Are “unpublished” hotel reservations too hard to cancel?

Photo of author

By Christopher Elliott

Derek Ho thinks Expedia has canceled his nonrefundable hotel room. After all, it gave him a cancellation number. But it’s charging him anyway, and his credit card is letting it. Is there any hope for a refund?

Question

I recently tried to book a four-star hotel in New York through Expedia’s unpublished rates section, which doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel until you pay for it. The hotel we ended up with was DoubleTree by Hilton New York Chelsea, which is only listed as a three-star hotel on other popular websites. I understood before calling that Expedia has a no-cancellation policy on the unpublished hotel rates, but I figured if I called right away I might be lucky enough to get it canceled.

I called Expedia almost immediately after the booking. At first, the agent echoed what the website said, and that the reservation could not be canceled, refunded or changed. However, after talking to her some more, she finally agreed to cancel the reservation. We received a cancellation email confirmation from Expedia and a reference number.

A few weeks later we checked our credit card statement and found that a charge for $509 had been put through. By now, we had booked another hotel in New York. We called the DoubleTree by Hilton to ask if we had a hotel booking there, and they said no.

The charge stayed on our credit card and a subsequent investigation by Expedia couldn’t prove that we spoke to anybody who offered us the refund, so he had to rely on the written information on the website that all sales were final. He told us to contact our credit card to get a refund. We disputed the $509 on our credit card, but our bank sided with Expedia. What can we do? — Derek Ho, London, Canada

Answer

Expedia should have canceled your hotel room, as promised. It appears that you did everything you could, with maybe one exception. While you were able to get a cancellation number from Expedia, you might have asked the hotel to also send you an email to that effect. Having something in writing might have made this case easier to dispute, once your credit card company became involved.

You also fell victim to the star confusion that afflicts the so-called “opaque” sites like Priceline, Hotwire, and now, Expedia, with its “unpublished” rates. Simply put, the stars don’t align. A four-star property on Hotwire might only be a three-star property with AAA. Pay attention to the amenities listed under the star ratings, not the stars. (Here’s our guide to finding the best hotel.)

Expedia reverses decision

It’s highly unusual for an opaque site to cancel a booking like this. Normally, all reservations are completely nonrefundable, whether you agree with the ratings or not. But it is even more unusual for it to issue a cancellation number and then renege on the cancellation. I think Expedia got a few wires crossed. (Related: I want a refund from Expedia but it just wants me to leave a bad review for the hotel.)

Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to providing our employees with a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

I see you repeatedly contacted Expedia by phone. While that may have secured you a promise of an immediate refund after your purchase, it didn’t serve you well later. Large travel companies record their calls for “quality assurance” purposes, but generally, you don’t — and therefore you have no evidence of anything a representative tells you. You’re better off sending a brief, polite email to Expedia, asking it to honor its agreement. I list the Expedia contacts on my advocacy site.

My advocacy team and I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It reviewed its call records, and based on the first conversation you had after booking your room at the DoubleTree, it agreed to refund the entire amount of the booking.

Photo of author

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 X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Related Posts