B&B confirmed the wrong rate — do they have to honor the price?

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By Christopher Elliott

The Pensione Nichols looks like the kind of bed and breakfast I’d want to stay in the next time I’m in Seattle. It’s charming, historical and it’s even recommended by my own magazine.

But there’s one other thing the inn — or more specific, the inn’s proprietors — aren’t, according to Blair Baker. They’re not very good with math.

This spring, Baker made a reservation for her and her husband during the busy Labor Day weekend.

Suite surprise

“We decided to book a suite, since it includes a kitchen and would allow us to save money on food by cooking our own meals,” she says. “And since we were booking so far in advance, they gave us the room at a discounted rate of $200 a night. The day after making the reservation on the phone, I received an email confirmation from the hotel with a reservation number, the dates, number of guests, and price per night.”

But last week, when Baker tried to re-confirm her stay, she encountered a problem.

“I called the hotel to double-check all the details and ended up speaking with the owner, Lindsey,” she says. “Everything went smoothly until I asked her to confirm the $200 a night price. Lindsey said that wasn’t possible as the suite books for way more than $200 a night, especially for a holiday weekend.”

Baker says she explained that she’d spoken with another employee when she made her initial reservation, who had confirmed the $200 rate. She also had the confirmation in writing.

At that point, she says the B&B’s proprietor agreed to honor the rate.

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“A few hours later, I receive an email from Lindsey saying she simply can’t give us that rate and we will have to pay $265 plus tax per night, or we can cancel the reservation.”

Penning pleas and prickly rejections

Bakers says she can’t afford to spend another $65 a night for her accommodations.

“Is there anything we can do to get Lindsey to honor our original, confirmed-in-writing reservation at Pensione Nichols,” she asked me.

I suggested that she make another request to the property in writing. Baker did just that, sending a strongly-worded email to the inn. Perhaps a little too strongly-worded.

Her set-up is pretty neutral. She explains the problem, and where things stand now. Then she continues:

But to my dismay I found your business lacking the integrity and professionalism I thought it possessed.

My husband and I are incredibly upset about the treatment we’ve received regarding this reservation, and would like to keep it for the room at the rate we were guaranteed as we planned our entire trip around staying at your B&B almost 6 months ago.

I called you back as soon as I saw the email to clarify the situation and was immediately and crisply told “You can either pay the increased rate or cancel your reservation.” When I tried to explain everything had already been confirmed in writing months ago and we no longer had time to make any changes, I was brusquely told “I have to check a guest in” and practically hung up on.

Rate wrangle

The email also mentions the inn’s favorable reviews online, which could be interpreted as a threat to populate the Internet with not-so-favorable reviews.

Given that, I’m not really surprised that the Pensione didn’t move an inch.

My position on rate mistakes, also called “fat-finger” fares, is well known. If it’s a reasonable price (one cent fares don’t count) and the travel business confirms the rate in writing, it should honor the price. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

By my count, the Pensione confirmed its $200 per night rate three times; twice verbally and once in writing.

If, however, Baker knew the B&B was quoting erroneous rates (say, she’d seen it on a certain popular travel website that begins with the letter “F”) then I wouldn’t consider her case. That would be stealing.

But there’s no evidence of that happening. In another case a reader requested a specific room, but the hotel was not able to accommodate her request.

My only hesitation in asking the Pensione to honor its initial price is this: My advocacy team and I have seen the emails between the hotel and guest. The B&B seems to have taken a hard line on this case.

Yes, they mistakenly confirmed a $200 rate, and they admit it in writing. But in their estimation, it’s a mistake, and it can be corrected at any time before the guest checks in.

I’m not sure if the B&B will change its position, even if I ask.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Los Angeles.

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