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Blocked from checking in -- but charged anyway

  • Story Highlights
  • Guest finds his hotel blocked by police barricade and calls the hotel manager
  • The manager promises to help him cancel the reservation, and he stays elsewhere
  • Days later, he finds his credit card charged for unused, blocked hotel room
  • Holiday Inn hotel apologizes and returns the man's $113
By Christopher Elliott
Tribune Media Services
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(Tribune Media Services) -- Gabriel Medina can't reach his hotel in New Orleans because there's a police barricade in front of it. A manager promises to "help" him cancel the reservation, but three days later, his credit card is charged $113. Now his credit card has sided with the hotel. Is there anything else he can do?

Q: I don't know where else to turn. I recently booked a room at the Holiday Inn French Quarter-Chateau Lemoyne in New Orleans through its central reservations phone number.

When I arrived, the New Orleans Police Department had the entire block closed off. I immediately called the hotel and told a manager I couldn't access the hotel. He said he did not know when the blockade would be lifted and couldn't help get my car or luggage to the hotel.

He couldn't cancel my reservation because I had made it through Holiday Inn's central reservations number. After several more attempts to reach the hotel, he agreed to help me cancel my reservation. I stayed at another hotel that night.

Three days later, a $113 charge appeared on my credit card from the Holiday Inn. I disputed the charge, but they told me I couldn't get a refund because I could not prove that they refused me the room. When I called guest relations they said they needed a cancellation number before they would consider a refund. Otherwise the hotel itself would need to reverse the charge. When I call the hotel, I get only voicemail. Can you help?

-- Gabriel Medina, Elk Grove, California

A: If a hotel representative says your reservation is canceled, you shouldn't be charged for your stay.

But a review of your correspondence raises a few red flags. First, a manager told you that it was impossible for him to cancel a reservation made through Holiday Inn's 800-number. Then, a few minutes later, the same manager agrees to "help" you cancel the reservation.

I would assume that "helping" you means your reservation is officially canceled, but what if he just looked into it and then decided it couldn't be done, and left your original reservation intact? Since Holiday Inn didn't have a cancellation number, it probably means there was no cancellation.

Here's what you did right: You noted the name of the manager with whom you spoke. You followed up with Holiday Inn, and you were persistent but polite.

Here's what you overlooked: You should have called the central reservations number and asked for a cancellation number. If they refused to give you a number, you should have given a representative the name of the manager you spoke with. I would have followed up with the manager and not let Holiday Inn off the hook until you had a number.

But getting a number isn't enough. Instead of continuing to call Holiday Inn, I would have sent it a short, cordial email asking for a verification of your cancellation in writing. If you send an email through a hotel company's Web site (Holiday Inn) you'll typically receive a meaningful answer in a matter of days, if not hours.

With that information, your credit card dispute would have probably been a slam-dunk.

Before getting to the resolution on your case, let me add one more thing. As far as I can tell, Holiday Inn was under no obligation to refund your money. You couldn't reach the hotel because of a police barricade, which the property couldn't control. But since a manager assured you that he would help you make a cancellation, I think it's reasonable to expect a refund.

I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf. It reviewed your case and apologized for the way in which your refund was handled. "Clearly the inability to access the hotel was beyond your control, and in as such, you should be relieved of the $113 charge you have received," a representative wrote to you in a letter. You're getting your $113 back.

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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