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 the executive director of She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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