Cancellation number isn't enough

When I arrived, the New Orleans Police Department had the entire block closed off. I immediately called the hotel and told a manager I couldn't access the hotel. He said he did not know when the blockade would be lifted and couldn't help get my car or luggage to the hotel.

He couldn't cancel my reservation because I had made it through Holiday Inn's central reservations number. After several more attempts to reach the hotel, he agreed to help me cancel my reservation. I stayed at another hotel that night.

Three days later, a $113 charge appeared on my credit card from the Holiday Inn. I disputed the charge, but they told me I couldn't get a refund because I could not prove that they refused me the room. When I called guest relations they said they needed a cancellation number before they would consider a refund. Otherwise the hotel itself would need to reverse the charge. When I call the hotel, I get only voicemail. Can you help?— Gabriel Medina, Elk Grove, Calif.

A: If a hotel representative says your reservation is canceled, you shouldn't be charged for your stay.

But a review of your correspondence raises a few red flags. First, a manager told you that it was impossible for him to cancel a reservation made through Holiday Inn's 800 number. Then, a few minutes later, the same manager agrees to "help" you cancel the reservation.

I would assume that "helping" you means your reservation is officially canceled, but what if he just looked into it and then decided it couldn't be done, and left your original reservation intact? Since Holiday Inn didn't have a cancellation number, it probably means there was no cancellation.

Here's what you did right: You noted the name of the manager with whom you spoke. You followed up with Holiday Inn, and you were persistent but polite.

Here's what you overlooked: You should have called the central reservations number and asked for a cancellation number. If they refused to give you a number, you should have given a representative the name of the manager you spoke with. I would have followed up with the manager and not let Holiday Inn off the hook until you had a number.

But getting a number isn't enough. Instead of continuing to call Holiday Inn, I would have sent it a short, cordial e-mail asking for a verification of your cancellation in writing. If you send an e-mail through a hotel company's Web site, you'll typically receive a meaningful answer in a matter of days, if not hours.

I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf. It reviewed your case and apologized for the way in which your refund was handled. "Clearly the inability to access the hotel was beyond your control, and in as such, you should be relieved of the $113 charge you have received," a representative wrote to you in a letter. You're getting your $113 back.