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.

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.
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Are Washington-area hotels profiteering from “historical moment”?

If you have a hotel reservation in Washington during the presidential inauguration, call your property now. Some hotels have been canceling rooms or changing their rules in an apparent effort to pump up their profits.

Here’s what happened to Laura Boyd, who made a reservation at the Washington Plaza Hotel last month through Bestfares.com.

I called twice subsequently to make sure those reservations were confirmed and was assured that they were. Then Bestfares.com called me and conferenced the call with the hotel. I was told the hotel would not honor those reservations and that someone released those rooms to the public in error.

Boyd was offered a “comparable” room 40 miles away, but she didn’t want to stay that far out of town. I contacted Bestfares.com and the hotel, and both denied they were responsible for the dropped reservation. The Washington Plaza Hotel blamed Utell, the hotel reservation system used by Bestfares. After more than a week of back-and-forth, the Washington Plaza Hotel agreed to offer Boyd a room closer to D.C.

This is hardly an isolated incident. On Nov. 6, Donnell Taylor made a reservation at the Admiral Fell Inn in Baltimore for the inauguration through Hotels.com.

We received a phone call from Hotels.com telling us our room had been canceled due to the property management wanting to get the room out at a higher price, so we were left without a room and no more rooms available in that area for the days that we wanted.

The man on the phone was very rude and hateful, he told us that president-elect Barack Obama wanted the rooms for people that was going to stay longer than what we were going to stay! I don’t understand how these people can do this and get by with what they’ve done to us.

I contacted the Admiral Fell Inn. Maria Gruzynski, a spokeswoman, sent the following response:

We are very sorry to hear that these guests had an unfavorable experience with The Admiral Fell Inn through our third party vendor, Hotels.com.

Due to the extreme interest in the inauguration of our next president, our hotel has been reserved to capacity and some reservations were taken in error from that Web site. Hotels.com is reaching out to these guests individually and they are offering them the option to either relocate their reservation or be refunded in full.

Additionally, The Admiral Fell Inn is following up with the Hotels.com Associate that actually responded to this guest to further understand the situation and once we have those details we will forward that information on to you as well.

In some cases, hotels are letting customers keep their rooms, but changing the terms of their reservation. That’s what happened to Tauna Batiste, who had reserved a room at the Hilton Garden Inn Solomons in Dowell, Md., for the inauguration. Here’s the letter she just received from the property.

Please accept this letter as official notification of our updated guarantee policy.

Due to the fact that your reservation is scheduled for such a “Historical Moment” in both U.S. and world history, we have had to implement a few changes to our guarantee policy.

The Hilton Garden Inn Solomons now requires payment in full (room and tax for each night of your stay) prior to your arrival to the property. This advance payment must be received by us no later than the close of business (5:00pm EST) on Friday, January 2, 2009 to secure your reservation.

You currently have a credit card on file to hold your room. This card will be processed for the full amount on January 2, 2009 unless you wish to send us the payment in the form of a cashier’s check (please make sure your confirmation number is written somewhere on the check). On January 2, 2009, if we have not received a cashier’s check and the credit card holding your room declines, your reservation will be cancelled.

Batiste wanted to know if changing the terms is legal. I can find nothing in the Code of Maryland Regulations that specifically forbids this practice. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Hotels should be honoring their reservations for the inauguration. Not profiteering from it.