With the summer season finally upon us, I’m sure many of our readers will be making travel plans. Whether it’s a quick trip to Canaan Valley, or a longer jaunt to a sunny beach in the Carolinas, this is the time when we all will be traveling, and traveling means hotel reservations. I just had a very unpleasant (and costly) experience with making travel reservations, and I want to share that experience with you so that you don’t get burned like I did.
I grew up in the time that making travel reservations meant calling an “800” number and speaking to a real live human being. In today’s world, making reservations generally means a Google search, a few clicks, entering your credit card info, and waiting for a confirming email. And therein lies the problem: when everything is done online, you can’t always be sure who you are communicating with.
I recently went online to make a hotel reservation for a weekend. I entered the hotel name in the Google search bar, and up popped a link that said something like “Waterfront Hotel Reservations” (Waterfront isn’t really the name of the hotel I was dealing with, but I’ll use it here for convenience). I clicked on the link, and was prompted to enter my travel dates. I did that, and it told me that rooms at the Waterfront were available at a specific rate. I clicked the “book now” option, entered my credit card info, clicked again, and I was all set, or so I thought. Little did I know that I had just been taken to the proverbial cleaners.
The room price I had been quoted was $150 per night for 2 nights, so my total, after taxes, should have been something in the neighborhood of $325. When I got my receipt, it read $375. A mistake, I thought, so I checked out the detail. It seems that I had been charged a $50 “booking fee”. Angry now, I called the hotel directly, demanding to know how they could advertise a rate, and then artificially inflate it as they had. It was then that the very polite hotel representative informed me that the website I had used to make my reservation had absolutely nothing to do with the Waterfront Hotel. It was an independent site, “Guest Reservations.com”, that was linked to Hotwire, or Priceline, or a similar booking site. I tried calling the site directly to cancel the reservation, and learned (from a recording, not a real person) that it was non-refundable. I called multiple time, pushed every button I could think of to push, and was never able to speak to anyone. So, as a last resort, I decided to go through the process again, to see if I could figure out what had happened.
I entered my dates, looked at the rate, and scrolled down to the “book now” option. Once again, I saw the quoted rate of $325. But this time, rather than clicking the button, I scrolled further down the page, and there it was: the final receipt. It showed the $325 rate, and it also showed the $50 booking fee. The problem is, this information doesn’t appear until AFTER you have already clicked the “book now” option. In other words, you get cheated before you realize it is happening.
So, if you are going online to make a reservation, be absolutely certain that you are dealing with the hotel’s actual website. Scroll down as far as you can go, even after you reach the “book now” option. Look carefully at the numbers before you commit. Or, better yet, go old school and pick up your phone. It might save you some cash in the long run.