One last chance for Wyndham — or a credit card dispute?

What should we tell Kathryn Chao? Should she give her hotel one last chance to do the right thing? Or is it time to file a credit card dispute?

That’s a timely question, considering we just posted Will Leeper’s frequently asked questions on credit cards yesterday. (Thank you, Will.)

Here’s the problem: While Chao was shopping for a reasonably priced hotel in Philadelphia, she found herself talking to a reservations agent from the Hawthorn by Wyndham in Philadelphia, who assured her that she could make a no-risk reservation.

“I was informed that it was not a reservation, but that they would hold a room until 6 p.m. and then it would be canceled,” she says. “But they do appreciate a courtesy call.”

That’s not what the Hawthorn site says. I quote:

Will my credit card be charged if I don’t cancel and don’t show up?
Yes, reservations are automatically guaranteed to your credit card. You will be charged for the first night’s stay only. To avoid being charged, reservations must be canceled in accordance with the cancellation policy outlined by the hotel for the rate and dates booked.

So you can only guess what happened next. She found a cheaper room elsewhere. She didn’t call to cancel.

“Then I discovered a charge of $195 on my card,” she says.

Chao contacted the hotel, asking for a refund.

The front desk agents kindly heard me out and told me I was misinformed. They said that their hotel policy is to charge if the customer doesn’t call back or check in by 6 p.m. They then referred me to the manager for further assistance.

I tried many times to contact the manager, but every time I called I would get transferred to voicemail. After I left two messages with no returned call, I asked if it was possible to stay on “hold” until a manager became available. They declined my request.

She sent a written complaint to Hawthorn corporate, but has received no answer. Incidentally, here are the names, numbers and email addresses of the Wyndam Hotel Group (owner of Hawthorn) executives.

Chao believes her next step is to file a credit card dispute, but she also wants to give the hotel every chance to make this right. She wants us to tell her whether to go for the dispute or continue working with the hotel.

“Am I going about this the best way?” she asks. “What other steps could I take towards solving my problem?”

And that’s where you, dear readers, come in.

Here’s how I see it: If a representative misrepresented Hawthorn’s cancellation policy, then it is indeed on the hook for the $195, no matter what the written policy says. But only Hawthorn has the recording of that call, and I bet it’s not in a sharing mood.

On the other hand, even occasional hotel guests know what the industry standard cancellation policy is, and that it doesn’t work the way Chao thought it worked. And some of you will say: “She should have known better.”

I think Chao may have a final answer from Hawthorn. The credit card dispute, a last-ditch effort to recover her money, may be her best option. I just don’t know if it’s the right option.

What should Kathryn Chao do?

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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.

  • Jeff W.

    It would be interesting to know if when she was talking to reservations, was she taking to someone actually at the hotel or a call center. You can actually can a hotel and ask for reservations and sometimes be transferred to a common call center.

    Your best option is a credit card dispute, although I do not think it will be very successful. The hotel’s written policies are spelled out and although she may have been told something different by the agent, it will default to the he said/she said thing and the written rules applied to the final ruling.

    I think she has given the hotel enough time to make things right.

  • Lee

    I doubt she has much of a chance; I alway read cancelation policies carefully and make every reservation online so I have that info in the reservation confirmation that I am sent. Sorry it happened but it is a lesson learned – if you don’t have something in writing that clearly conflicts what the policy is as written on their website, it will be a big hassle to prove your dispute.

    Unless they can get the recorded call – at the very least, I hope she got the name of the person with whom she spoke at the company (time/date as well) who told her this version of the policy – at least that would be something though maybe not enough to secure a refund.

  • MarkKelling

    In the past, it DID work that way. You made a reservation WITHOUT providing a credit card and then when 6 pm rolled around, the reservation disappeared if you had not already checked in. You also had the option to provide a credit card to hold the reservation until you showed up no matter how late that was. Unfortunately, with the travel industry hell bent on maximizing profit, this courtesy no longer exists.

    Since the OP was told the reservation was not binding and calling was not necessary, I feel the hotel should not have charged for the night. At this point, a dispute is probably the best route.

  • KennyG

    I am voting for a credit card dispute. Its obvious the hotel has chosen to not believe her. I have no reasonable or rational explanation why she would lie about something like this, and it is almost impossible to believe she misunderstood what she was told. Perhaps the reservations agent that lied to her needed to make a quota for end of month possibly? The credit card company would have a much better chance of getting her a refund than she would at this point. If I was the traveler I would also file a complaint with the local BBB so that if this is a regular occurrence at this particular hotel, others will be warned of this potential scam they are training their reservations agents to do to consumers.

  • Rebecca

    She’s going to lose a credit card dispute. The hotel will respond to the chargeback with their cancellation policy and she’ll probably lose. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. I wasn’t there, I actually do tend to believe her. But just trying to be upfront about it.

  • AAGK

    I was completely on Chao’s side until I learned she didn’t bother to call the hotel and let them know she was not coming. That is very rude, especially when dealing with a super understanding cancellation policy. Had she called to cancel and they still charged her, then I would hold the hotel responsible for its misinformed agent.

  • Regina Litman

    I didn’t vote because my answer is neither. She should have called the hotel. However, as a goodwill gesture, Wyndham ought to consider a refund. But if they won’t, I understand completely.

  • Pat

    I wonder if she misunderstood the cancellation policy. The policy with most of the rates I select when I travel, it is cancel by 6:00 PM for no charge but cancel after 6:00 PM or no show, you will be charged for a night’s stay. She should have called to cancel when she found a lower rate at a different hotel.

  • Lindabator

    hotels have a standard policy of charging no-shows penalties – she should have called the hotel when she knew she did not need the room. I doubt anyone told her she did not have to call. The reason they TAKE a credit card is to guarantee the booking, and impose a no show for those who fail to cancel. I think she heard what she wanted to — nothing to do here.

  • Jason Hanna

    I actually won a dispute 7 or 8 years ago under slightly different circumstances. I called and cancelled the reservation within the timeframe, but the hotel still charged for a night. I may have been lucky.. But, if I were to cancel nowadays, i’d call and cancel and then get an email address to send a written cancellation as well to have some form of backup on it. And ask them to send written notification of the cancellation

  • I couldn’t agree more. And you’re exactly right — she’s going to lose this credit card dispute. Her only hope is to keep trying for someone sympathetic at the hotel.

  • Elisa

    I do not believe the OP listened to the terms of the cancellation policy clearly. IF the hotel only holds the room until 6 PM and the guest does not show up, they automatically cancel it, why would she need to provide a credit card number at the time of booking? I also agree with AAGK that even if the hotel was truly only holding the room for her until 6 PM on the day of arrival, it is inconsiderate to the business not to cancel at the moment she knew she did not need/want the room. Courtesy flows both ways.

  • MF

    I did not vote. My answer would be to try to do both simultaneously. Pursue it with the hotel AND dispute the charge just before the window closes for doing so. Again, why do we not have permanent recording devices built in to our phones, so we too can record ‘for quality & training purposes’???

  • taxed2themax

    I don’t like he said/she said because none of us where there.. and we’re largely only hearing one sides (who has a vested interest) accounting of events and nothing to corroborate it. I like to believe everyone, but I must also leave open the possibility that it didn’t happen as retold, either by accident, unintentional misunderstanding or material deceit. I don’t know..

    Therefore, I think the best course of action is a card dispute where more factual answers can be had; and from that a more objective answer given.

  • Nathan Witt

    If someone asks you for a credit card number, they are going to charge you unless you take action. Not showing up for your reserved hotel room is not “taking action.” Whether it’s a hotel/restaurant/rental car reservation or a “free trial” of something or another, it’s just the way it works. And I think Ms. Chao knows this. And even if she doesn’t, this is an instance where extending the courtesy of a phone call to the Wyndham could have ensured they wouldn’t charge her.

  • Bill___A

    I don’t totally buy it. What is the reason of taking the credit card if it is not holding a reservation anyway? They used to hold reservations without credit cards until 6 pm and after 6pm with a credit card. Although it is possible the rep did not know this – has the OP ever made a hotel reservation before? This is how they work. Why not call them and cancel if you don’t need it?

  • cscasi

    But, do we have the “real” story? We have what Chao says she was told and what she says the Front Desk at the hotel told her (which is the one I find most believable). Could she have misunderstood exactly what the agent who booked her room reservation said? She could have done as she said and booked another hotel and just forgot to call Hawthorne to cancel and she got charged.
    It is pretty standard that if you make a room reservation with a credit card to guarantee it and fail to show up you get charged for a night’s lodging.
    Again, we only have her side of the story and because hers contradicts the norm for most hotels, I would just let her dispute the charge on her card and if she convinces the bank to reverse the charge fine. But, I believe the hotel will win out.

  • cscasi

    Or, at least get the cancellation number! All hotels give you a confirmation number when you make a reservation and they will give you a cancellation number when you cancel; whether it is through the reservations center or directly to the hotel.

  • Blamona

    It’s not in writing (but their policy is) she didn’t bother calling after leaving her credit card– why wouldn’t she have had the curtesy to do so to free up the room for someone else? That’s why there’s written policies. I think she’s out of luck either way

  • Michael__K

    Actually, many Wyndam / Hawthorn properties don’t require a credit card and offer reservations that are guaranteed until 6pm with no commitment, at least for certain off-peak dates.

    See for example:

    The most likely explanation is that the agent was referring to this type of reservation, but when Ms. Chao voluntarily provided her credit card information, a full (post-6pm-guaranteed) reservation was created in error.

  • Michael__K

    FYI, this courtesy still exists in some places. And more relevant to this story, it exists for some Wyndam/Hawthorn properties for select dates.

    See for example:

  • I agree with those who say her best (but unlikely) hope is the CC dispute. The most likely cases here are that (1) she misunderstood the policy as quoted by the rez agent or (2) the rez agent (who I understand from the story was actually at the hotel) got it wrong. In the latter case, there’s unlikely to be a recording to prove her correct. In either case, she’ll lose the dispute unless the hotel just doesn’t challenge it. You should always assume if you give a credit card number you will be charged if you no-show.

  • Michael__K

    why would she need to provide a credit card number at the time of booking?

    If she was making a Wyndam Express Book (guaranteed until 6pm) reservation, then that’s correct that she wouldn’t NEED to provide a credit card number at the time of booking.

    The agent may have nonetheless prompted her for a credit card number out of habit, or Ms. Chao may have voluntarily offered her credit card number out of habit, or she may have merely provided her loyalty account number which was associated with her credit card.

  • MarkKelling

    Not knowing the OP’s history with Hawthorne, but it is possible that she had stayed with this hotel brand before and the no charge reservation hold is what she expected in this case as well.

  • Flatlander

    Perhaps she misunderstood what the reservation agent told her, or the agent didn’t explain things very well? Either way, if the hotel was not 100% occupied Wyndam should err on the side of the customer and return her money IMO. If they were 100% full, held her room, and it’s he said vs. she said there is an argument to be made that they should keep her money instead of losing the revenue due to the opportunity cost but IMO I still think the “right” thing to do would be for Wyndam to err on the side of the customer. I would personally file the credit card dispute instead of continuing to bang my head against the wall. I think the CC company would and should find in her favor unless she has a history of frivolous credit card disputes.

  • Flatlander

    I’m thinking the call was probably recorded but I doubt Wyndam would go back and listen to it. From their prospective it would probably be cheaper to give her a $195 refund than it would be to check the recording. The problem with that logic is that it would be even cheaper still for Wyndam to not check the recording and also not give her a refund.

  • DChamp56

    It seems common sense isn’t so common any longer. She should have called and cancelled. There should be a button for “you messed up, take your lumps”.

  • joycexyz

    IMHO, whenever you give your credit card number, don’t be surprised when you’re charged for something.

  • William Leeper

    I can see why she didn’t call though. Many hotels will make a reservation until 6PM without a credit card, and if you need it later than 6, they require a card. In those instances, at 6 the reservation simply vanishes, and there is no need to call.

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