Rachel Gaspers has a big Agoda problem and she wants our help to fix it. But can we?
Gasper’s case highlights the risks you might be taking when you use an obscure third party booking site like Agoda.com. Unfortunately, as in this case, these risks can include foreign currency confusion among other things. As a result, you just might not be getting the deal you think you’re getting.
Finding herself with a confusing Agoda problem
Gaspers discovered her Agoda problem when she returned from her vacation in Edinburgh, Scotland. She had booked her hotel rooms for the trip in U.S. dollars, but Agoda charged her the equivalent amounts in British pounds — or so she says. She didn’t provide our advocates with documentation supporting her claim. Her case underscores the importance of a paper trail that confirms a consumer’s claims.
Our advocates advise booking directly through travel companies or brick-and-mortar travel agents and avoiding third-party booking sites altogether. That advice is especially true for complicated international trips.
If you use a third-party travel website, make sure you understand that site’s terms and conditions. These include knowing the currency in which your travel companies will bill you. We also strongly advise familiarizing yourself with and observing the three P’s of consumer advocacy: patience, politeness and persistence.
Had Gaspers done so, she might have avoided the problems she experienced with these foreign transactions. She might also have had a supporting paper trail that our advocates could use to approach Agoda on her behalf. And as you’re about to read, she might have adopted a less aggressive attitude toward everyone she approached for help — including our advocates.
The beginning of her Agoda problem
According to Gaspers, when she planned and booked her vacation on Agoda.com, the company quoted all the prices in British pounds.
Agoda sent Gaspers confirmations of the following online hotel bookings in U.S. dollars:
- a one-night stay at the Best Western Braid Hills Hotel for $220
- two nights at the Cumberland Hotel for $263 (Gaspers later canceled this reservation)
- two nights at the Haymarket Hub Hotel for $321
The confirmations for all three hotels indicate that these hotel rooms are nonrefundable. The confirmation for the Cumberland Hotel contains the notation “You’ll pay Cumberland Hotel in the property’s local currency (GBP).”
Gaspers’ credit card statements included an additional charge of $332 from Agoda. Agoda later issued a credit to Gaspers for the same amount, along with another credit of $161. The two credits were goodwill gestures from Agoda, according to Gaspers.
Foreign currency confusion
At the top right corner of Agoda.com’s website, there is a dollar sign link. Clicking on this link brings up a page that allows the user to select the currency in which the site should quote prices. In the U.S., it defaults to U.S. dollars, but there is an option for British pounds, linked to the £ symbol.
Gaspers claimed that she never saw this link when she originally made her online hotel bookings: “If there was a way to select currencies [on Agoda.com], I did not see it (and still don’t).”
Did Agoda pull a bait-and-switch on Gaspers?
According to Gaspers, she “very probably didn’t look at the confirmations immediately but when [she] did [she] knew something was wrong.” She contacted Agoda to “ask to see a copy of [her] original bookings.” But Agoda, claims Gaspers, didn’t respond to this request. Despite offering her two credits as a goodwill gesture, Agoda would not otherwise communicate with her.
Gaspers also contacted each of the three hotels, with no success. All the hotels responded that because she booked through Agoda, they could not assist her. Unfortunately for Gaspers, this was one of the risks she ran in using a third-party booking site to make online hotel bookings.
There are two probable reasons for the travel companies’ silence. One is that Gaspers already had the confirmations Agoda had sent her. It’s unlikely that Agoda has any screenshots or other documentation of Gaspers’ bookings that it could send her.
There’s plenty of documentation for the second reason, though. Gaspers communicated in a hostile, accusatory tone with everyone involved in her case. She repeatedly accused each company of running a bait-and-switch scam. For example, she wrote to the Cumberland Hotel (capitalization appears as per the original text):
I stayed in your hotel June 2 and 3, 2018.
I returned home to find that I have been charged twice: by your hotel directly, and by Agoda, the booking agent I used to make the reservation.
Agoda has charged me: $321 USD
Cumberland charged me: $ 264 USD
***BOTH OF THESE CHARGES APPEAR ON MY CREDIT CARD
What is going on?
Asking the Elliott Advocacy team for help
Gaspers’ hostility didn’t stop when she contacted the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for help. Her request contained the following desired resolution: “And I want Agoda ‘outed’ for their dishonesty.”
Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, responded to Gaspers’ complaint: “While [the website] will show you those rates in dollars, it does not mean the booking will be charged in that currency. It appears that if you paid Agoda for the booking you would be charged in dollars.” Gaspers replied: “I interpret this as saying they can lie to me and I’m supposed to just accept this?”
Dwayne explained that she mistook Agoda’s $321 charge as being for the Cumberland Hotel, but it was actually for the Haymarket Hub Hotel. Gaspers responded by accusing Dwayne of “not hearing what I am saying. Am I not making sense???”
Gaspers then made a surprising request: “I have been very carefully, and exhaustively writing out/copying/pasting/etc. all you have asked for. Is it possible that someone else on your team of advocates might lay fresh eyes on this?”
Yes, we often suggest escalating complaints to higher-ranking executives when self-advocacy proves to be ineffective. (Our website features executive contact information for customer service representatives for many companies, although we don’t yet have contacts for Agoda.com.) But here was a disappointed consumer escalating a complaint with our advocates!
The bottom line
Dwayne forwarded Gaspers’ request to Michelle Couch-Friedman, our executive director. Michelle told Gaspers that she would need to see documentation of her claims. Without a paper trail confirming that Agoda charged Gaspers in British pounds while quoting in U.S. dollars, there is no way the team could successfully advocate.
It’s possible that Agoda quoted Gaspers in one currency but charged her the exact number of units in another. But she never provided our advocates with any proof of this. And neither businesses nor our advocates respond well to hostility, sarcasm, and accusations. So this is where Gaspers’ story ends, with frustration for her but cautionary information for you.
Have you ever been charged the wrong amount after receiving a quote in a different currency? Did the company reimburse you the price difference?