Q: I booked a room at Madison LES Hotel in New York. A month before my stay, I changed my mind about staying at the hotel. I emailed the property, asking to cancel. A representative responded, saying that I had booked a “deeply discounted” rate, incurring a “one-night penalty if cancellation is needed,” the representative said.
I looked at their cancellation policy. It says cancellation without charge is 24 hours before arrival. “Please note, all non-refundable reservations (room rate and all applicable taxes) will be charged on the day of booking. Absolutely no exceptions will be made to modify or cancel non-refundable reservations,” it says.
I just want them to cancel my reservation and not charge me for it. Can you help?
Illyanna Maisonet, Sacramento, California
A: If your reservation was cancellable 24 hours before your arrival, then the Madison LES Hotel shouldn’t charge you. I reviewed your reservation and, indeed, it said what you said it said – how’s that for a tongue-twister? – so this should have been as easy as showing the hotel your confirmation and getting it to honor the agreement.
So what’s going on? I see a few oddities. First, it appears the hotel changed names between the time you made your reservation and the time you contacted me. That’s not unusual. Hotels changing names – or “reflaggings,” as they’re called in the lodging industry – happen all the time. During a name change, hotels sometimes switch reservations systems, and details of some reservations may get lost. I’m not sure if that happened to you, but that may be one explanation.
Also, I noticed a notation next to your reservation that said “restricted.” As you probably know, hotels offer several types of rates, from completely refundable to nonrefundable. It looks like, while the terms below your reservation said one thing, the reservation might have been more restricted. That’s on the hotel, not you.
You kept a thorough paper trail of correspondence between you and the hotel. It shows that while it promised you one thing, it seemed to deliver another. I’m going to write this off to a reflagging confusion, not some sinister plot to keep your money. I’ve seen sinister plots; this isn’t one of them.
When a hotel sends you the terms of its cancellation in writing, it needs to stick to those terms – just as travelers need to keep their end of the bargain. You were well within your rights to cancel and ask for a full refund.
When I contacted the hotel on your behalf, the hotel insisted that it never meant to pocket your money. “We canceled your reservation and never placed a charge on your card,” it said. “We are not sure why there is a discussion regarding a canceled reservation that had no penalty to you the booker.”
Full disclosure: You’re a fellow journalist, and before asking for my help, you gave the property a less than glowing review online. I probably would have done the same thing. It looks as if the property decided to back down after reading your review but didn’t tell you. No matter. I’m happy the Madison LES Hotel won’t be charging you.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.