Q: I recently tried to book a four-star hotel in New York through Expedia's unpublished rates section, which doesn't reveal the name of the hotel until you pay for it. The hotel we ended up with was DoubleTree by Hilton New York Chelsea, which is only listed as a three-star hotel on other popular websites. I understood before calling that Expedia has a no-cancellation policy on the unpublished hotel rates, but I figured if I called right away I might be lucky enough to get it canceled.
I called Expedia almost immediately after the booking. At first, the agent echoed what the website said, and that the reservation could not be canceled, refunded or changed. However, after talking to her some more, she finally agreed to cancel the reservation. We received a cancellation email confirmation from Expedia and a reference number.
A few weeks later we checked our credit card statement and found that a charge for $509 had been put through. By now, we had booked another hotel in New York. We called the DoubleTree by Hilton to ask if we had a hotel booking there, and they said no.
The charge stayed on our credit card and a subsequent investigation by Expedia couldn't prove that we spoke to anybody who offered us the refund, so he had to rely on the written information on the website that all sales were final. He told us to contact our credit card to get a refund. We disputed the $509 on our credit card, but our bank sided with Expedia. What can we do? -- Derek Ho, London, Canada
A: Expedia should have canceled your hotel room, as promised. It appears that you did everything you could, with maybe one exception. While you were able to get a cancellation number from Expedia, you might have asked the first representative to also send you an email to that effect. Having something in writing might have made this case easier to dispute, once your credit card company became involved.
You also fell victim to the star confusion that afflicts the so-called "opaque" sites like Priceline, Hotwire, and now, Expedia with its "unpublished" rates. Simply put, the stars don't align. A four-star property on Hotwire might only be a three-star property with AAA. Pay attention to the amenities listed under the star ratings, not the stars.
It's highly unusual for an opaque site to cancel a booking like this. Normally, all reservations are completely nonrefundable, whether you agree with the ratings or not. But it is even more unusual for it to issue a cancellation number and then renege on the cancellation. I think Expedia got a few wires crossed.
I see you repeatedly contacted Expedia by phone. While that may have secured you a promise of an immediate refund after your purchase, it didn't serve you well later. Large travel companies record their calls for "quality assurance" purposes, but generally, you don't -- and therefore you have no evidence of anything a representative tells you. You're better off sending a brief, polite email to Expedia, asking it to honor its agreement. Here are a few contacts: http://onyoursi.de/wiki/travel-agency/expedia/.
I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It reviewed its call records, and based on the first conversation you had after booking your room at the DoubleTree, it agreed to refund the entire amount of the booking.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.