Hotel's double charge results in overdraft fees

11/07/2010 1:00 AM

11/07/2010 1:01 AM

Q: I booked a hotel room at the Hampton Inn Atlanta-Buckhead in Atlanta earlier this year. I paid a special online rate of $96 for one night. A few days later, I discovered that I had been charged for the room again.

This caused my account to be overdrawn and I incurred a $35 overdraft fee. I called the hotel immediately and was told they would investigate and that I would receive a call back later that day. I received no such call, so I tried to call the hotel several times but could reach no one.

I called the Hilton VIP hotline, since I am an HHonors Diamond VIP member, and they said they spoke to the manager at the local hotel and they were working on it. They told me I would be contacted. I was not.

I wrote to Hampton Inn and Hilton through its website. In the meantime, another purchase I had made before finding out about this charge posted, so I incurred yet another $35 overdraft fee. I finally received an e-mail from Hilton three months after my stay, promising a refund. It never came. Can you help me?— Alia Naffouj, Martinez, Ga.

A: Hampton Inn should have refunded the extra $96, plus the overdraft fees you incurred because of its error. I'm astounded the company — Hampton is part of the Hilton family of hotels — would do this to one of its best customers. What were they thinking?

Before we get to that, let's see if you missed anything when you tried to resolve this. You called as soon as you saw the charge — nice work. You also invoked your elite status. Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP membership is awarded to guests with 28 stays, 60 nights or 100,000 base points earned during any calendar year. That's Hilton's highest level of frequent guest. They should have offered a personal apology from the CEO at that level.

But as soon as you began playing phone tag with the hotel (and probably even sooner) I would have begun putting your grievance in writing. You need a paper trail that contains your original complaint, the hotel's response and all of the particulars of your charges. That can't be as easily conveyed by phone.

When your calls and e-mails were going unanswered, you could have begun appealing your case to someone higher up, ending with Hilton's executive office. A polite e-mail, along with a complete record of your correspondence, is far likelier to get a response than a series of voice mails left with a midlevel manager.

I asked Hilton to review your overcharges, and it ignored me, too. So I asked again. Seven months later, the hotel responded, apologizing for the billing problem and explaining that the person in charge of fixing it had left the company without addressing your grievance.

Hilton refunded the overcharge and your bank overdraft fees and offered you a free one-night stay at any Hampton Inn property.

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