Montezuma’s revenge? Fairmont billing misadventure turns into guest “nightmare”

“I’m feeling Montezuma’s revenge — in a different way,” Anita Sim wrote to me recently. The problem? Two unauthorized credit card charges by the Fairmont Acapulco Princess in Acapulco, Mexico.

“It turned out to be a nightmare,” she said.

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Her credit card confusion contains a valuable lesson for all of us on handling billing errors. But before I get to that, let’s hear from Sim.

My stay was for Feb 1 to 6. However, sometime around mid-January, I noticed that my credit card (#1) was pre-charged in the amount of $256.

I called the main reservations line to inquire about this charge, as I had not even step foot in Mexico yet and was informed that this was the policy for the group I was with (I was going to attend a conference). I inquired about how to transfer this onto a separate card (credit card #2, one that my employer will reimburse) as I was not intending to use the card I made the reservation with to ultimately pay for the stay.

I was informed that I could easily make this transfer upon check-in.

Long story short, multiple attempts during my stay to resolve this issue in person (both at check-in and check-out) were unsuccessful. To make matters worse, I also discovered upon returning home that I had been erroneously charged IVA taxes throughout my stay, which need to be refunded as well. Therefore, I am now attempting to resolve two simultaneous issues. (IVA taxes are Mexico’s value-added tax.)

It gets worse. Sim sent an email to the hotel, which agreed to fix the problem. Instead, the exact opposite happened.

That is, the $256 is refunded to credit card #2, and another charge was placed on credit card #1. Now I have two charges that were never authorized on my credit card that I never wanted to use in the first place.

I have tried disputing both charges with Bank of America, to no avail.

Isn’t the definition of a disputed charge one that is made without authorization? And are hotels allowed to pre-charge you in advance of your stay without prior warning? I was never informed that I would be charged one night’s stay in advance, so such a charge was never authorized. Otherwise, I would have used a different credit card. Plus, the second charge was clearly made in error (and was admitted as such by the Fairmont agent in our email correspondence) and, again, was an unauthorized charge.

I’ve done all that I can to reasonably correct matters but they only keep getting worse. I’m afraid that if I attempt to correct the error for yet another time, I will end up with yet another erroneous charge on a credit card I never wanted to use. Could you please help?

It isn’t unusual for a hotel to pre-charge your credit card. Nor would it be a stretch to assume the card you’ve used to confirm your stay is the one that the hotel will eventually charge. If Sim needed to make other arrangements, the time to have made them would be before making the reservation, not afterwards.

Once she noticed the charges, the best way to fix them would have been by email. Not in person at the hotel. Not in an email to the hotel. I would have emailed corporate Fairmont through its Web site, instead. Someone would have routed it to the correct department, where it would have been fixed promptly. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

What about the credit card dispute?

Bad idea, at least until you get a definitive “no” from the hotel. If you have evidence that you didn’t authorize a charge and a firm denial from the merchant, then it’s time to file a dispute. Try that any earlier, and you could hurt your chances of getting a refund from the hotel.

I contacted Fairmont on Sim’s behalf. Yesterday, it refunded the correct amount to both her cards.

(Photo: TimmyGUNZ/Flickr Creative Commons)

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