(Tribune Media Services) -- When Best Western bills Angela Williams-McGill twice for the same night, she incurs a bank overdraft fee and then waits months for a refund. But the hotel never pays her back, and all she has to show for her efforts is a claim number. Is there anything she could have done to prevent this? And what about the refund?
Q: I am having a tough time getting my money back from Best Western, and I need your help.
My husband and I stayed at the Best Western Northtown Inn in Wichita Falls, Texas recently. He's a truck driver and was stuck in Wichita Falls for one night waiting for his delivery spot to open. It was a spur-of-the-moment, short and sweet one-night stay -- or so we thought.
I reserved the room with my Visa Check Card but paid for the room in cash. When we received our bank statement, we noticed that the card had also been charged $71 for the night. Because we don't use that account often and weren't expecting an extra charge, it resulted in a $35 overdraft fee.
We have tried for months to get our money back from Best Western or the bank, to no avail. A hotel stay that should have been $71 is now $177 -- and it was definitely not a five-star hotel! Please help.
-- Angela Williams-McGill, Garland, Texas
A: Best Western should have refunded the extra $71 immediately. Come to think of it, the hotel should have never double-billed you.
Why did it charge you for two nights? There's no telling. Hotel billing systems and the people who operate them routinely make errors, which is why it's so important to check your credit card after your stay. Or, in your case, your Visa Check Card. Waiting a few weeks made it more difficult to resolve this case.
To avoid this, you might have asked a simple question when you checked out: Are you charging the card I used to make this reservation?
If the answer is "yes" then you could have fixed the problem right then and there.
A few weeks later, your best bet would have been to contact Best Western corporate by e-mail. It appears some of your contact with the hotel chain was by phone and fax, which isn't the most efficient way of communicating with any travel company in 2009. Convenient, yes. But not efficient.
E-mailing your request to Best Western sets off a whole chain of events behind the scenes. Your e-mail gets an automatic response, it's tracked, and both the corporate customer service department and the hotel can be involved in a resolution.
Your back-and-forth with Best Western wasted a lot of time. So much time that the 60 days within which you can normally dispute a card charge had passed, leaving you at the mercy of Best Western. You had a reference number, but no resolution.
I contacted the hotel on your behalf. It reviewed your case and found that although a file had been opened, Best Western couldn't get in touch with you. The hotel had no record of your second billing, was trying to reach your bank, and couldn't contact you for some reason. "After not hearing back from Mrs. Williams following two tries, the file was moved to inactive status," a Best Western spokesman told me.
I sent the company your contact information, and it sent you a check for $106, which covers the extra night and overdraft fees.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2009 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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