“We are now stuck in a communications abyss”

Technology can be a helpful tool for the traveler, or it can be the tool of the devil. In Cindy Lammert’s case, it’s definitely the latter. Her recent online booking at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost through the Accor site got so screwed up that no phone calls or emails could fix it.

“We are now stuck in a communications abyss, with no resolution, no place to stay, and a $550 bill,” she told me.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance. The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

How did she get drawn into this vortex? Is there any hope for her? And how can you avoid the same thing?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Lammert explains,

On Aug. 15, I used the Accor website to book the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost, inserting the dates for our two night stay (October 7-9).

A favorable rate for a (splurge) junior suite came up, and I entered my credit card information for the non-refundable price. Upon printing the reservation confirmation for our files thereafter, I noticed that the website had automatically shifted the dates of the two night stay to what were presumably the next available dates (October 15-17). Of course, these were not the dates that I entered.

Whoa. Shifted the dates? How can that happen?

Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of date-shifting. Sometimes, browsers and sites interact in a funny and unintended way. Anyway, on with the story …

I immediately searched for e-mail and phone numbers for the hotel. I called Germany and spoke to two individuals at the hotel who ultimately said that they could not help me to change the date or cancel the reservation. They directed me to the Accor and Sofitel websites, as Accor apparently books for Sofitel.

I sent a message to Accor immediately as well and received no response at all. I was advised by Sofitel that there is no availability for the dates intended, and I was told to pursue the issue with Accor online. I e-mailed Accor directly and did not receive any response. In the last e-mail requesting assistance with contact information, I never got a response from Sofitel.

I have disputed the bill with my credit card company and cancelled the reservation since it appears that there is no availability on the dates that I need (and so that the hotel can re-book the rooms). Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Why the runaround? Why can’t the hotel just cancel her reservation and rebook her on the nights she meant to be in Munich? If I had to guess, I’d say there’s a company policy that forbids the hotel from modifying a reservation made through the corporate site, and that may make perfect sense from a company perspective. (Sofitel is managed by Accor.) But not from a customer’s point of view.

Many hotel reservations booked online are non-refundable, so it’s possible that Sofitel’s refusal had something to do with the terms of Lammert’s room. Is that a good enough reason to force a customer to pay $550 for a room she won’t use? No, not if the booking was an honest mistake. The error was brought to the hotel’s attention immediately. There should be some flexibility.

I contacted Accor on her behalf. Here’s the response she got from a manager at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost:

I am writing to you regarding the problems you encountered when booking your stay with us via the Accor website from October 7 – 9, 2010.

First of all, I want to make sure that you know that the handling of your complaint with the reservation department was insufficient from our side and that we want to apologize for the inconvenience caused by this.

The rate you received with the initial booking was for a different period than the rates we have from October 7 – 9, 2010. That being said, we now offer you preferential rates for the Junior Suite for 299 € (official public rate 379 €) or a Superior Room for 214 € (official public rate 269 €).

Of course you would be welcome as a VIP guest.

Looking forward to receiving your feedback!

I love a happy ending.

But how do you avoid the shifting dates. Use a standard Web browser, like Internet Explorer, for which most sites are optimized. Be sure to double-check your dates when you make a reservation, particularly on a European site where the date format is different. And always read the confirmation as soon as you get it, to make sure you received the dates you reserved.

If you didn’t, here’s hoping you can avoid the abyss.

(Photo: tanaka who/Flickr Creative Commons)