A hotel bait-and-switch — how a $29 rate became $180

By | November 18th, 2008

I’ve taken a considerable amount of flak for pointing out the obvious fact that the rate you’re quoted when you’re booking a trip should be the price you actually pay. My industry critics foolishly insist that’s not how it works — not when you’re dealing with a “highly dynamic” pricing system.

I’m not going to debate the misguided airline apologists here, except to point out yet another obvious fact: Bait-and-switch isn’t limited to air fares.

Consider what happened when Stacey Blakemore booked a $29 suite at the Days Inn and Suites in Auburn, Ala., through Travelocity, but ended up being charged $180 a night.

When I arrived at the hotel, they informed me that the room had been canceled. First, the desk clerk tried to tell me that I canceled the room. When I assured her that I had not, she said Travelocity had canceled it. When I told her that I had contacted Travelocity recently to confirm the room and that I had a confirmation code from Travelocity, she finally admitted that the hotel had canceled my room per the owner’s request.

The owner simply did not want to honor the rate because it was a busy weekend and he or she felt that the hotel could rent the room for more. No one ever contacted me to warn me that my room had been canceled.

Blakemore phoned Travelocity, which tried to persuade the Days Inn to honor the original rate. The hotel refused. And there were no other hotel rooms available in town.

A hotel representative told me there were two rooms left, and that I could book either one of them for $180 per night. Each room had two double beds. So, instead of the suite for $28.99 per night, I was offered a room with two double beds for $180 per night. I felt I had no choice but to book the room.

Days Inn refused to refund the difference between the original rate and the new rate after Blakemore contacted it at the corporate level. What ensued, as far as I can tell, was a blame game — with Days Inn trying to fault Travelocity for the problems, and Travelocity unable to negotiate an acceptable settlement.

Blakemore, for her part, was furious.

I feel this was a bait-and-switch. The hotel advertised a rate of $28.99 on multiple Web sites. The hotel allowed the room to be booked. Then, just days before my scheduled arrival, the hotel canceled my reservation and no one notified me.

I contacted Travelocity, and it refunded the difference between the original rate and the new rate.

Lesson learned? Don’t just phone your online travel agent to confirm a hotel reservation. Call the hotel directly.

And one more thing: Airlines aren’t the only ones that play the bait-and-switch game.

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