentially stuck between Days Inn corporate and a group of independent owners. Not a very good place to be, if you ask me.

Maybe it's time to clarify some of Days Inn's refund rules. When a room is booked online, can it be canceled — and if so, under what circumstances? Can the hotel issue credit that can be reused later, like an airline?

You might have complained to someone higher up at Days Inn, which is owned by Wyndham Worldwide. But in this case, I think that applying steady pressure by way of the Better Business Bureau and South Carolina's attorney general (whom you should have copied on your correspondence) you might have shaken something loose.

Contacting me wasn't a bad idea, either. I got in touch with the corporate Days Inn office and asked it to review your case. The company apologized for the difficulty you had in making a cancellation and agreed to a full refund. Days Inn is also working to modify its policies to make it easier for customers to deal with an unforeseen cancellation.

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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