No room on Travelocity


Q: I booked a one-week to Vienna, Austria, through Travelocity at the beginning of October for Christmas week. Since I’ve been burned before by the online booking process, I took extra pains to ensure that the order for the flight and hotel was completed copasetic before clicking the execution of the order through credit card payment.

Everything appeared to be just fine – the order went through, confirmations came electronically, and my papers were sent by Travelocity right away. Supposedly, we were set for everything and could look forward to leaving for a wonderful Vienna holiday on Christmas Eve.

But when I looked at the documents two days before we were scheduled to leave, I noticed that they didn’t have the address for the hotel. So I called Travelocity’s customer information number to get it. I went through the voice-activated promptings at the start of the call, which asked for my confirmation number and once again declared that flight and hotel were confirmed. When I finally got through to a service representative, we started walking through the order and she said that the reason I didn’t have an address for the hotel was because I had never executed the order.

Right there I knew things were going to go downhill.

After almost an hour on the phone, and only because I was able to retrieve my credit card billing and could read it back to her, the Travelocity representative finally stopped playing the game of blaming the customer for the screw-up. At this point, it was clear even to her that Travelocity had created a huge problem for both of us. (That doesn’t mean that I got any kind of apology, or offer even to work to secure me a room right away, however.) I was told that I needed to fax in a variety of documents, including the email confirmation of the order, the credit card bill, and the manifest that came with the ticket shipment. Never mind that it was by now after 7 p.m. and that most people don’t have fax machines in their homes. I was told I could do it in the morning, but that was clearly passing the buck plus the clock was ticking down to our supposed departure.

I drove into the office and faxed all the documentation to Travelocity, then drove home and waited for the promised return call. Nothing came. At half past midnight, I went to bed but didn’t sleep very well. I got up at 5:30 a.m. and called Travelocity back to see how things were coming along. I found out that the night supervisor I had faxed the documents to didn’t just go home – he had had also locked the paperwork up in his filing cabinet. I was told that he would be back in at 3:30 p.m. – more than 24 hours before our scheduled departure.

The representative I spoke with seemed surprised that I would find that unacceptable and I asked what I needed to do to get some action now. I was told I could refax the documents. I asked that if I did that, could I get the courtesy of a return call from the supervisor on hand right away so that I would know that documents had been received, because I really needed some decent sleep. I was promised that this would be no problem.

So I went in again to the office and refaxed the paperwork, and then waited for the call. After an hour, I called to find out why I was left hanging again. I was lectured that the supervisor was very busy and hadn’t had time to even go back to the fax machine and that I would just have to be patient. So I waited several more hours. By then my traveling companion had come to work and wanted to know how we were making out. Since I was by now too smoked to deal with this anymore, I handed it off to her to continue.

After repeated phone calls through the day (only once did Travelocity call us, despite numerous promises), it was finally determined that Travelocity’s connection with the hotel booking had goofed somehow, which meant they were almost willing to accept responsibility for the situation. They also told us that our hotel in Vienna were completely booked, and so were all the other hotels. They put us on to a hotel reservation service outside of their system, who found what she said was the last hotel in Vienna with rooms.

You can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of booking into a hotel that apparently no one else wanted. But we took the room. At this point, yet another Travelocity representative said that she would “try” to get us our money back for the paid-for hotel room that we never received. We made it clear that “trying” wasn’t good enough – we expected to be fully reimbursed right away. After more prodding, we were told that we would see the credit on the card in two to three business days.

So we went to Vienna. And our hotel room was robbed.

When we got back a full week later, I checked with my credit card company about the credit for the paid room. Nothing was there. We called this morning, and were told that we needed to submit a stack of paperwork in order to get the refund. We told them that this was completely inconsistent with what we were told before we left, otherwise we would have done that before the trip. Then the representative sort of got muddled and confused, but wouldn’t pass the call on to a supervisor.

I’ve had it with Travelocity. Not once in this entire process have they admitted or taken any responsibility for this nightmare, nor have they at any point apologized. Somewhere at the end of the sorting-out before we left, we were told that we would receive vouchers at $200 each for future travel, for our “trouble.” They haven’t arrived yet either. I’m out over $900 for a room I never got, and Travelocity is still putting the burden of getting the money back on us. There has been no consistency between any of the representatives we have spoken with there, nor have they ever made good on one promise (except for the one return call).

Can you help?

— Ashton Smith

A: What a nightmare. Normally, when you receive a confirmation and your credit-card transaction is processed, it’s safe to assume that you actually have the room you booked. But in this age of electronic reservations, what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

First, I should congratulate you on selecting Vienna as a destination to spend Christmas. As someone who lived in Vienna for 16 years, I can tell you that there’s no place I’d rather be for Christmas. Unless, of course, someone is breaking into my hotel room and stealing my valuables. That’s no fun.

“Apparently there was a site problem over the holidays,” Travelocity spokeswoman Judy Haveson told me. “That has been fixed, and we are horrified that this happened to these people. Especially since they got robbed.”

There you go – Travelocity is taking responsibility for what happened. Finally.

So what could you have done to keep this from happening? Here’s the problem: You did almost everything you could. You double-checked your reservation, made sure your credit-card transaction went through and called to confirm your itinerary. You did everything except examine the actual itinerary when you received it. If you’d done that, you would have seen the hotel you were staying in had no name, and, in fact, didn’t exist. It’s easy to assume that your paper itinerary is just a copy of what you saw online. But it’s not always a valid assumption.

I’m steamed at Travelocity, too. If it knew it had a problem over the holidays, then why all the foot-dragging? Why didn’t it offer you a prompt refund instead of waiting and forcing me to get involved in this embarrassing incident? I can only speculate that since it happened at a time when a lot of people were out of the office, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. The folks working on Christmas Eve, no matter how dedicated they are to their company, probably wished they could be home with their families.

To its credit, Travelocity acted quickly to fix the problem after I intervened. It promptly refunded your money and issued you and your companion a $200 credit for future travel. I think that’s a reasonable resolution. I’m just sorry you had to wait so long and jump through so many hoops to get it.