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Travel Troubleshooter: Man should have been 'walked' to hotel

  • Published Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010, at 12:38 a.m.

Q: : Last year, my husband, Juan, traveled to Valencia, Spain. I made his hotel reservations through a travel agency.

When he tried to check in at Melia Rey Don Jaime, it did not have a room for him. He was moved to the Confortel. The rate at the Confortel was nearly three times more than his original reservation. He was charged an extra $1,034.

Juan was told to call the reservation company, Utell, which promised to straighten this out when he returned home. After he came back to the states, he submitted his receipts to Utell.

But Utell recently told me that the hotel property is no longer with their company and that I would have to deal with the hotel in Spain on my own to get a refund. Can you please help me?— Olivia Suarez, Albuquerque, N.M.

A: Your husband shouldn't have had to pay the difference between the hotel he was supposed to stay in, and the one he was sent to.

If the Melia Rey Don Jaime was overbooked, then the commonly accepted hotel industry practice is to "walk" you to a comparable hotel. Most hotels will cover any rate difference, which means you would only have to pay the rate you were quoted by the first hotel. It is also supposed to reimburse you for transportation expenses to the new hotel, plus a phone call.

It's unclear why that didn't happen, or how Utell eventually got involved. If the Melia Rey Don Jaime didn't "walk" your husband, he should have phoned your travel agent, who could have applied some pressure to the hotel to honor the reservation at another hotel.

Once you asked Utell for help, it should have punted this back to your agent or your hotel to sort the problem out. Again, it's unclear why that didn't happen, and why you were left to negotiate directly with the hotel. I think the time to have done that was when your husband was standing at the check-in desk, without a room. That's when issues like payment need to get sorted out — not weeks after you've returned home.

Since Utell promised to help you, I contacted the company on your behalf. It sent you a check for $1,034.

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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