Q: I recently booked a hotel in Prague through Expedia. While perusing the hotels online, I saw an advertisement for an unpublished rate hotel. I clicked the advertisement and was presented with three four-star hotels from which to choose.
Based on the amenities and price, I chose the four-star hotel that was offered for $58 a night. I paid for the three rooms and then was shown the hotel name and class.
The class was only three-star. I couldn't believe it.
Thankfully, I made screen captures of the offer and the result. I immediately sent an email to Expedia's customer service department, explaining what happened. It replied with a short notice saying all sales were final. I then replied that this was not an issue of wanting money back or a change, but of getting what I paid for, namely: a four-star hotel.
The next response I received was infuriating. I was told Expedia was unable to verify the change in star rating. I then responded with the screen shots. In each instance, I was told to call in to discuss the matter.
No sir, I want this on the record.
I am very unhappy at the moment. I work on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, and I take my vacation time very seriously. I want Expedia to either give me the four-star hotel I paid for or refund my money immediately. Can you help? -- Albert Muick, Kandahar, Afghanistan
A: If you paid for a four-star hotel, you should have received a four-star hotel. Problem is, no one can really agree on what a four-star hotel is -- or isn't. There's no high court of hotel stars, no international governing body. As far as I can tell, if I call something a four-star hotel, it is a four-star hotel.
But wait, you made screen shots? Nice work. You insisted on conducting your correspondence by email? Even better!
Keeping meticulous records on your grievance can ensure a fast resolution. And when it doesn't -- well, that's where I come in.
I'm kind of surprised Expedia shot a form response back to you and then, after you replied, sent another one. Come on. Is anyone reading these emails?
You might have tried a brief, polite appeal to an Expedia executive. I list their names on my consumer advocacy wiki, On Your Side (www.onyoursi.de). That might -- or might not -- have worked.
This is a textbook case of a traveler doing almost everything right, but still unable to get a fair resolution.
I hope this is one of those rare times when Expedia just didn't bother to carefully read your concise, well-crafted email. I say this because I haven't had that many Expedia complaints recently, so I hope it's an anomaly.
I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It reviewed your grievance and found that a "system error" occurred when you made your reservation. You've received a full refund.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.