One room, two bills


Q: I recently booked a roundtrip flight on Emirates Airlines between Birmingham, England, and Johannesburg with a layover in Dubai. Emirates doesn’t fly from the United States to England, so I also bought separate tickets on Virgin Atlantic to fly from Miami to London. I intended to spend a couple of days in England before my flights on Emirates.

Before my trip, I called Emirates to see if it could book a room at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel while I was in Dubai. The reservation agent told me the price, but said that before she could confirm my reservation, she said she would need to contact the hotel, which would take a day.

I told the reservations agent that I was leaving for England soon and I asked her if there was enough time to get the hotel vouchers delivered to me. She didn’t think so, but advised me to call back the next day to see if the hotel was available.

So I called my son-in-law in England who was traveling from Birmingham to Dubai with us. He suggested trying Emirates Holidays in England to see if they could make a hotel booking immediately. He called me back a few minutes later to tell me that not only could Emirates Holidays England confirm availability on the spot, but he had in fact made reservations at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel for both himself and us and paid for these reservations with his credit card. The tickets would be delivered the next day in plenty of time for our departure.

We traveled to Dubai and Johannesburg and had a great time. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel was incredible.

The problems started when I returned home and found a charge for $1,180 on my American Express credit card statement. I thought they made a mistake, so I called the Emirates reservations number. I was assured that they would issue a credit, but they didn’t.

Finally, I decided to contact American Express to dispute the charge. Eventually, I heard back from and Emirates representative, who claimed that I had made a reservation and authorized the agent to charge my credit card – both of which were untrue. Emirates says it considers the case closed. Now I’m out $1,180 for a hotel room I never used. Can you help me?

— Gerald Kirby

A: No one should have to pay for the same hotel room twice, and any reasonable person would have sided with you.

But this being the travel industry, reason is running in short supply.

“The fact that you were traveling from the USA … was not mentioned to the booking agent or to the ticket agent that had also called,” a representative wrote to you in an e-mail denying your claim. “When she contacted you that morning to confirming (sic) the hotel package and the credit card charges and that you would be available for FedEx delivery. At this time, she offered to have you collect the voucher form our colleagues in London, but you insisted to have it before traveling from the States. She complied and sent the documents as you instructed.”

Never mind that this person doesn’t have a command of the English language. The fact is, someone doesn’t have a firm handle on the truth. Emirates seems to have come away with a completely different impression of the transaction than you did.

All of which really doesn’t matter.

Should you have to pay for a room twice? Of course not.

Even if you had intentionally double-booked yourself (I wouldn’t recommend it) you should have only paid for it once. Odds are that when the hotel noticed the error, it turned around and filled the room with another guest, anyway.

But Emirates, which acted as your agent, didn’t believe your story. Your only option was to appeal to American Express.

You had several things going for you. First, you had evidence of a duplicate reservation, which suggests that you weren’t trying to manipulate the system. You didn’t sign for the overnight package, which would have implied you had requested the hotel vouchers. And you spoke with a reservations agent who assured you that your account would be credited.

I think you would have won this case on its merits. But after I brought the issue to American Express’ attention, it promptly refunded your money.