Oops! Wrong inaugural rate at the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

Faith James likes to think of herself as a “pretty savvy traveler” but when she planned to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington next month, she couldn’t have foreseen the trouble with the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

I couldn’t have, either.

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James is taking her 78-year-old mother up to DC to attend the festivities. They were lucky enough to get tickets from their congressman, but accommodations proved to be a little more difficult.

“I’ve been combing hotel and airline websites for weeks to get the best deals,” she says. “Location of a hotel is, of course, key since getting around the district will be tricky. I lived in DC for a few years, so I know it will be madness.”

Her congressman’s office recommended the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C., an all-suite property on C Street, which is reasonably close to everything. She checked the rates for the inauguration, but they were out of her price range.

And that’s when things got interesting.

Like a good traveler, Faith began monitoring the rates at the Capitol Hill Hotel.

I checked again yesterday and saw a Travelzoo promotional rate of $114 per night, with a 4-night minimum stay, and a requirement of payment in full.

I took about 30 minutes to call my Mom to get her okay on the hotel, check TripAdvisor to make sure the hotel had good customer reviews, and even combed the hotel website to see what the layout of the room would be and what amenities they offer. I even emailed my congressman’s office and a couple of friends to tell them about the great rate.

Now, $114 a night is a very good rate for an all-suite hotel in Washington any time, let alone during the inauguration. Too good to be true? No, $14 a night would have been too good to be true — an obvious rate error due to a missed decimal point.

James found the rate through a legitimate source, too, and her motives were right. Had she picked up this rate on Flyertalk or one of those bottom-feeding mileage blogs, and then booked a block of several rooms and waved her elite card in the hotel’s face if it refused to honor it, then I would have politely turned down her request for help.

So James booked the room. But she had some misgivings about the transaction.

Thinking to myself that $114 per night was a really discounted rate, and wanting to verify that the reservation was complete, I called the hotel directly and spoke with the reservations agent.

She confirmed that the reservation was complete, and that the rate was $114.

I said “that’s a really good rate,” and she replied “Hmmm. Yes, it is,” hesitating somewhat.

She said, “You are confirmed,” and we hung up.

I went immediately to airline websites and booked travel for Jan 18 – 22. We had originally planned to travel from Jan 19 – 22, but for this great hotel rate at a 4-night minimum we decided to travel one day earlier.

An hour later, she received a call from a hotel manager.

In a very accusatory tone he said that I had “slipped in” and gotten a rate that was being uploaded onto the site for a promotion. He said that the rate was only up for 5 seconds, and that he was cancelling my reservation.

I told him very politely that the rate was up for way longer than 30 minutes, I booked it, and the hotel confirmed it not once, but twice, once in writing and once over the phone.

He completely lost it, and started yelling at me that the hotel was not honoring the rate, and would be sending me a cancellation letter.

I told him that I would not accept the cancellation, as the rate which I paid in full did not allow me to cancel, so should be reciprocal.

James and the hotel exchanged several messages, including another email from the hotel to her confirming the erroneous rate. The bottom line is that James now has airline tickets to fly from Dallas to Washington, but no accommodations.

“Am I correct in insisting that the hotel honor the rate for which I paid in full?” she wonders. “I did everything required of me as the consumer, yet the hotel wants to now say they should not have made the offer. Should they now be allowed to rescind the offer that has already been accepted?”

I can certainly see her point of view — and the hotel’s. A check of the Capitol Hill’s rates during the inauguration finds room rates start at $599 a night, so honoring the rate will mean a significant loss of revenue. Yet the $114-a-night rate wasn’t an obvious mistake, either, and this guest didn’t go looking for a rate error, which are both important considerations.

Should the hotel honor the rate? I think that if it cancels on James, it can’t just leave her without a room. It needs to offer her something. I also thought the way in which it handled her cancellation left something to be desired. You don’t call a guest and treat them like criminals; it’s just not good hospitality. Or good customer service.

I contacted the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C. on James behalf. A representative responded:

We have reached out to Ms. James today and confirmed her stay over inauguration. We look forward to hosting Ms. James and her mother in a few weeks and apologize for any confusion.

Should the hotel have honored Faith James' rate?

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48 thoughts on “Oops! Wrong inaugural rate at the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

  1. If she sent in her money and got a confirmation, I suspect a lawyer (and more importantly a judge) would view that as a valid contract, binding on both sides.

    1. Agreed. As she said, the rate didn’t allow her to cancel so why should the hotel be allowed to? This wasn’t a fat finger rate error or a misplaced decimal point (which would have made it $11.40/night or $1140/night.) As for the hotel’s argument that it was in the middle of a rate change, if their system is so messed up to allow an incorrect amount, based on the conversation it sounds like $114/night was never a valid rate, to show up at any time, they deserve what they get when it messes up.

  2. Unless and until every travel company has a clear policy refunding customers who make a clear mistake (name issues, booking a day early or late or the wrong month/year), I have zero sympathy for their supposed “mistakes”, which they have much more ability to put checks in their systems to prevent.

    Even if a customer finds and takes advantage of a true “mistake fare”, how is that different than a customer who accidentally double books flights for the same day, realizes and calls to fix it right away, yet the airline claims they can’t/won’t refund even though it’s a clear, obvious mistake?

    It may well cause severe financial distress for someone to have a $2000 mistake not corrected; it simply won’t cause the same for a hotel to have to honor a couple of rooms at a rate lower than they might have otherwise been able to gouge people for. If they don’t want that to happen, add a line to their rate-entry person’s system saying “you are putting in a rate lower than X% below the average; are you sure? Supervisor approval required”.

    1. They’re basically fleecing their guests like some hotels in prime cities jack up their rates for New Year’s Eve. I’ve heard of a Motel 6 in a certain place went from its standard $40/night to about $500 for New Year’s Eve.

      Here’s their special. Right now the lowest they’re offering is $799/night for a junior suite, 4 days prepaid and non-refundable. However, they don’t seem to have a resort fee, Wi-Fi is included, and they’ve got a continental breakfast. 😉


      I checked their rates for the following week (25th-29th) and they’ve got a “Great Rate” for booking at least three nights, at $164.90 a night and it looks like it’s not prepaid. It’s actually less than their prepaid rate ($224). Frankly $114 didn’t seem all that farfetched. If I were the hotel manager I would have just eaten the opportunity to get more to avoid the bad publicity. It wasn’t that they tried to back out of the reservation (not surprising) but that the manager was rude to a customer in that way.

      Frankly – looking at their website – the thing is a mess. For that week I checked, it’s still coming up as an inauguration special even though those dates are the week after. The “Best Available Rate” is more than the “Great Rate” that I saw. None of it makes any sense, which is why I’d think Ms. James wasn’t sure what to make of it and booked in good faith after calling up the hotel.

      1. A hotel increasing it’s rates, even drastically, for special events, isn’t “fleecing”; it’s Supply and Demand at work. If you don’t want to pay, you don’t stay. (Unlike say, jacked-up disaster rates, you DO have a choice of simply not attending a special event.)

        1. While I agree with you on rates should be based on supply and demand, when hotels raise their rates because of a near by event, the rates are not always justified by supply and demand. I have seen hotels double base rates because of an event near by, yet there are other hotels in the area that don’t and there are still rooms available at the hotel that jacked up their prices.

          Bottom line is these hotels are jacking up their prices because they know most people are traveling on expense accounts and the hotels know the businesses will pay. To me, it’s not supply and demand economics at work here. It’s the economics of greed.

          1. But if they doubled the price of the rooms, they wouldn’t have to sell out to come out ahead over their normal rates. 51% occupancy would be all they’d need. And with fewer rooms to clean, etc., their expenses would probably decrease for some things so they might even be able to come out ahead by being more than half empty.

          2. Based on your comment, it seems you don’t understand the concept of supply and demand. Supply and Demand economics is not about profits. It says that the cost of an object is based on the demand for the object. As demand goes up and supply is limited, prices goes up. In this case, there was a greater demand, but there was still plenty of supply. So according to supply and demand, prices should have stayed the same.

            Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply_and_demand. It has a pretty good explanation You will also note it talks nothing about profit, just about how the price should be set.

          3. I would disagree that it isn’t about profits. Several years ago I had clients booked at the MGM Grand for a weekend, which the hotel allowed me to hold without a credit card. When I called back within a few hours with the credit card, their $99 a night room was now well over $300 a night. Why? Because the Tyson fight got rescheduled. The hotel honored the held rate, but the family that wanted to travel with them, as it was Dad’s 50th birthday trip, couldn’t go due to the increase in the hotel rates. Why was that room now worth over $200 a night more? Because they could get it and make a bigger profit. They would have sold out at $99 a night, too.
            BTW, my clients didn’t go to the fight, not their kind of entertainment, but sitting in the lobby watching the ‘show’ of characters who came for the flight, was hilarious and worth their $99 per night.

          4. You are mixing two different economic aspects in your example and confusing them both with supply and demand.

          5. I don’t think so. The law of supply and demand in the travel industry is what drives the price and hence the profit.

          6. Supply and demand, even in the travel industry, only applies to the price you can set. Whether that price makes a profit depends on the costs to produce the product. Two separate concepts. Most businesses would not be in business if the maximum price the market will bear is less than the cost of making the product, then no matter what the available supply or demand is, you won’t make a profit. Supply and demand still applies though.

          7. I think you missed the rest of the point. Supply and demand is the basis to determine the optimal pricing to maximize profits. Consider, why does a business care at what price to sell its goods and services.

            Also, just because other hotels aren’t raise their prices says nothing about the specifics of said hotel.

          8. Agree, We don’t know how the hotel management was ANTICIPATING demand.
            Businesses and consumers also speculate.

          9. “Based on your comment, it seems you don’t understand the concept of supply and demand. It says that the cost of an object is based on the demand for the object.”

            No, it’s you that do not understand. S&D has little to do with EITHER cost OR profit. As supply goes down, PRICE goes up. Price has only the most tenuous connection with cost in the sense that averaged across any given market, average price is usually greater than average cost (although this is not universal by any means… look at the notorious sinkhole of capital that is the US airline industry.)

            (Not realizing that customers care about price vs. value and don’t care about cost is a mistake all too many entrepreneurs make.)

            In this case, there isn’t “plenty of supply” on inauguration day… nearly every decent hotel in the District and close-in suburbs is going to be booked solid, or nearly so.

            If a particular hotel jacks their prices WAY up, and occupancy rates on the day of the event are far lower than at comparable hotels that charged less, this isn’t evidence of “greed”; it’s evidence of a pricing mistake (the kind that gets hotel sales managers fired if they make that mistake too often.) The marginal cost of a hotel room is so low, it’s no favor to profits to ever have a room go empty.

          10. “No, it’s you that do not understand. S&D has little to do with EITHER cost OR profit.” Huh? That is exactly the point I was making. S&D only describes prices. It has nothing to do with costs or profits. You left out the next sentence in my quote, “Supply and Demand economics is not about profits.”

            “As supply goes down, PRICE goes up”. That is only true if demand stays high. If the supply drops and demand also drops, then prices goes down as long as there is surplus supply to meet demand. Supply can drop and prices can drop if demand falls off faster than the supply is going down.

          11. What you said: “It says that the cost of an object is based on the demand for the object.”

            It isn’t. The cost of an object is based on, well, it’s costs.

          12. Awesome. The guy who hates seeing supply and demand in action takes the time to find a wiki site explaining it. I can only hope you’ll read it at some point and figure out what you’ve missed thus far.

          13. I’m an engineer and I remember when the Comdex electronics show was the biggest convention in Las Vegas. It took up all the major convention centers (LVCC, Sands Expo, LV Hilton Convention Center) and all of the Strip hotels were always sold out for the week. In addition to that, most of the Strip hotels were making a killing by requiring full week reservations (even if unoccupied on Sunday or Friday) at full rack rate. They weren’t charging New Year’s Eve rates, but it was OK for the full week. I also remember playing blackjack and hearing some of the dealers telling me that they didn’t particularly like it because it kept vacationers out for the entire week and that the convention goers didn’t particularly gamble (which meant tips) in high numbers. The restaurants typically did OK, especially with sales personnel wining and dining potential customers. The hotels (in addition to charging rack rates) were also selling out of business suites and meeting rooms that were being used for invitation-only presentations and sales pitches.

            In the end I don’t think it was a net benefit for Las Vegas given that gambling is their lifeblood.

          14. In part, you can blame Sheldon Adelson for those very high hotel rates. His company (which he later sold) called The Interface Group, had deals with all the major hotels where, in return for keeping the show in Las Vegas, it received a cut of each guest’s hotel charge during Comdex week. There was also a deal with American Airlines where attendees purchasing tickets directly from AA got a 5% discount and the Interface Group received a commission for each air passenger. This is how Adelson made his first billion. He has made some very shrewd deals since then and, before the recession hit, was the third wealthiest person in the United States.

          15. Greed is good. It (together with fear) drives capitalism. Without the profit motive, the hotel would not even be there.

  3. If it was me i would have preferred the hotel charge me a little more when i checked in. Canceling her ONLY hotel reservation is needlessly cruel.

    For such a major event she might have had to go all the way to Virgina or Maryland for a hotel.

    1. You shouldn’t be charged any more than what was agreed to at the time of the booking. For me, charging more and canceling are both unacceptable in this case.

  4. I had the same type of issue with Days Inn during Homecoming at my college this past fall. It took lots of complaining and hours of time on the phone to get them to honor my reservation. Except in my case they tried to cancell 9 months after the reservation was made. The hotel owner wanted a higher rate and longer stay.

  5. Oh, I see the manager and one of their subordinates found this article. At least, that is who I’m guessing the 2 no votes are from at this time.

    1. Has to be them. Who else could possibly believe that the hotel doesn’t have to honor the rate? This isn’t a “fat-finger” rate, the OP verified the rate over the phone.

  6. The “gotten a rate that was being uploaded onto the site for a promotion” sounds like BS. No web application in the world would accidentally give one rate to someone else unless it was fat-fingered. It wasn’t a technical “glitch”; it was operator error.

    That said, I think it was the right thing to do. IMO the hotel could have argued it more effectively if they hadn’t defaulted to such a lame excuse to begin with.

  7. Regardless of the legitimacy of the rate, the manager had no business yelling at her or being rude. That alone blows their case out of the water.

    Had he called her and expressed politely that there was an error with the rate, I might be sympathetic. Yeah, $114 per night does seem awfully cheap for a good hotel at a particularly crowded time.

    But if it was never supposed to be there and the hotel didn’t realize it until she made the booking, my sympathy goes away. It seems to me that the hotel has a responsibility to make sure that what they’re offering potential customers is actually what’s posted in their ads or on their websites. When they don’t follow through on the rates they post, blaming the customer is bad business.

  8. It looks like the hotel eventually did the “right thing” although I suspect they did so rather than face a lot of negative publicity.
    The hotel had ample chance to back out of the rate and they didn’t do it. Additionally, their comments about the “promotional rate” being up only seconds doesn’t really hold water. Why was it still there when she called the hotel?
    Although it might be a $2000 revenue loss for the hotel, in my opinion it has little to do with the cost of the room and a lot to do with how much they think they can extort from people during a popular event, so I don’t feel sorry for them.

  9. Chris…I voted yes, at least I thought I did. I selected the yes option and tried to vote by selecting the vote button,
    but nothing happened!!?? Anyway, I think the hotel (any, for that matter) should honor a confirmed rate even though they later claim it was an error. Glad to hear that the hotel came through for the James’s.

  10. I think it’s quite interesting the way the agent on the phone reacted. Sounds to me like they didn’t know that rate was out there until the OP called to confirm it. Then they tried to backpedal their way out of it.

    And I agree with everyone who thinks that if hotels, airlines, etc. want to be able to cancel reservations when the rate was an error, then customers should be allowed to cancel or change reservations when they make an honest mistake.

    1. I had an issue with a rate once. I was willing to pay $20 extra to get a toss-in gift certificate. I thought the terms seemed a little bit odd (required a two night stay even though I booked a single night) but a call to the hotel directly and the clerk said I was set. When I checked in, the manager was on duty and said there was a mistake with the corporate reservations system, which shouldn’t have displayed the rate for a one night stay. He didn’t kick me out and actually reduced the rate to the last minute rate I would have chosen.

      Heck – I’ve also experienced some weird things. Once a corporate hotel operator offered an $8 special for a $20 dining certificate at the hotel’s restaurant. I thought it made sense and accepted. When I arrived, the clerk said she couldn’t give it to me for $8 – it cost $20 which made no sense to agree to it since I could otherwise pay in cash. I’m not sure what the deal was (maybe she couldn’t enter it as an $8 charge) so she handed me the certificate gratis.

      However, I’ve never had a hotel reservation unilaterally cancelled on me by the hotel, with the exception being a force majeure situation. Unless I’m confusing the definition, I’d think a hurricane counts.

  11. My issue isn’t with the rate. As far as I’m concerned, she booked, got confirmation not once, but twice – honor the damn rate. It’s the right thing to do. Their revpar is not going into the toilet over the room anyway, it’s ONE room with a reduced rate – and big friggin deal, there’s probably at least half the hotel with much lower or comped rooms, for those DC bigwigs that are calling in every favor they’re owed around the area. For promotional purposes, you know. *eyeroll*

    What I take issue with is the way this manager treated her. His hotel has some heavy competition in that area – there’s no call to treat a guest like they were the ones that made up that rate out of thin air. That bonehead would do well to remember that and mind his friggin tone with his guests – especially since word of mouth means much, much more than it used to.

    He would have been shredded in my office – the one thing I pass on to my staff and coworkers is pride in my own – and their – customer service skills. A kind word or intonation never kills anyone.

      1. I have to really wonder if they would have Chris. From personal experience and stories on here and other consumer advocate sites, it seems a lot of businesses won’t do the right thing unless threatened with bad publicity. 🙁

        1. I had a similar problem with a hotel several years ago. (Very good rate, but not an obvious mistake ) After some back and forth they agreed to honor the rate I booked on their website. No third party was involved. Yes, it can happen.

  12. At least the hotel eventually did the right thing. If it was posted, they should have honored it. And nobody should have yelled at the OP.

    But, I have a few doubts about the “it was up for at least 30 minutes” claim just by some of the odd details the OP included. The place was recommended to her and she was already monitoring it to see if a special would come along (So, she clearly wanted to stay there if she could afford it.) Then, a great rate shows up and rather than book it immediately, she takes the time to check reviews on the place and email her congressman and some friends about the rate she hasn’t even secured yet? And this from somebody who calls herself a “pretty savvy traveler”? That section doesn’t make any sense.

  13. Shame on you for your dig at Flyertalk. You said “Had she picked up this rate on Flyertalk or one of those bottom-feeding mileage blogs ….” These sites often point out good rates but $114 seems legit regardless of where posted. So why the dig? You have often been dumped on at Flyertalk and when I see it I raise a fuss. Somehow I expected better of you.

    1. So sorry you were offended. You shouldn’t be. You know as well as I do that there are threads on FT and blogs on boarding area that are devoted to fare errors and openly urge readers to take advantage of fat-finger rates. That’s stealing.

      PS — You might not want to read today’s story.

      1. Very few. I agree it it is stealing. But you with implied threats of public embarrassment do what some characterize as extortion and others as begging. Still you do it with style and I am a big fan. Less than 0.1% of Flyertalk posts are of the sort we’d call encouraging stealing. So why brand it the way you did? Revenge or grudge? I hope not.

  14. There is one single problem in this whole story. James should have had Travelzoo discussing this problem with the hotel, as they are the company that she apparently contracted with. The Hotel sees the error, but they too are contracted to be sold trough Travelzoo. The fight should have never been between the hotel and the customer.

    I have fallen into many errors and the hotels have always stood behing their confirmation. Last year Courtyard Marriott Cincinnati honored a $5.00 park and stay rate. Yea for computer errors and honorable corps.

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