My hotel was under a complete renovation — I want a refund

Caleb Short makes a reservation through Travelocity for a three-night stay at the Solstice Hotel in Erie, Pa. When he checks in, he finds the property in the midst of renovation work that makes him feel that it’s an unfit place to stay. Hotel management promises him a refund, then reneges. Travelocity refuses to help. Can we?

Question: I recently checked in the Solstice Hotel in Erie, Pa., and found it was under complete renovation.

After getting upstairs to my room, I called Travelocity because I felt the hotel was not fit to stay in. There was drywall dust coating everything and boards with nails lying in hallways.

After much back and forth, Travelocity told me the front desk couldn’t do anything because no manager was there and to call back the next day. The following day I called the front desk myself and spoke with the manager, who told me I needed to email their corporate office since their official policy was no refunds. — Caleb Short, Brownstown, Mich.

Answer: No one likes unpleasant surprises, especially when checking in for the night at a hotel. You did the right things — immediately contacting Travelocity and then talking to the hotel manager the next day. Based on what the manager said, you wrote a polite email to the hotel’s corporate office, which is also located there in Erie:

I am currently staying at your hotel. My roommate and I are both having breathing issues. It was not disclosed online that your hotel is under complete renovation. I am willing to pay for the first night. I would simply like the next two canceled and be allowed to find a new hotel.

That seemed to work. Here is the reply that came about two hours later from Kirsten Olowinski, who has the title of General Manager of the Solstice by Chase Hotel Group:

I just spoke with our manager, she believes that the conditions are unfit given the lobbies (sic) condition. You may go ahead and leave today. We will contact the travel site you booked through to issue a refund and we will issue one to their card as well for two of the three nights.
Thank you,

So, you would think the problem was solved. Based on that email, you checked out of the Solstice and stayed elsewhere the other two nights. Of course, if it had been that easy, we wouldn’t be writing about this case.

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One week later you received the following email from Travelocity:

We apologize for the delayed response. We have contacted the Hotel Manager/Devin, he advised us that they will not authorize any refund to be processed as the type of reservation booked is Non-refundable. He further checked the issue and verified that no complaint was raised regarding this concern. And as this is the Hotel’s policy, we are bound to the regulations set forth by the property.

You replied to the Travelocity representative, referring to your email from Kirsten Olowinski. But that didn’t help. The Travelocity representative apparently ignored the general manager’s refund approval and also ignored hotel manager Devin’s incorrect claim that no complaint had been raised. Instead, she replied with the same note as before, with no further explanation.

If the hotel manager says the policy is no refunds, Travelocity stops there. Too bad for the consumer.

Regular readers of this site probably aren’t too surprised at Travelocity’s response. Online travel agencies (OTAs) are notorious for leaving consumers hanging when there is a problem with a supplier.

Travelocity’s response is what you should expect if you read the company’s terms and conditions:

Supplier Rules And Restrictions
You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services. … You agree to pay any cancellation or change fees that you incur. In limited cases, some hotels do not permit changes to or cancellations of reservations after they are made, as indicated in the rules and restrictions for the hotel reservation. You agree to abide by the Terms of Use imposed with respect to your prepaid hotel reservations.

Since Travelocity is part of Expedia, you could have escalated the matter with a polite email to the Expedia contacts on our website. Instead, you contacted us.

One thing you should have done was use your mobile phone to take pictures of the conditions at the Solstice and include those with your complaint. It might have helped. We see consumers getting better and faster resolutions to their issues when they provide good photographic evidence.

Our advocate contacted both Olowinski at Solstice by Chase Hotel Group and Travelocity but got no response from either. We don’t know why Solstice went silent. I’m just speculating, but perhaps the company felt Travelocity had its back so it could ignore the problem.

You didn’t give up, taking the next step and disputing the charge with your credit card company. That worked. Here’s what you wrote to our advocate: “I actually finally got a refund within a few hours of my bank finally making some phone calls on my behalf. Both Travelocity and the Solstice Hotel emailed me a short time later telling me how hard they had been working to come to a resolution, which I found rather amusing given the runaround I had received.”

Your problem is solved, but it should not have taken the intervention of your bank to get the hotel or Travelocity to do the right thing. This case is a reminder that when you book through an OTA, you should be aware that you might not get much help if there is a problem with a supplier.

At a minimum, read the terms and conditions of both the OTA and the supplier and then think twice about paying in advance for reservations at a hotel with a nonrefundable rate.

Where did this refund get stuck?

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Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

  • Many times these articles quote the contract, but that isn’t the only set of rules governing the situation. There are usually state consumer protection laws. In this case there are habitability laws and also laws regarding misrepresentation of a product. These laws are usually superior to any contractual “rules and restrictions” that someone may quote.
    The OP won this case because the product wasn’t as represented.

  • Rebecca

    The consumer was perfectly reasonable, and the hotel responded reasonably as well. Travelocity seems to be the problem. The OP had an email stating he’d receive a refund, why Travelocity just ignored it is beyond me. This is what an opem and shut credit card dispute looks like: proof in writing and a quick resolution with a phone call to the credit card company.

  • Annie M

    Kudos to this consumer for trying to work everything out before hand before going to his credit card company. It’s too bad that it had to come down to that but I guess his credit card felt that the written approval he had from the corporate office was enough to alow the dispute. Good for him.

  • Bill___A

    I’d say that “non refundable” applies if the hotel is providing the quality of stay promised. That shouldn’t let the hotel off the hook if their property is in a bad state, then, in my opinion, everything is a refundable reservation. The fact that Travelocity seemingly cannot see through this point is bad on them.

    I’ll say this however. With the reputable hotel chains I stay at, if the construction is an annoyance but tolerable, they let you know on their website that it is going on so you know in advance before you make a booking. Furthermore, if the extent of the renovations are to such a point as to make the hotel inhospitable, they close the hotel.

    My advice is, in cases like this, even if you are going to book a hotel via an OTA, go to tripadvisor and go to the hotel’s own website to see if they have any information you should be aware of. Take screen captures. Often, issues like construction are mentioned on the hotel’s website but may not be on an OTA one. If they do have construction noted on their website or people on Tripadvisor note it, call the hotel and find out what’s going on. Once you are satisfied that there is no untoward activities going on, then go ahead and make the reservation. Then, if you do arrive on the property and there is undisclosed construction, you have every right to demand a full and immediate refund (and go elsewhere),

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    and take pictures. Lots of pictures.

  • EvilEmpryss

    Why do people keep booking with third party sites?

    They really aren’t significantly cheaper than booking direct, and if you have a problem with a company you book with directly, you don’t have to fight through two layers of corporate red tape to get it handled appropriately, and there’s half the buck-passing.

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