Is this enough compensation? No reservation — but the bill sticks

It’s been a while since the last missing hotel reservation case, and here’s one with an interesting twist: The booking was made through an airline website.

Peter Skipp pre-paid for accommodations at the Radisson Our Lucaya Resort on Grand Bahama Island for one of his employees after booking airline tickets on (You’ve probably seen those screens that ask “do you need a hotel?” after you’re done paying for your flight.)

He says Continental charged his card $86 for one night at the Radisson. At least that’s what he thought.

When my technician arrived at the hotel, late in the day and tired, there was no record of his reservation and he was charged $167.

They would not honor his printed reservation.

Having read your advice I tried to e-mail Continental customer service. No response. After many, many phone calls I reached a real person who promised to investigate and call back. Never received a call back.

Called twice again and both times received the same response.

Here’s where it gets a little interesting. Although Skipp’s printout says the room was at the Radisson, Continental’s paperwork show his employee was confirmed at another hotel, the Dundee Bay Villas.

How strange.

I asked United Airlines, which recently merged with Continental, to review this hotel reservation. It didn’t respond to me, either.

Forgive me for going off on a tangent, but United has been highly unresponsive to my readers’ queries lately, and it’s setting a troubling precedent for the new United-Continental. If the new airline plans to run its customer service problem by stonewalling and delaying, it is off to a wonderful start.

Related story:   Groupon is charging me $725 for a hotel deal that I don't want!

I think its customers deserve better, and I know there are people at United who feel the same way. Maybe this is a good time for them to raise their hands and say a customer represents more than an ancillary revenue opportunity.

Believing there was some good left in United, I reached out to a former Continental contact in Houston. I was right, apparently they do care. A few days later, United contacted Skipp and sent him a voucher for the $167 he had to spend.

Airline scrip for a screwed up reservation? Skipp is OK with that, but he still has some questions.

I would love to know what ultimately happened to allow two confirmation numbers for the same person at two hotels on the same island on the same date. The primary reservation knew nothing about us and would not accept the reservation and we never knew about the second resort until after the fact.

My best guess is that this is yet another merger-related hiccup, and that once United and Continental are one big, happy family, this kind of thing won’t happen anymore. I certainly hope so.

I’m not sure if throwing funny money at this problem was enough, though. Do you?

(Photo by zanz ibar/Flickr Creative Commons. And I have to say, that’s some photo of Grand Bahama. What a gorgeous place. My inner scuba diver wants to visit … badly!)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Ken

    Nowhere near enough.  They should have refunded cash, for the difference between what he paid and his reserved rate. 

  • emanon256

    I am sick of the airlines making screw-ups, that cause a customer to have to pay cash out of pocket, and then reimbursing them with a voucher.  A voucher should be reserved for disservice only, not when a person is out actual cash.  In a lot of Chris’s cases I do tend to think the airlines have done the right thing, but this is one practice I strongly oppose.

  • Andre K.

    They definitely should have reimbursed him with $167 in cash for this error, not a $167 voucher. So I voted no.

  • Chris in NC

    Actually, I disagree with your statement that they do care. Offering a voucher instead of a cash refund says we don’t care, we just want to close this case and save face because a journalist is involved. Sorry for being so cynical.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    My own recent experience with United’s customer service was also very poor.  (Situation not germane to this post.)  I liked Continental and was hoping that there would be more “Continental” to the United/Continental “merger”.  Seems like more of a hostile takeover, emphasis “hostile”.

    This case should have been a refund, not a credit.

  • deemery

    For what it’s worth, the last couple of times I’ve had to call UAL, I’ve talked to call centers in India and Philippines.  It used to be I’d talk to people in the US.  I think this is a bad move on the part of UA/CO.

    (I was arranging award flights to India, and the woman asked me “Will you be needing a rental car in Mumbai?”  I said, “Do I sound like someone crazy enough to drive in India?”  We both got a good laugh out of that.)

  • john4868

    Actually I think he came out ahead on this one. They could have pulled the “We will just refund your card the amount you paid us.” Instead they gave him the amount he paid the hotel so he got twice the value.

    Having said that… this just sounds screwed up. I’m not sure how their system generates a confirmation at one place and makes a reservation at the other. Too bad it seems that UA’s customer service is taking over instead of COs.

  • Mbods2002

    I said “No” only because without “cash”, he can’t take his business to another airline.

  • DavidS

    Not enough in my eyes, but if Mr. Skipp is fine with it, then that’s what matters.

    I DO think Mr. Skipp deserves a response as to what happened and perhaps  a better poll question would be: “Does Mr. Skipp deserve an explanation as to what happened?”

  • Steve R

    No way is a voucher that he may or may not use, and almost certainly will not actually be worth the $167 he spent, sufficient compensation. I say they owe him the entire $167 in cash.

  • Raven

    He paid with real money for a hotel room. He deserves real money back.
    Airline funny money should be reserved for post-AIR-travel customer complaints.

    As a long time customer/FF with Continental, I can say their merger with United makes me hate them. I’ve also had issues with trying to receive any sort of customer service since they became “the world’s largest airline.”

    Just remember folks: Bigger ain’t always better.

  • This should have been a cash refund, the same thing he paid in!

  • Rosered7033

    United had a “hiccup” and the customer had the heartburn.  If United was at fault (and it certainly seems that way), to give this customer the run-around, hoping that he will tire of the game, is totally unforgiveable.  And a voucher refund is a slap in the face.  C’mon, United!  ARE your customers more than just an “ancillary revenue opportunity”, as Crhis suggests?

  • cjr001

    While I think the compensation was enough, I’d agree with Ken that it was the WRONG compensation.

    Just say no to vouchers. They took his cash (or credit), and that’s what he should get back in return.

  • L2y2

    He should have received a cash reimbursement. They made the mistake and he should not have to be required to use their airline to be made whole. In addition, I think they should have thrown in something more for the time he spent dealing with this and the inconvenience he endured.

  • Rosered7033

    Unless I’m missing something here, I don’t understand how he came out “ahead.”  His company DID pay United $86 for a room at the Radisson, and that was not refunded.  It was United’s screw-up, and maybe they should have refunded his $86 AND $167 in CASH.

  • Alan

    When you need an airline ticket and a hotel reservation, always either make the arrangements separately yourself, or use an agent. If a problem occurs, you need to be able to get through to someone, and as this man found out, airlines have no provision for that.

  • Phil Usher

    When a merchant tries to make good by offering me a voucher or credit, my response is “You have obviously — and incorrectly — assumed that I intend to do business with you again.”

    I lost cash in the “deal,” I expect cash in return.

  • Brooklyn

    Wasn’t there any other airline that flew to Grand Bahama?  I haven’t flown a US airline overseas in so long I can’t remember, and I haven’t flown United or American for at least 10 years. I avoid US carriers whenever possible; their arrogance and greed far exceeds that of foreign airlines. And they wonder why people don’t buy American!

  • guest

    How did he come out ahead?  He paid for the initial reservation and the $167 at the desk when he tried to check in. 

    So, he ultimately still paid his initial money, plus he’s out all the time trying to resolve the issues.

  • MikeZ

    a $167 voucher is funny money and not an equal form of compensation. So no, the compensation was not enough. cash does not expire. Vouchers do, and some have restrictions.

  • Christophe

    No harm was made because the resort still had a room available ant the price of it was not completely outrageous ! 
    But what if no room had been available ?

  • Tony A.

    Funny Money also has an EXPIRATION date. Cash doesn’t.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Absolutely NOT!  They should have refunded him the difference between what they charged him and what was quoted him, in cash not funny-money with an expiration date. He did get to stay at the hotel, but he should have only been charged $86, not $167.

  • LeeAnneClark

    After re-reading this story, it appears that he did stay at the hotel, but was charged $167, instead of $86. So in all fairness he should have been refunded the difference…in cold hard cash, not in funny money.

  • Jason Hanna

    The amount is right.. Now, I wouldn’t accept a voucher as reimbursement on this.. But, the OP seems to be OK with it.. So, if it’s OK with him, I guess it’s enough.

  • Josh

    Clearly the $86 charged by Continental should be immediately refunded (and instantly disputed if not); the question is how to get back the $81 additional that was paid to the other hotel — if they were completely not at fault (as appears to be the case), disputing that directly may not be appropriate.  Perhaps working with the credit card company to dispute a portion of the airfare charge might work.

    Either way, a voucher is nowhere near appropriate — it might be appropriate as *additional* compensation for the error, but isn’t part of making the customer whole from their mistake.

    And unless they can explain what happened, how it’s possible to get a confirmation for one place with the reservation at another, this says to me that it’s extremely dangerous to use them as a 3rd party booking agent; much much better to just get a rate and go to the hotel site itself to book (which usually guarantees to have the best rates)

  • Sunnykm

    I think we are “self loading freight” in United world

  • Pete the Geek

    The take-away message here is that if you book a hotel reservation through the United/Continental website and something goes wrong, the company will ignore you.

  • emanon256

    I see it the other way around, United had great customer service and as of Oct 2010 it started going downhill very quickly.  I believe it is a hostile takeover as well, and as the Continental CEO now runs United, we can easily see who took over.  Every service they have cut on United, they have followed up with an e-mail stating this cut is to align with Continental.  Every fee they raised on United included an e-mail stating this fee is being increased to match Continental.  They took away pillows to match Continental, they downgraded from plush flannel blankets to gauze manage style blankets to match Continental.   I can no longer call United without an extended hold.  E-mails that used to get replied to in 24 hours now take weeks.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

  • I loved flying Continental…now that they are combined with United, I’m not so sure anymore!



  • Bob

    No way is that appropriate compensation. They owe him cash. 

  • Jennifer

    It says that the card was charged $86 upon the initial reservation and then charged an additional $167, not instead of.  So he was “refunded” the $167 and UA/CO kept the $86. 

    Bad, bad customer service and I was generally happy with CO until, as we call him, $mi$ek took over. 

  • Scott

    Vouchers do not expire.  They are a cash equivalent.  Travel credits expire.

  • flutiefan

    i don’t know who truly screwed up here (clearly not the OP), but i’d have to say $167 in airline voucher form isn’t the correct compensation due. as Ken says, they should’ve refunded the difference in cost in CASH (and maybe bump it up to a round $100 for his troubles). no less than that is acceptable. 

  • Alex

    I’m not ready to criticize United for offering scrip as a refund because the guy seemed okay with the offer.  If his company books airfare often on United, it might have been a non-issue for him.  The real question is what would have happened if he said “no” to the scrip.  Would United had then offered a cash refund?  If not, then there is a problem.

    Still, the problem lies squarely on United.  They should explain why this happened to the guy.

  • Tony A.

    I’m not sure someone already covered this point – I have noticed that some airlines (and definitely OTAs) are BUNDLING cheaper hotel rooms if you book the flight and room together (e.g. Delta Vacations). Could it be possible that the pressure to sell super discounted rooms (so they can also sell the airline ticket) is adding to the errors in booking rooms?

  • Papa e

    I don’t order a steak at a hot dog joint and I don’t book hotels at airline (or any on-line) sites! Airline sites are OK for Airline tix (if you read VERY carefully!) and hotels…for myself, only by phone directly with the hotel!

  • EileenJoan

    Who is going to pay for the time he spent trying to resolve the problem?   United should have also refunded the $86 for the original reservation.   Why aren’t customers being given some extra compensation when they have to go through all kinds of aggravation to right a wrong?   If they could show they were entitled to extra compensation and GET IT – maybe companies would get their Customer Service Departments on a A1 level.

  • Sershev

    Continental and United have the same parent company, but still operate as separate airlines. They even use different suppliers for the hotel bookings through the websites. Continental should have refunded $167 in form of check if they made a booking error and work with the supplier to find out what the problem was and also Continental should have answered to the e-mail promptly as they still have own customer relation department.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I guess I never used pillows/blankets on United, since all of my flights were within the continental U.S.  But then again, I’ve avoided United because of very poor service out of Omaha Eppley and anything ORD-related.  Agree with you about the hold time – but Continental always updated my flight info via e-mail notifications, not via a dire voice mail message saying to call RIGHT NOW! to be on hold for 20+ minutes to talk to a person several time zones ahead of mine – about a change in flight number!  United doesn’t seem to know *how* to send an e-mail (and yes, they have my e-mail address and did read it back to me when requested).

    But thank you for giving me more background on the mechanics of the “merger”.  Maybe they’ve only kept the most anti-customer-service managers from both firms?

  • Anna

    I once had a similarly bizarre experience; I booked an A->B->C->A trip on a travel website and my confirmation specifically stated the A->B leg was with Swiss. However, it turned out I was actually booked on an SAS-flight (and the guy at the counter was just as confused as I was). It was not a code-share thing; the SAS flight was scheduled at the same time as the Swiss flight, and I actually saw the Swiss flight at the adjacent gate. Back home I e-mailed the travel website to ask what had happened and got a non-answer. I didn’t pursue it any further because I got where I wanted at the time I wanted, but I’m still a bit puzzled about it. 

  • Anna

    If the OP or the OP’s employees have plenty of opportunities to use the voucher, he may not care about the cash/voucher issue – at least not enough to want to fight it.

  • Gimpy

    $80 on a biz trip that he’s probably passing along anyway?  It must be a slow day for Chris.

  • cjr001

    Haven’t we seen with these vouchers that they often only last for a year?

    And no, they are NEVER a cash equivalent. CASH is a cash equivalent.

  • cjr001

     Thanks for entirely missing the (several) point(s), Gimpy.

  • If the problem occurred because of a merger and even though the people working at the company didn’t know what happened it still isn’t the fault of the customer. If the customer didn’t have to jump through hoops to end up with a room he still may have to go through problems he shouldn’t have to. Since the total bill was paid twice someone should have gotten there money back not a voucher. A voucher may be good for a business person but if it were a vacationer what is the chance the person will use the voucher before it expires because I have not seen many that don’t.

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