In early June, room rates at the five-star Plaza Hotel start at about $725 a night. So when Mania Baghdadi found a $119 rate through Booking.com, she pounced on it.
And who wouldn’t? The Plaza, which is managed by Fairmont, is one of Manhattan’s top hotels. A $119 rate is a steal.
And you can probably guess what’s coming next, right?
The Plaza thinks it is a steal — as in, the rate is wrong, and if we honor it, you would be stealing from us.
Baghdadi booked the room and received a confirmation from Booking.com. More than a week later, the online agency contacted her with bad news: The rate was a mistake and it was cancelling her reservation.
For those of you just tuning in, this feature is called Should I Take The Case? It’s a completely unvetted and unresearched consumer problem where I ask you, the reader, if I should get involved.
“I called Booking.com and was told that The Plaza would not honor the original rate,” she explained. “I also spoke to the reservations manager at The Plaza who informed me that the rate I was offered and accepted through Booking.com was ‘not binding’ because it was a mistake and I wasn’t the only person affected.”
Now, let me be clear: If she’d found this rate on a hacker site, or if this were a zero-dollar rate, this would be a nonstarter. Honest consumers don’t hack. Zero rates are obvious errors, and no business should have to honor one, even when the media comes calling.
But it looked as if Baghdadi had found this price through normal channels and that the rate she’d received wasn’t beyond reason. Except it’s what you pay for a three-star hotel in flyover country, not at a five-star during high season. But I digress. My point is, this might have looked like a legitimate price to someone who doesn’t know The Plaza.
She followed up with Booking.com in writing. Here’s how it responded:
We apologize on behalf of Booking.com and The Plaza for this error. The actual rate for The Plaza is $725 + tax per night , and not $ 119 + tax per night as stated on your reservation.
We ask for your understanding in reaching a middle ground. The property has confirmed that they will offer you $395 + tax per night. This rate will not be negotiated any further. They have informed us they will not honor the rate you booked at.
Please consider this offer, and contact us at your earliest convenience to confirm your acceptance. We thank you for your understanding and are available 24 hours a day to help find the best solution.
OK, that’s still not a bad deal, but not quite as good as the $119 rate she thought she had.
“Is there anything that can be done?” she asked.
Well, yes. She could accept the $395 rate, which is still really good. That would be the easiest way out.
Something tells me she won’t do that, which I can understand. I mean The Plaza more than tripled her rate and is acting as if it did her a favor. Besides, what if the tables were turned? What if Baghdadi has purchased a nonrefundable Internet rate and a week later had discovered that she didn’t have enough money to cover the hotel bill? Would it allow her to cancel, with no penalties? (As far as I can tell, the original reservation was cancelable, but what if it wasn’t?)
It’s not fair, of course. No one claimed it was fair. Hotels love their terms and conditions and their adhesion contracts, which hold their customers to different standards. It’s indefensible.
I am willing to take this to Booking.com and to The Plaza. But I don’t know if I should. After all, we now know that this is a rate error — a price The Plaza never meant to post online. Is it right for me to help a customer take advantage of a price that might not be right?
On the other hand, a deal’s a deal. Shouldn’t a company honor the price it quotes?