My birthday stay was a disappointment. Can I get a refund?

Maria Garcia contacted us with a gloomy birthday tale. She and her adult children booked a reservation at a hotel on the rugged California coast to celebrate the occasion.

The stay was not all that they had hoped for and now she wants a full refund and an apology printed in the local newspaper. But are her complaints valid?

This is yet another case in which a consumer chooses to omit important facts from their story — and it takes some digging to be able to see the whole picture.

Garcia’s birthday letdown began when her friends recommended The Ragged Point Inn for her getaway. She looked at its website and was impressed with the oceanside location. She booked her desired room, which included a dramatic sea view, and received a confirmation.

Soon thereafter, trouble developed.

“In the early afternoon I received a phone message that there was a problem with our reservation,” she wrote to us. “I was told that the amount for the room charges was incorrect as indicated on my confirmation. Well, we were ready to leave the next morning, and now there is a problem! How was I supposed to find another venue on short notice?”

The next day, assuming that the problem could be straightened out at check-in, Garcia and her family drove to the Ragged Point Inn. That is when she was told that her confirmed rate was not going to be honored — the rate would be double what was indicated on her confirmation.

Garcia told me that she had no idea why the hotel was insisting on doubling her rate.

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After much back and forth, the manager agreed to honor her reservation at the original rate.

Problem solved, right? Wrong.

The room was not the room that she had expected. She concluded that she was being penalized because of the hotel’s insistence that the rate on her confirmation was incorrect.

“The room certainly was not the scenic room we expected nor was it located on cliff’s edge with the awesome ocean view — it was right over the lobby,” she recalled with disappointment.

But she kept her complaints to herself during her two-night stay.

“I wished to focus on my birthday celebration and create wonderful memories that we would carry with us,” she said when explaining why she did not complain at the time.

Unfortunately, now she says that each time she thinks of her birthday those memories are clouded by the anger that she harbors against the hotel for their mismanagement of her reservation.

Her suggested resolution? A full refund for her stay plus reimbursement for her gas money.

Additionally she requested a published apology in the local newspaper from the hotel. This apology should, “indicate that they were inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical in how they handled our situation,” she said.

After I went though Garcia’s provided paperwork, it did appear that she had been treated unfairly. She had a confirmed reservation directly from the hotel’s website. So why wasn’t it honored?

I contacted The Ragged Point Inn, and they had an alternative version of Garcia’s experience.

First, the hotel explained that there was a computer glitch when Garcia made her reservation. She was confirmed for two nights, but the second night of her stay displayed a rate of zero. When the hotel did a routine review of upcoming reservations, the problem was discovered and Garcia was alerted before the date of her arrival.

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When Garcia showed up to check in, the hotel reports that, “She refused to pay for a second night so she was offered a compromise which she agreed to.”

The hotel maintains that Garcia was offered two possibilities to solve the problem:

  •  She could pay the rate for the second night and keep the deluxe ocean view room that she had reserved.
  • She could keep the reservation and pay nothing for the second night, but stay in a lower category room.

Garcia chose the second option and, as she says, did not complain during her stay. It was only after she left that she decided she did not agree to the above deal.

This did shed a different light on Garcia’s dilemma, and I asked her if she had agreed to the resolution that the hotel offered. I did not hear from Garcia again, so I can only assume that the hotel’s version is correct.

It certainly would have been a gracious gesture had the hotel honored their mistaken zero rate. But they didn’t and they let Garcia know before her arrival that the free second night was not valid. The time for Garcia to negotiate a different resolution was before check-in — not after her two-night stay.

If Garcia had initially explained the entire chain of events to us, we would not have taken the case. She was presented with several options by the hotel, and she agreed to one of them. We can’t advocate a retraction of the resolution that she and the hotel agreed upon at the time. For that reason, this case ends in the Case Dismissed file.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • Rebecca

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. What is with adults that make a big deal about their birthday? I can understand having/going out for a special dinner with a cake or dessert – it’s nice to do these things with family a couple times a year. I’ll concede I can understand using it as an excuse for a weekend getaway or the children/spouse using it as an excuse to give a gift they love their parent/spouse would love. But I am inherently suspicious of any adult that insists on making a big production of their birthday.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Absolutely right.

  • Alan Gore

    This is the same as a fat-finger airline fare. We like to look at these cases in light of what we see as the customer’s motivation: did LW book what she thought was a second-night-free deal or did she know that she was getting away with an error rate conferred by a website error?

    We will never know which kind of customer LW was, but the overall treatment of customer errors by an industry comes back to it as karma when something like this happens. If an establishment insists on nailing to the wall a customer who, in booking through a flaky website, gets a date wrong, it should expect to be treated in the same way when that flaky site hands the customer an opportunity.

  • James

    Two thoughts — there are some “magic” numbers where one might want to have a larger than usual celebration: 50, 65, 100 all come to mind. But even so…

    Who is anyone to judge another’s choice of celebration?

  • finance_tony

    An apology in the local newspaper [rolls eyes]

  • Lindabator

    The website CLEARLY shows the rates per night – so when she was informed she had not been quoted for the 2nd night, it should not have been a surprise – frankly, I would have contacted the hotel immediately, thinking it may never have actually confirmed the 2nd day. She just wants something for free – sad

  • Rebecca

    It isn’t about judging the celebration. It’s about judging the motivation. It only becomes a problem when they decide they want to make a big production of the fact that they accomplished the amazing feat of existing, expecting gifts and praise, along with an outlay of money.

    I know some people enjoy throwing parties. Nothing wrong with that, so long as they’re just using the birthday as an excuse to plan a party and invite friends and family. The problem is when they expect guests to bring gifts, heap them with compliments and finance the party the host is throwing.

  • Jeff W.

    Once she started asking for gas money and an apology in the local paper, in addition to a FULL refund for a hotel she had already stayed, she was never going to get anything from the hotel. You have to be reasonable in your demands.

    And once the super-sleuth advocates discovered the hotel did offer various compromises prior to the stay, the case comes to its logical conclusion: Dismissed,

  • LeeAnneClark

    LOL! I had the exact same thought. And eye-roll. ;)

  • LeeAnneClark

    This is what I thought too. Although I’m a bit torn – it depends on how obvious it was that she wasn’t being charged for the second night. If I was booking a hotel and the second night inexplicably showed up free, and I was just booking normally (e.g. not using some kind of coupon or special rate), that would certainly jump out at me. And I would not try to screw the business over due to an obvious computer glitch.

    So this could very well be a customer trying to take advantage. That seems most likely to me. However, it’s also possible she really thought this was the rate, and made her travel plans based on a legitimate expectation that this was the actual price.

    At this point we just don’t know, so I can’t judge her. But if she did know, then shame on her. (And the utter absurdity of what she’s asking for in compensation tends to lean me towards the “she knew” side…)

  • AJPeabody

    There are many websites where the price per night is not displayed unless actual dates are entered, and then a total price is given, often with an average price per nicht also indicated. So if I am interested in Resort XYZ for 6/24-6/26 (two nights) and I am quoted “$300 (Average price per night $150)” I may very well not notice that the night of 6/24 was $300 and 6/25 was $0 depending on how the results are displayed.

    And why did it take until the morning of check in for the hotel to notice the $0 night?

  • Travelnut

    Eh, I don’t see anything wrong with celebrating adult birthdays. Why not? (Maybe not assigning the grave importance to it that the OP did, that seems a little overboard.) Sounds like this lady may have been single. My masters thesis was on how unmarried people are treated in society. The emphasis was on the financial effect, but another topic was how in general singles are seen as immature and selfish, expected to be the one to always be understanding of people with kids/significant others, etc. One thing I explored was that the married have many more events in their adult life that are celebrated, and often with pricey gifts expected. Wedding showers, wedding gifts, baby showers. Singles have…. well nothing really, unless they get a degree. (If you have a chance, watch “A Woman’s Right to Shoes” from the TV show Sex and The City.) So why not celebrate a birthday if that’s all you’ve got. Personally, I always take a birthday trip.

  • Travelnut

    I’m conflicted about this one. While I have some sympathy for lost revenue because some lower level clerk miskeyed an airfare or there was a computer glitch, at some point I believe businesses should own their errors and make good on a price that was officially offered and accepted. That constitutes a valid contract. As long as it isn’t something that would bankrupt the company, I disagree with Chris and believe the price should be honored. As long as the airlines and hotels have no skin in the game, they have no incentive to make sure these kinds of errors don’t occur.

  • Lindabator

    haha – I had a good chuckle over it, too

  • Lindabator

    was the day prior – and that is when all the reservations would have loaded in the daily manifest, which is why they caught it

  • Kerr

    As a relative or friend, it is your choice if you want to attend. But if a person wants to host a party, they can have them as frequently (and/or extravagantly) as they want.

  • MarkKelling

    This may have been more of a family reunion than just a normal birthday celebration as it mentions the “adult children” joining in.

    But after reading the complaints and the demands for what it would take to make it right, maybe she is one of those who requires a huge production where if the smallest thing is not perfect the entire even is ruined,

  • MarkKelling

    Could the hotel have allowed her to stay in the more expensive room without paying more? Sure. They chose to allow her to stay in a less expensive room without paying more. She did not pay the full cost of the 2 nights in the original room. While I would have been disappointed at ending up in a room that overlooked the driveway instead of overlooking the ocean, at least they didn’t give the ultimatum of paying the extra night for the ocean view or simply not being allowed to stay there at all. Besides, how much time do you stay in your room at a hotel instead of outside to enjoy the view anyway?

    I was sympathetic toward her until the outrageous demands of a newspaper apology and a full refund for the room plus gas! .That was simply too much. Maybe a discount off a future stay because of the billing mixup would have been acceptable since there was no complaint about the property other than the room rate and no statement about never staying there again.

  • KanExplore

    I booked a hotel in Norway for 6 euros a night (two nights). You don’t get a nice hotel in Norway for 6 euros. I assumed it was a mistake, and would have been prepared either to pay a normal rate or book elsewhere had they notified me it was an error. But I heard nothing. I stayed at the hotel, and when I checked out, they simply charged me the 6 euros per night. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked about the rate. The desk clerk said, “It was a mistake, but we caught it before many bookings were made. My boss entered the wrong total and we decided to honor the reservations. I’m glad it was my boss who made the mistake and not me.”

    In the case of the OP, I think they should have noticed it sooner, while there was still a chance for her to change her mind about the plans. Still, I do think her demands after the fact were unreasonable.

  • Rebecca

    I did not have a wedding shower when I got married or a baby shower when I had either of my kids. I never registered for gifts. I hate these type of events, I make an effort not to go, which is admittedly not very difficult because my husband and I don’t live near our families. Generally, I do understand what you’re saying. But I’m not a hypocrite.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, absolutely. So long as they don’t expect me to bring a gift and finance the party.

  • Travelnut

    I vacillate between “if I ever get married, I’m going to refuse all showers and gifts because someone has got to start the social trend to make them stop” to “if I ever get married, I’m registering for the most expensive stuff I can so that I can recoup at least some of what I’ve spent over the years.” : ) More than likely I will ask for no showers or gifts.

  • Travelnut

    You can barely breathe the air in Norway for 6 euros. Norway may have been my favorite vacation ever, but I was totally unprepared for how expensive it was. You got a great deal and it’s wonderful that the hotel honored it.

  • Rebecca

    I honestly know exactly what you mean. For me, the breaking point was when my husband was an usher in his cousin’s wedding. The weekend cost us over $600, plus we gave an engagement, shower and wedding gift. We had credit card debt for a wedding. We made the decision that weekend to not put anyone out when we got married, and to refuse invitations to stand up/destination weddings (unless it’s 1 of our siblings, but luckily our cost $100 at the San Diego courthouse and cook for family afterwards wedding was such a hit, 2 of the 3 then unmarrieds copied it and the 1 left is my brother and I know he won’t do that to me).

    I made this decision the summer we graduated, so the few weddings before that one I hadn’t been expected to do all that nonsense really. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be if you’d done that 15 times. You bring up a perspective from which I really hadn’t thought about it. Because you’re 100% right. If you went to all that hassle, I can see throwing a huge 40th birthday party, for example.

  • Kerr

    They COULD expect you to bring a gift. After all, you can’t control someone’s expectations, whether they are reasonable or not.

    But once you say no, that’s it. Them pestering you for a gift is just as bad as you complaining about them having a party. We are all adults and it is a free country.

  • AAGK

    I agree. Maybe she thought that emphasizing the birthday ruined forever bc she didn’t have the ocean front room would be persuasive, but it made it seem unreasonable. The hotel didn’t have to be gracious if it could fill the suite with a paying customer. Then that customer would be writing in with a legit grievance.

  • Altosk

    I was sympathetic to her until the demand of the full refund and the weird request for a newspaper apology. (Entitled much?)

    Hotel reservation systems issues are hotel problems, not the problems of the guests. Sure, they could’ve given her the room for free the second night because it was their problem and not hers, but her demands are totally out of line.

  • AAGK

    I agree with you. Why does the single person have to move to the lesser table or the worst seat on a plane so a couple may sit together. That’s an interesting take on this and you are right. She still would have had to pay for the room though. She accepted the lesser accommodation at the proper rate. The hotel should’ve called her immediately though. A consumer shouldn’t have to run the hotel accounting department.

  • AAGK

    I had an over top wedding and all of that and in retrospect, it would have made more sense to save the money rather than have a crystal Tiffany bowl that I throw dog toys in. Plus, china does not go in the dishwasher or microwave.

  • joycexyz

    It certainly would have been a gracious gesture for the hotel to honor their mistaken rate. And what is to prevent them from a permanent “mistake” to sucker people in?

  • AAGK

    She may have just emphasized the birthday angle as a misguided strategy. That happens a lot here when folks write about their age, etc. when they are only @60. Consumers misunderstand how this undermines their grievances.

  • AAGK

    I agree with this also. I’m on the fence about this one. I may have missed that the second night showed a zero and I’m not responsible for hotel revenue management and the IT dept. i do not think folks should take advantage of mistake fares, for ex, she should have noted the nightly rate of the booking since she wanted an incredible room and if I was only charged once, I would be more afraid that I was only confirmed for one night.

  • AAGK

    I also don’t see what facts she left out of her complaint. I understood what occurred based on the the OP’s account. The hotel’s reply did not add anything new except more detail about where its error occurred. As a customer, I usually do not want to get to the bottom of someone else’s error. I just want it fixed/resolved. I dislike when companies try to explain elaborate details in their defense. I want a solution and it seems she accepted one onsite. It would’ve been kind to send her a bottle of champagne and a cake or something a bit extra for the inconvenience. Some hotels don’t understand little perks go a long way. A good manager could’ve made her feel a bit better about the downgrade.

  • cscasi

    I understand your opinion and I respect it. However, I feel I am able to celebrate my special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, etc., however I want ) and I should be able to make it as small or lavish as I wish without people condemning me for it. After all, in my humble opinion, it is no one else’s business, is it?

  • Extramail


  • Extramail

    But, the hotel said they contacted her before her stay. She chose to ignore that contact, maybe hoping that once she got there, they would honor the rate. The hotel did not. She chose to take the lesser room. I’m assuming the hotel would have given her her money back had she talked to the hotel before arrival and may have even made that offer when she was standing at the desk at check-in. If I make a reservation at a hotel I know what the price is per night and if I see that when I pay for two nights it’s a one night rate, I don’t go to the hotel and hope they’ll let me stay for two nights for the price of one.

  • Bill___A

    I was thinking exactly that. I don’t even tell people when it is my birthday.

  • pauletteb

    OK, got it! You don’t like such things. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for someone else to feel otherwise. I despise all seafood, but I won’t sneer at you for cracking into a lobster.

  • Rebecca

    But I also wouldn’t expect you to pay for that lobster because it’s my birthday. If I was hosting a party, I’d pay for the meal. If I was just getting together with friends, likely we’d take turns paying or split the bill. I think some people are missing that part of the point. I don’t care if people throw parties. I’ve been to plenty of parties and I’ve thrown parties. I just don’t like gift grabs. Or hosts that expect the guests to finance the party. Or even worse, MLM sales scams designed advertised as “parties”.

  • Rebecca

    Again – I could honestly care less what type of party you like to throw. I only find it off-putting when you expect the guests to pay for the party you’re hosting and have your hand out for the gifts you’re expecting. (Its a parenthetical you – I don’t mean you specifically.)

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