Q: I booked a room for four days at the Tremont Plaza in Baltimore for four days to attend a conference. I made the reservation through Hotel.com on an American Express card which is a joint account with my partner. In other words, same card, same number – same account.
When we checked in at the Tremont about 9 p.m. on a Sunday, the women at the front desk – who were incredibly hostile – told us that they did not have a reservation in my name. I asked them if it was held in my partner’s name and they said no. After some strong-arming by my partner, who was a trial lawyer, they found us a room.
We were charged twice – once on my partner’s account for four nights, plus some restaurant charges, and once on my card, just for four nights (even although the Tremont said I did not have a reservation). I asked American Express to investigate and they refunded the amount on my card, for a four-night hotel stay.
Now the clincher: Hotels.com said I owed $152 for one night because the Tremont said I never showed up. Well, it’s true that I was in the hotel for four days – but the bill was paid under my partner’s name using the same American Express card. The Tremont should not be paid for this. What to do?
— Veronica St. Claire
A: Let me get my bias out of the way right up front: Cancellation fees like the ones you were charged are wrong – anytime. They’re a money-grab by a hotel industry looking for an easy way to turn a profit. The lodging business would be better off without these onerous charges that needlessly punish travelers.
How did you get hit with for an extra $152 bill? It was a misunderstanding, according to Hotels.com. “It appears that Ms. St. Claire actually went to the wrong hotel,” Andy Downs, a consumer-relations manager, told me. Seems you were originally booked at the Tremont Hotel in Baltimore at 8 East Pleasant Street, says Downs.
But your partner’s reservation was at the Tremont Plaza Hotel at 222 St. Paul Place.
“It happens quite often,” says Maxine McDougle, a manager at the Tremont Plaza Hotel. “Guests think they’re staying at one hotel when they’re actually at the other. Our front-desk staff is trained to handle that. We check our computers and if they aren’t there, we tell them to try the other hotel.”
There are three players who need to unravel this mess together. Hotels.com, which has already paid your no-show fee to the property, will only reverse your transaction if the Tremont authorizes it. The second party, American Express has ruled in favor of Hotels.com regarding the no-show fee – even though it sided with you on the first erroneous billing.
So a happy ending is up to the Tremont – the third, and maybe the most important, player. McDougle told me your problem is easy to fix, since both hotels have the same owner. Once the Tremont is alerted to the double-booking, it would adjust your bill (even after your stay). Problem solved.
The Tremont isn’t the only hotel that imposes a cancellation fee, plus the equivalent of one night’s stay, as a penalty for not honoring a reservation. But that doesn’t make it right. If the car rental business can steer clear of these awful fees, then so can the hotel industry. It’s just that simple.
The rude front-desk workers who greeted you at the Tremont must have not paid attention during their training. Otherwise they would have known to ask which hotel you were supposed to be staying at. That’s something the hotel ought to take a look at, too.
Incidentally, it would have been nice if the federal government, or at least the state of Maryland, would address the issue of double-booking. Title 15 of Maryland’s Code, which deals with lodging establishments, says plenty about your ability to pay for a room, but not whether you ought to pay for a room you haven’t used. It should.
You might have taken this matter up with the hotel first, not your credit card. One call might have cleared everything up rather than trigger a protracted dispute involving three different companies (and that’s not including me). Fighting a bill through your credit-card company is a last resort, not your first choice for fixing a trip.
Also, it would help to make a printout of the hotel’s full name with directions that Hotels.com offers on its site – it would have taken you straight to the correct Tremont, where a room was waiting for you.