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Hey, that's not the hotel I booked

  • Story Highlights
  • A guest booked through an online agency and ended up at a resort's lesser hotel
  • The guest's confirmation listed the name of a more upscale property
  • Her online agent said she could pay for an upgrade or offer proof of an error
  • The agent reimbursed her for telephone charges and offered her a voucher

By Christopher Elliott
Tribune Media Services
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(Tribune Media Services) -- Donna Savic thinks she has a reservation at the Barcelo Maya Palace in Cancun, Mexico. She's wrong. Orbitz booked her at a smaller, lower-rated hotel on the same complex. What now?

Q: I am writing to you in frustration over how Orbitz has misled me and now will not even admit to its obvious mistake.

I recently booked our annual vacation through Orbitz at Barcelo Maya Palace in Cancun, Mexico, because the resort sounded beautiful and the hotel is new with rooms described as excellent by most visitors.

When we arrived at the resort, we were told that we didn't have reservations. After much confusion, they told us we were supposed to be at the Barcelo Maya Beach Hotel, the oldest and lowest-rated hotel in this complex.

I immediately contacted Orbitz customer service and spent more than an hour trying to get this resolved. After speaking with several people, I finally was connected to a supervisor, who told me that she could upgrade us to the Barcelo Maya Place Hotel for an additional $2,000, and if I could provide her proof that we were booked at the hotel, they would reimburse us.

Though I was very upset that my family and I were forced to stay at a hotel that we did not choose or want, we tried to make the best of the remaining time there.

After our return, I contacted Orbitz repeatedly to try to resolve this. They have offered me a $75 voucher and now say that the reason my confirmation says the Barcelo Maya Palace is because this is the logo of the resort complex and has nothing to do with my selection. Why do they send confirmation if it means nothing? This is so frustrating. Can you please help or give me any advice?

-- Donna Savic, Louisville, Kentucky

A: If Orbitz promised you a room at the Barcelo Maya Palace Hotel, then that's what you should have received.

I reviewed your e-mailed confirmation. It says your hotel is the Barcelo Maya Palace within the Barcelo Riviera Maya All Inclusive Complex. Any reasonable person would conclude you were staying at the nice hotel -- not the dump.

The burden should have been on Orbitz to find a copy of your confirmation and verify that you had been booked at the wrong hotel. I can't believe the online agency would ask you to spend an extra $2,000 and offer to refund it only if you could prove it made a mistake.

Did Orbitz try to deceive you when you booked your Cancun vacation? I doubt it. This kind of mix-up isn't uncommon. I recall another case with Orbitz, where a guest believed he was staying at a Reno, Nevada resort but ended up being sent to an adjacent property, where he checked into what he called the "worst hotel room I've ever seen." When I asked about his reservation, Orbitz not only refunded the full price of his stay, it also dropped the hotel from its reservations system.

There are two ways you could have avoided this. First, you could have phoned the hotel to confirm your reservation. That's always a good idea when you're booking through a third party, because reservations can get lost. You'd probably be surprised by how many hotels still handle their reservations by fax.

Second, you could have applied the "too-good-to-be-true" litmus test to your resort. Was the price so low that something didn't seem right? For example, if you're getting a brand-new, highly-rated, all-inclusive resort in Mexico for $59 a night, you might want to double-check to make sure you're getting what you think you're getting.

I contacted Orbitz on your behalf. It apologized for the "disappointing experience" and refunded you $135 for the phone calls you made from Mexico. It also changed the amount of your voucher from $75 to $200.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

Copyright 2009 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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