Was he overcharged at his Puerto Vallarta hotel?


Tony Levy and his family are big fans of Riu Hotels & Resorts, a Spanish chain of all-inclusive properties with locations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

They’ve stayed at Riu properties in Punta Cana and Playa Del Carmen, and they loved the above-and-beyond service they received by the staff. But on a recent visit to the Palace Pacifico in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Levy says Riu went above and beyond in a way that left them “deeply disappointed.”

He wants me to fix it, but I’m not sure what to do.

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Here’s the setup: The Levy’s booked a 10-day package at the Riu on Expedia. But one of their daughters could only join them for a week. “We did not purchase her room rate ahead of time,” he explains. “It is not possible to do this through Expedia, since air travel and hotel accommodations are connected with arrival and departure dates for each individual.”

Instead, Levy went DIY.

“We planned to pay for her room rate at the front desk when we arrived,” he says. “In fact, we have done this at other Riu Hotels without any problems. We expected to pay the incremental rate for one additional adult that is published on the RIU website and on the Expedia website of approximately $65 to $86 per night.”

Riu had other plans. If their daughter wanted to stay at the Riu, it would cost her $151 per night — more than $70 higher than the room rate they expected to pay. The family had no choice but to agree.

“We believe this is not a fair price,” says Levy. “We were overcharged by $430.”

Levy protested the higher room rate, but a manager held firm. He asked if the hotel might offer a courtesy upgrade or a credit at the spa, since he was paying the rack rate? No can do.

Then things took a turn for the worse.

We were treated like criminals. The room key to one of our two rooms was disconnected without notice, until we paid the exorbitant rate. We have never experienced this type of treatment. It appears that Riu Hotel management is too preoccupied with performance targets and is losing sight of customer service.

When Levy returned to the States, he sent a detailed complaint to Riu. It responded with a form “thank you” letter, but did nothing else.

Interestingly, it appeared to shift the blame to Expedia.

Regarding your kind inquiry, please let me inform you, that once you made the reservation for two persons (in this case), you must reported/notified/paid the 3rd person to Expedia and Expedia made the changes on the reservation (the number of guests per room), prior to your arrival, otherwise the 3rd person must pay fully as a walk in at their arrival at the Hotel.

(Mind the English.)

Interesting. But Expedia wouldn’t allow Levy’s daughter to make a seven-day reservation online, according to him. So is this somehow Expedia’s fault?

I’m not so sure. If you’re working the front desk of the hotel, you have a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to the type of rates you charge your walk-up guests. Levy has seen it before, and he believes the staff in Puerto Vallarta was just trying to please their revenue manager instead of their guests. He might be right.

But what makes this a borderline case — perhaps even an unsolvable one — is that Riu did nothing wrong. It can charge whatever rate guests are willing to pay. Levy shouldn’t have assumed that the hotel would match his Expedia rate, particularly if it was part of a package. Such are the perils of DIY travel.

The lesson for the rest of us is simple. Don’t assume you’ll get a rate until you have a confirmation. (And even then you have to be careful, but that’s another story.) I don’t know if I can, or should, ask Riu to reconsider Levy’s case.

Should I mediate Tony Levy's case?

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68 thoughts on “Was he overcharged at his Puerto Vallarta hotel?

  1. I’m not really sure what there is to mediate. DIY is a perfectly valid way to book travel and personally my preferred method. Of course, when you do so, you are responsible for some basic knowledge. One of them is don’t assume. Just because other hotels, even in the same chain, have a certain policy, it doesn’t mean that another hotel, with a different owner, in a different location, will have the same policy.

    For example, the Westin frequent guest breakfast benefit. The Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles provides a buffet continental in the restaurant with a $5.00 upgrade to the full hot buffet. The Westin LAX gives you coffee, a banana, and a plastic wrapped muffin with no ability to upgrade to anything meaningful. Both are Westins in Los Angeles but with radically different breakfast offering for the frequent guests.

    Mr. Levy’s error was in making an assumption as to what a different hotel would do. A simple e-mail to the hotel prior to booking with Expedia would have clarified the issue, and given him the option of booking his family stay elsewhere, an option foreclosed when he was already at the property and effectively held hostage. He had no negotiating power and the manager took advantage of that fact. Personally, I think that was exceptionally shortsighted by the manager as a happy guest such as Mr. Levy would probably be great advertising for the hotel.

    1. Completely agree. Could always have booked his daughter in in a completely separate booking that his unlikely to have been that expensive. Waiting until you get to your destination style travel is ideal for those going to hostels etc. or backpacking, but hardly right for families or those staying in one place. Still, might have hoped that they would try and make nice for such a frequent customer.

        1. True – but once he knew the daughter wanted just 7 days, perhaps calling Expedia to see what could be done, or the hotel to add her in advance, might have been a better option than just ASSUMING what the rate would be, then not liking it when it was higher.

          1. He should have added her for the full 10 days and eaten the cost of the 3 days she wouldn’t be there. That would have been cheaper than paying what he did to add her for 7 nights.

          2. Good idea except that he stated they had a package deal that included the airfare. Change fee to get the daughter there and back at different days than the package was for would probably been more than they wanted to pay.

    2. Frequent guest or not, the fact is that he was allowed to get away with unreasonable behavior several times in the past if he has done this many times before. If he risked this even once, he was entitled already, and the mistake that was made the first few visits was indulging his BS.

      Since they catered to him, they have now created a monster. However, assuming that these are not all locations directly owned by corporate, it is not the responsibility of this last location to make the same foolish error. I see it as the same thing as two franchise retail locations allowing the same customer to return merchandise for a cash refund without a receipt. It is a stupid thing to do and it sets a terrible precedent. A third location owned by someone else is not required to, and should not, cater to this kind of entitlement.

      His poor planning is not their emergency, and if he wants to complain that he didn’t get exactly what he wanted without making any effort to make sure that his plans would meet his expectations before he paid for them…well, tough cookies. I disagree that this was short-sighted, considering that it seems that he was perfectly happy to take advantage of the good will of this hotel chain as often as possible. And I very much doubt that this is the only entitlement the staff has to put up with when he comes to stay.

      1. I’m not sure we can pin a bunch of bad behavior onto this guy over the information just in this story… It’s possible that he truly thought it was okay to handle the payment/booking this way…of course, it would help his case if he had treated the rejection as a learning moment instead of a complaint for a refund… But still should probably give him the benefit of doubt on the rest since I don’t see a laundry list of complaints…

  2. did she stay in the same room?

    if she stayed with her parents then the fee is too high, BUT if she got her own room, it is fair that they charged her a walk up rate.

    1. I think that question should have been answered in the letter as well. And if she was sharing with a sibling (a possibility since he said one of our daughters) then she could have been added before travel by calling or emailing the hotel. And the LW expecting the Expedia rate when the daughter arrived at the hotel is a bit much. Expedia gets discounted rates at many hotels which must be booked through Expedia. Something about this letter sounds fishy to me–like the LW was trying to game the system and it did not work for him like it has in the past.

  3. I’m flying to Mexico and I will just wait until we get there to arrange for my daughters room. Oh and I expect them to charge me the same rate! What a moron.

    I normally say mediate, but this guy had plenty of opportunity to book another package or at least contact the hotel beforehand. I chaulk this up to stupidity and say tough luck.

    1. I can’t imagine why he didn’t just book directly through the hotel for his daughter. This is ludicrous. I normally say mediate too, but this is off the wall. Let this guy learn something here.

      1. Once the hotel sees that this is an online booking, or any travel agent’s booking, they back off and tell you to contact the booking agent. There is a strong possibility that there was aan air reduction if booked on-line, so DIY had no choice. YES HE DID. Research! Talk to a real live person at a Travel agency that specializes in these things. See if they could be separated out at an equal – reasonable amount. Get the daughter there with ease an little amount. Humans can think, computers spit out what you ask for without a deviation. It is stil 010101

        1. Uh…if he’d made a completely separate arrangement for the one daughter, it would have been a separate booking. Your comment doesn’t address anything I actually said. It sounds like the cost they charged for the one daughter was as much as a whole separate room can be in a lot of places, so if he’d booked directly for just her through the hotel, he could have gotten a separate room for her cheaper than it cost to add her on to the existing room. It is made plain that he only made arrangements online for the other family members, and that he decided to DIY the last child.

          1. This isn’t a ROOM reservation – it is a stay at an all-inclusive resort – you don’t just deliver a few more towels – and if the cost for a 3rd is higher in one city over another, then those are the costs. ASSUMING they should be less is ridiculous!

        2. Very good point – when I book packages, I can add the 3rd passenger (from another city, to staying a different number of nights) and it stays on the same booking for the contracted rate.

        3. He should have just paid for the daughter for 10 nights and she only used 7. Eat the three nights she wasn’t there. It would have cost less than what he was charged to add her at that late date.

  4. This is a classic example of the “entitled”, this guy is not a VIP, why does he think he could walk up to the desk and just “require” the best rate? The real problem is that this guy was lazy. The first thing he could of and should of done was pick up the phone call the resort and see what rate the manager would give him for his daughter for the week, then using that information compare the cost of 7 days at that rate to 10 days at the Expedia rate. Walking up unprepared and expecting a hotel to just give you a premium rate because you asked for it is a stupid assumption to make.

    Of course they deactivate entry keys until you pay, they don’t let unpaid guests enter rooms they haven’t paid for. That doesn’t mean they are treating you like criminals.
    Yes, the manager was inflexible, but the manager has a boss too, and while he may have had flexibility to adjust the rate, he also has sale projections, inventory issues, and policies he has to comply with. Giving a guest like this whatever he wants sets a bad precedent in the future, in which the guest believes that now they are entitled to anything and everything else. If I had been that manager I would have done the same thing.

    Lastly, I hear nothing else in the letter about anything else that happened that would have “ruined” this vacation, as far as we know they had an amazing time aside from the room rate. Quality customer service has nothing to do with sound business practices, and that includes setting a price and sticking to it.

  5. We expected to pay the incremental rate for one additional adult that is published on the RIU website and on the Expedia website of approximately $65 to $86 per night.”

    He was getting a 2nd ROOM, right? The Riu Palace Pacifico is an all inclusive property so I imagine the $65-$86 he saw was for an additional guest staying in the same room who wanted to participate in the all-inclusive plan.

    And even if that’s not true, this is totally on him for not planning ahead. When you don’t have a reservation, you pay the walkup rate. I used to deal with people at the rental counter who instantly became furious when I told them that I couldn’t give them a car the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for the same price they paid for a rental in the middle of February. It’s just another entitled traveler who believes that he is always entitled to a certain price regardless of what is going on at the time. I vote no mediation.

    1. I don’t think he was getting a second room, I think he already had a second room

      Room 1:Parents
      Room2: Daughter 1

      Daughter 2 is added to already existing Room 2.

      1. And that is the whole issue. He should have booked her her own room because she wasn’t staying the entire time.

        I have had several trips where people booked 7 nights but some could only stay 5 nights. The one who stayed the 5 nights just forfeited the rest of the nights they they paid for. He could have booked all of them at the same time and the daughter just stayed the lesser nights and he writes off the other 3 nights.

        1. That doesn’t make sense, at least as a first option. Why book her a separate room and incur needless expenses if there are other less expensive and acceptable options.

          The correct option, IMO was to call the hotel before booking and made acceptable arrangements with the hotel. Had he done so he would not have been in the hapless position of being a foreigner without proper reservations.

  6. Agree with all the others…he showed up, told the hotel what he wanted to pay, and the hotel (rightly) said no. And if you can figure out a way for that type of plan to work out for all of us, please do let us know….there’s an underwater resort in Bali I’d like to look into if I can get it into the $80 per night range.

  7. I don’t see the problem. You walk up last minute, the hotel is going to charge you as much as it can. If you book in advance, they know you have other options and will give you a more favorable price.

    The lesson should be: Don’t expect a good rate when you walk up to the counter last minute.

  8. The rates obtained by walking up to a Hotel desk and asking for a rate vs. booking in advance are only going to be the same through sheer luck. It was foolish in the extreme to assume he would obtain the same rate.

    If he couldn’t get Expedia to do what he needed done, he should not have used Expedia. Period. It’s not Expedia’s fault it didn’t do something it never pretended to do, and it’s not the resort’s fault that he couldn’t be arsed to pick up the phone, call the hotel, and make the needed changes himself.

    Typical Entitlement Attitude:
    “Levy has seen it before, and he believes the staff in Puerto Vallarta was just trying to please their revenue manager instead of their guests.” Yeah, how terrible of the staff to do their job as they were instructed. The hotel isn’t a charity designed to warm the hearts of cranky vacationers; it’s a for-profit enterprise designed to extract maximum profits from their guests. On a more personal level, a front-line employee is trying to stay in the good graces of their management more than anything else. Guest satisfaction is only indirectly related to that.

  9. No, they were not overcharged. They paid the rate the hotel asked for and, since they accepted it, are owed nothing. This was not a case of a pre reserved rate not being accepted by the hotel or of extra charges added on after the stay.

    Did they try to book the daughter separately through Expedia? I see no reason why this would not be possible and they probably would have gotten a rate closer to what they wanted.

    1. Expedia could not have added the daughter to his room for 7 days if the room were being held for 10 nights for everyone else. He would have had to book her in her own room for 7 nights.

  10. I don’t understand why he couldn’t have just called the hotel in advance and arranged it. That would have been a much safer option that just showing up. It’s a bit crazy to arrive and just expect a cheap rate.

  11. All he needed to do was call ahead. Hopefully this will be lesson learned and tuition while steep may save him more in the future.

  12. Hmm entitled much?
    Here’s a thought… A number of all inclusive properties and a number of cruise lines (same basic model) charge a single supplement. Interestingly … they just about paid double the incremental rate so it fits.

    Move along … there’s nothing to see here…

  13. Waiting until you get to the hotel to book the room for your daughter?? Of course they’re gonna charge you an arm & a leg. Don’t mediate he’s gotta learn somehow.

  14. Actually, there are dozens of wholsalers that even a first day travel agent would know how to make this work easily. I have families coming and going every week on different days of arrival and departure. Tough love here DIY! You did it yourself………..you messed it up. Pay the bill to RIU.

  15. Reminds me of an episode of “The Odd Couple” where Felix explained in court: “When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”

  16. Just because other hotels allowed him to pay the same rate there was no guarantee he was going to pay the same rate at this property. This is similar to walking up to an airline ticket counter with two discounted tickets on the day of the flight and asking them to sell you a third ticket at the lower rates. Not gonna happen, and is an unreasonable expectation DESPITE past experiences.

  17. I have see people come into hotels, look around decide if they like it, and then go on their ipads or laptops and book the lowest available rate. He could have booked Expedia in the lobby if he wanted to!!.

  18. $151 a night for an all inclusive resort with great service still seems like a bargain to me. I think he should just take it and go, and enjoy the time with his family. Why ruin a long vacation over $430?

    1. It’s Puerta Vallarta, so no, it’s not really a bargain. The entire week along with air would’ve probably been $700-900…

  19. I guess I’m confused about the logistics as explained in his letter. Was it that they made the full 10 day arrangements for 3 people for 2 rooms and when they arrived w/ daughter number 2, they said “oh and we’d like to put Esmerelda here in room 2 with Josephine”? Or did they arrived with unconfirmed daughter in tow and say, “Oh and for the next week we’d like a ROOM for Esmerelda”? So, paying for extra body in existing room or extra room?

    1. It appears from the story he wanted daughter in a room with them and they just don’t have a way to add someone in for 7 nights and the rest of the family for 10 nights. The right way would have been to book daughter in her own room and that would have cost more than what they paid extra for her. OR to just pay for her for the full 10 nights and she only uses 7 nights and he eats the difference for the 3 nights. That would ave been the most economical way to do it.

  20. Craziest way of handling this I can imagine. What prevented them from making a phone call ahead of time to the hotel? Also curious when the overlap was: Did they show up with both daughters in tow? (Meaning the hotel would have had absolutely zero forewarning the second daughter existed.) Or was she joining them three days later?

    1. Because they would have told him to book a separate room for the daughter.They can’t dd someone on to a res. for just 7 nights if the rest are staying longer. He apparently wanted to add her to his room for 7 nights, not book her in her own room.The right way to do it would have been to give her her own room for 7 nights. He also could have just reserved her for 10 nights and eaten the 3 nights she wasn’t there. If it was $70 a night for a fourth in the room, it would have cost him $210 for the 3 nights she didn’t stay in stead of what he paid later on.

  21. A slightly tangential tale, which may add to reader’s experiential knowledge.

    I was in a similar situation years ago at a well-known chain hotel in Bruxelles and my teenage daughter, who was traveling in Europe, showed up at the last minute. My wife, with my daughter in tow, asked at the desk for the rate for a single room for two nights. The clerk refused to offer anything but the rack rate.

    When they told me this in the coffee shop, I went to the line of phones off the lobby (this was before cell phones), called the hotel and asked for a single room for two nights.
    The quoted rate was considerably less than my wife was quoted. I booked the room in her name using my credit card.

    One of the consumer magazines did a study having two people rent a car at an airport at the same time; one by phone and one as a walk-up. The walk-up rate was outrageously higher.

    Lesson: walk-ups are considered to be in a less advantageous position in negotiating rates.

  22. I’m sure that if OP had contacted the hotel before departure, he could have added the daughter without any problems at the accustomed rate. But wait until check-in? That’s when they stick it to you, when you have no choice.

  23. Another person who doesn’t want to abide by the rules. You can’t just show up at a hotel with an extra person and expect to even get that person in your room. To book a person who is not staying the same length of time, they needed to book her her own room for 7 nights OR add her for the full 10 nights and eat the 3 nights she wouldn’t be in the room.

    He got stuck paying the walk in rate, which was the right thing for Riu to do. Just because he did it before doesn’t mean he can do it all the time. He was lucky they didn’t make her pay for a separate room.

    Who does something like this – just showing up with an extra person for the room? I’ve honestly never heard of someone being so ballsy.

    1. Really? Granted its been a few years, so maybe hotels are more vigilent, but certainly when I was younger and doing trips during college, we always would have 1 person check into the room and yet we’d have about 6 people sharing it. The hotel could easily see more than one person was coming in (at least some of the time) but they never asked for more money. It was always a rate for the room, not the people in it.

      1. All inclusives, which this was, tend to be much stricter in who they admit to the pool, beach, restaurants, etc. In my experience you usually wear some kind of wristband issued at checkin.

      2. And that is the wrong way to do it, you are truly cheating the hotels out of revenue. How many years ago are you talking about? These days hotels want every bit of revenue that can get and I would find it hard to believe that people can get away with 6 people on a one person reservation.

        We have people ask us to do that when booking and I refuse the business. I am not lying on a booking and hving the clients come back to me if the hotel refuses to allow the rest in the room. If you think the housekeepers don’t notice the mess in a room that is booked by one person and has 6 in it you are kidding yourself.

    2. Really?

      My parents do it all the time. My dad goes on many business trips and sometimes my mom tags along sometimes she doesn’t. It’s a PITA to list two names on some of the online websites so they just add her when they arrive at the hotel.

      They’ve been doing this for years.

      1. What would he do if as in this case, the hotel charged him the going rate for your Mom? And your parents story is a bit difference – I am sure your Mom was always traveling the same dates as your Dad. When you are dealing with a single room, the hotels usually charge the same price as if the room had two people in it, so it isn’t such a hassle to add a second name especially when the two are traveling on the same dates.

        A hotel is totally different than an all inclusive where there is food and drink included in the room rate.

        1. So, I’m responding specifically to your question

          Who does something like this – just showing up with an extra person for
          the room? I’ve honestly never heard of someone being so ballsy.

          I’m saying its not ballsy at all. For a hotel, particular one that doesn’t charge more for a second person, this is not an issue. My parents do it all the time and no, they’re not always traveling on the same dates. Before retiring my mother, like my father, was a school principal and had her own job responsibilities to consider.

          It generally went like this.

          Dad: Mr/Ms. Front desk person, I need a key for my wife she’s joining me.

          FSC: Of course, my pleasure, I’ve added her name to your reservation, can I do anything else for you, Mr. Farrow?/blockquote>

          Hotels often have a specific “supplement” for persons 3 and 4 to be in a room, which appears to be independent of the room rate, but I haven’t paid close attention so that may not be universal.

          I agree that an all-inclusive is fundamentally different and has a different pricing model. Assumption was the LW’s error. However, if he’s done it on prior occasions at other properties within the same chain without incident, then I submit it’s ignorance not arrogance.

    3. In my career as a hotel manager I would have been very pleased to have the extra person, and the associated revenue. They would have been charged a reasonable rate, not a “whatever I can gouge you for” rate.

      Who does something like this – just showing up with an extra person for the room? Answer: Lots of people do. It’s not that unusual and there’s nothing wrong with it unless the room is full to capacity. Most rooms have a pullout sofa or a cot can be brought in so most hotels are quite happy with it, and the extra revenue for the room and food and beverage.

      1. But this is an all-inclusive resort, so not just adding a couple of towels to the room – they are charging for the AI rate, NOT just another in the room!

        1. I get that. Just saying that I wouldn’t have gouged them. I’d have charged them the a comparable rate to the others on the reservation and been happy to have the revenue.

          If they were asking for another room that I could have sold as a high priced short-notice reservation that would be another question.

  24. Chris, I just don’t see what you can do here. Like you pointed out, Riu did nothing wrong in charging a higher rate for the daughter who he made a DIY reservation for.

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