What happens if your travel agent doesn’t pay your Best Western bill?

Two months after Ionela Sufaru stayed at the Best Western Atlantic Beach Hotel, she noticed a mysterious charge on her credit card. The hotel was making her pay for her stay again.

Sufaru contacted her travel agent, with whom she’d booked her hotel. She wanted to know why the double billing? And, more importantly, why didn’t anyone warn her in advance?

What happens if your travel agent doesn’t pay your bill?

What she found out — or, more to the point, what her agent found out — may interest you. A hotel doesn’t care how you booked your room. It just wants to get paid. And if it doesn’t, it could just charge your credit card.

“The hotel was aware that the guest had paid for her room once already,” says her agent, Dorian Harris. “It even accepted her voucher at check-in.”

But it billed her again, anyway. Best Western outlined its reasons in an email to her:

We sincerely apologize for any unexpected charges to your account.

When you make reservations the hotel does ask for a credit card at check-in in case of any incidentals not covered by the cost for the room and tax. The credit card is also their assurance of payment for the room.

When you have paid another booking source for your reservation in advance, the hotel expects that payment to be made in a timely manner after your stay. If the payment due is not received from that booking source, the hotel can charge any payments due to the guest’s credit card.

The guest then must go back to the booking source to get their money refunded that they paid in advance for the reservation.

We regret we are not able to assist you any further with this matter.

Best Western: Go after your travel agent

In other words, your travel agent doesn’t pay his bills — go after him.

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Harris insists he did pay his bills, and has been trying to reach someone at Best Western to settle the matter. He even wrote a funny (though not funny in a “ha ha” way) post on LinkedIn that explains the steps he took to fix this.

Here’s an excerpt from his complaint-resolution odyssey:

Rita in customer care wanted to know what she could help me with today, but not that much because she hung up halfway through my spiel. That could have been an accident, I guess.

I thought, this is getting silly. I’m just going to call the hotel itself.

Nick answered. There was something in his tone, an air of mild confusion, and I immediately pictured not a receptionist but an over-worked bell-hop. ‘Go get that will ya, Nick. If it’s a shouter, tell ‘em to call back’.

Needless to say, he got nowhere.

“I’ve stayed in a million hotels, as I’m sure you have, and I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable giving them my card at check-in if only because it suggests they don’t trust me which doesn’t make for a nice introduction,” he says. “I’ve done some hunting around and it seems that everyone’s of the opinion that credit cards are held against incidentals. That was my impression, too.”

Double charges

But no. The hotel charged his client’s card for the room. Again.

I asked Best Western to have a look at Sufaru’s bill. In response, it sent Harris a clarification, explaining that because his wholesaler, TransHotel, hadn’t paid its bills, his client was on the hook. It also sent Sufaru an almost identical letter.

The matter would have to be resolved between yourself and Transhotel since the hotel never received payment and was not able to redeem the vouchers. Any billing disputes for a reservation that was booked through a third party must be resolved with the third party and hotel. Our office is not the merchant and we are not able to offer any refunds or compensation in this matter.

As if, somehow, saying it again would make it more clear.

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Not. Our. Problem.

Best Western is right about that. I think it’s our problem. Yours and mine.

If a hotel can do whatever it wants with our credit cards — even when it claims it’s only using the card for “incidentals” — then we have to be very careful about monitoring our statement after we check out.

Clearly, Best Western and Harris need to talk and get this worked out. But beyond that, I think Best Western’s cavalier attitude toward a customer’s credit card should be troubling to all of us.

If your travel agent doesn't pay your bill, should you have to pay again?

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Update (Nov. 25): After Sufaru threatened to sue Best Western, it offered a full refund and apology.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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