Reselling hotel reservations on third-party marketplaces, like Cancelon, seems to be a new, thriving industry. But while you might be able to buy someone’s hotel reservation at a discount if they can’t use it, should you?
Veronica Rose’s recent battle to recoup $955 that she lost to a hotel reservation resale fiasco through Cancelon should give you pause.
Extreme DIY bargain-hunting while booking travel can often lead to unplanned problems and expenses. And as Rose’s story illustrates, rates that appear too good to be true usually are — and travelers must exercise caution. Or they should leave their travel planning to a professional.
Reselling hotel reservations to an unsuspecting novice traveler
Rose decided to visit New York City over the holidays last December. She soon discovered that she had waited too long to begin her planning. Most hotels in Manhattan were fully booked or came with a giant price tag.
But then she couldn’t believe her luck.
Rose entered her dates of travel, December 29 to 31, into what she believed to be Booking com. It appeared that she had hit the jackpot. She found the Club Quarters Hotel in Rockefeller Center, a 4-star hotel, for just $450, all taxes included, for the two nights. She quickly booked the prepaid reservation and received her confirmation.
This fabulous rate that she could find nowhere else should have set off some warning bells. A room at a four-star hotel near one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Manhattan — the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree – could easily go for two or even three times as much during the holidays.
But no alarm bells went off for Rose. She believed that she was all set for her holiday visit to New York City in just four days.
The problems began at the check-in counter on her day of arrival. That’s when Rose discovered that all wasn’t exactly as it seemed on her confirmation. The hotel had no record of her prepayment nor was she listed as an expected guest.
“I presented my reservation number at the front desk,” Rose recalled. “The employee told me that there was no reservation for me at the hotel. I immediately called Booking to find out what was wrong.”
Now there was a strange twist in Rose’s holiday adventure.
Using a hotel reservation in a stranger’s name
After speaking to an employee at the phone number on her confirmation, Rose returned to the front desk. Now the clerk told her that she could check in. He would just need her ID and a credit card for incidental expenses.
“The clerk informed me that the problem had arisen because the original reservation was in another guest’s name,” Rose explained.
Rose thought little about this oddity as she went about enjoying her holiday visit to NYC.
But then, on the day she checked out, there was another anomaly. The clerk handed Rose an invoice in the name of a stranger. This bill showed a prepayment of $955 for the two-night stay. That prepayment had been applied to the reservation one week before Rose made her plans with “Booking.”
“I asked the clerk to correct the name. And I told her my rate was $450, not $955,” Rose remembered. “She told me she could not change the name. But she assured me not to worry because the balance due was zero.”
It was all very confusing. But, with her “paid in full” invoice in hand, Rose checked out and returned home.
A shocking discovery
Several weeks later, Rose was in for a shock.
While reviewing her online credit card statement, she was flabbergasted to see a new charge of $955. The Club Quarters had processed the fee several days after she checked out.
Rose picked up the phone and called the hotel. She assumed this was a simple clerical error that the hotel could quickly correct.
Rose says the manager of the hotel told her that no one had paid for her room. When Rose protested and pointed to her “paid in full” final invoice, the manager asked her to contact her booking agent.
Rose tried to reach anyone at Booking com who could help.
“I even wrote to the executive director and the letter was returned unopened,” Rose reported. “But I received a form letter to the effect that Booking can’t help me.”
Confused by Booking com’s unwillingness to help, Rose then filed a chargeback with Citibank.
A marketplace for buying and reselling hotel reservations
When Rose contacted the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for help, she had already lost two chargeback disputes concerning this one case. She had spent nine months of her time trying to fight either the $955 from the hotel or the original $450.
And in her initial request for help from our team, she still believed that she was dealing with Booking com.
“Please try to help me,” Rose pleaded. “I’m a pensioner on a fixed income. I can’t afford to lose this money.”
This case was so complicated that it required two advocates. Both Dwayne Coward and I tried to make sense of Rose’s complaint. Although she insisted that she had used Booking, her documents showed nothing from that company.
It was clear, going through Rose’s paper trail, that Booking com was not involved.
Rose’s confirmation for the $450 two-night stay at the Club Quarters had come from a company called Cancelon. Neither Dwayne nor I had ever heard of the company.
So it was time to do some research.
And we soon discovered that unbeknownst to Rose, she had actually used an online marketplace to buy someone else’s hotel reservation. That someone was the person named on her final invoice at the Club Quarters. And that stranger had made the $955 prepayment for the room.
What is Cancelon?
On its “about us” page, Cancelon bills itself as:
The first social marketplace where you can buy & sell unused hotel reservations.
Can’t use your hotel reservation? Don’t lose your money. Sell it to other users.
The company goes on to tout its value to both buyers and sellers of hotel reservations. I would describe it as the StubHub of the hotel reservations world. If you have a nonrefundable hotel reservation that you would like to unload, it’s no problem. You can place it for sale on the Cancelon website. A buyer may be willing to take it off your hands if the price is right. And Cancelon will take a 10 percent cut.
According to Cancelon, buyers can get great deals by using its hotel reservation resale site:
Cancelon offers a great opportunity for those who are looking for a good deal. Serving many different customers around the world, our platform allows you to sell and buy canceled hotel reservations.
I suppose that for customers who understand the nature of the website this could provide a useful service. But the somewhat unclear wording also caused me to wonder if this type of marketplace is legitimate.
Can you sell your hotel reservation?
So I did a little more digging. I was curious to know if it is legal to sell your hotel reservation (it is). I found many articles about this new phenomenon. Some say this might change the way the hotel industry approaches reservations.
It would appear that travelers are finding value in this type of platform for reselling hotel reservations.
However, in one New York Times article about the legitimacy of reselling hotel reservations, some users of various hotel reservation resale sites, including Cancelon, had mixed results.
In the NYT article, some would-be guests had trouble checking in and had difficulties redeeming their purchased hotel reservation.
But Rose’s problem was a little different. She had paid both Cancelon and the hotel for the same stay. In the end, she paid $1,405 for a two-night stay for which she expected to pay $450.
Things can go wrong when you buy someone’s hotel reservation
Something had gone wrong.
Both Club Quarters Hotel and Cancelon had fought Rose’s chargeback disputes. And both had won the chargeback cases and left Rose stuck with that $1,405 bill. When I reviewed the disputes, it appeared that Rose didn’t do herself any favors in her self-advocacy attempts. Unfortunately, she had filled her documents with factual errors.
Not only did Rose misidentify the company she used to book the reservation, but she also named the wrong hotel entirely. The case appeared as a confusing jumble of facts and misunderstandings. It wasn’t hard to see how these chargeback investigations did not go Rose’s way.
If you want a credit card company to help you fight a battle, you must make your case clear. It’s critical to stick to the relevant details and get right to the point in your summary of the problem. It’s imperative that you fact check yourself. And, of course, you should always review our publisher Christopher Elliott’s article about fixing a consumer problem before you begin your mission.
Contacting the Club Quarters Hotel
The manager of the Club Quarters Hotel had troubling news. She sent me evidence that the person listed on Rose’s reservation had reversed the charge after Rose checked out.
The manager explained that the cost of Rose’s room was $955. And since Rose stayed in the room, the hotel had no choice but to charge her stay to her credit card. The hotel never received any payment from Cancelon. She also said that she had already explained this to Rose earlier in the year.
This executive said that regrettably, it would seem that Rose was a victim of a hotel reservation resale scam.
So now with the route to a refund blocked, my sights turned to Cancelon.
Why did Cancelon fight Rose’s chargeback?
Cancelon sold Rose someone’s hotel reservation for $450. That someone appears to be a thief.
Whoever booked the hotel reservation in the first place received money from Cancelon. And then she received a refund of $955 from the hotel. Rose got scammed, and this Cancelon offers a guarantee that its users won’t get scammed. So it was time to find out why Cancelon fought Rose’s chargeback.
I composed a brief summary of Rose’s nine-month battle for the return of her $955. I asked Cancelon to explain how this fraud had happened and why Rose had been left to shoulder the burden.
Surprisingly, I heard back from an executive customer service agent very quickly. Cancelon wanted to fix this problem immediately.
Greetings from Cancelon! We thank you very much for highlighting this issue. We tried to reach Ms. Rose in the past as well. However, we could not reach her as the phone number and email address (available on file as per our records) were not in use by her. With the details shared by you in your email, we succeeded to talk to Ms. Rose and we thank you for this information.
We are saddened to hear that Ms. Rose was charged twice for a booking that she bought from Cancelon. After speaking to the hotel, we got to know that the seller of the reservation made a fraud reservation and disputed the amount with the hotel (after Ms. Rose used the reservation), hence the hotel had to charge Ms. Rose for the full payment. We are in touch with her to settle the payment issue and we deeply regret the inconvenience she had to face.
The good news from Cancelon
And then Rose received the good news from Cancelon.
The company intended to make her whole and then some. They agreed not to fight the new appeal on the $450 chargeback case. And Cancelon sent Rose a refund check of $605. This covers the full $955 she paid to the hotel plus a $100 goodwill gesture. Rose says that the explanation from Cancelon is likely true since she changed her address and phone number in July.
Rose is thrilled that this fight is finally over and that Cancelon did the right thing — in the end. And she will pay careful attention to the address line and headers of any website she uses in the future.
*April 2020 update: Cancelon has a notice on its website that “due to the global outbreak” of the coronavirus, customer’s reservations may be canceled. Oh, and Cancelon also announced its closure.