No One Has The Power To Cancel Your Hotel Reservation Made Through An Airline Web Site

Booking a hotel room through an airline’s web site can lead to a roach-infested, unacceptable hotel experience, as reader Bruce learned recently. Nick tells Consumerist that he had a similar Kafkaesque hotel booking experience booking a Super 8 reservation through Continental Airlines. He learned that no one at either the airline or the hotel had the power to change his reservation–even though he was trying to cancel the reservation months in advance.

I had a recent experience with booking hotels through an airline that
I wish to share. It involves Continental Airlines, Super 8 Hotels and
a concept I (and I suspect other Consumerist readers) had never
encountered before: The un-cancel-able hotel room.

I booked a flight from New York to LAX on Febuary 28th of this year,
for travel at the end of April (2 months early, for those counting).
I also needed a hotel, so I went to the “convenient” Continental
Airlines Hotel booking system and found a cheap Super 8 in [redacted],
California. The reviews were poor, but I didn’t need it for long and
it was very convenient to where I needed to be. I chose the special
“Continental.com Hotels Best Rate Guaranteed” fare, checked the
standard boilerplate and booked it.

The next day (still 2 months before my stay, for those counting), I
reconsidered the quality of the hotel and decided to upgrade for a
treat. I went back to the Continental website, canceled my hotel
reservation and found a Comfort Inn slightly farther away and slightly
more expensive but with better reviews. I thought I was ready for my
vacation.

I receive my next credit card bill a few weeks later and find the
Super 8 charge still on it (listed, of course, as a purchase at
Continental.com). I call up continental to inquire as to when I can
expect my money back, and am shocked to discover that I NEVER WILL.
Because the Super 8 hotel reservation CAN NOT BE CANCELED. That’s
right. I booked 2 months in advance, canceled THE NEXT DAY, and the
Continental will not refund my money because “the money has already
gone to the hotel, and the hotel does not allow cancellations”.
Continental, according to the nice man I’m talking to, is merely the
middleman. All they do is forward the money to the hotel. I called
the Super 8’s manager, and he reiterated that he would not return my
money and, in fact, since I had canceled I would not be able to stay
there either.

Now I consider myself a pretty aware consumer, and I actually read the
boilerplate before I purchase anything. What got me was the terribly
worded Continental.com website. Before you make your reservation,
they display in normal font the Cancellation Policy. That is where
the problem is.

Cancellation Policy of the Comfort Inn that I booked after canceling,
and 90% of ALL hotels on the site (I took a sample of 20 in the LA
area):

Cancellation And Changes:
If you change or cancel this reservation after 12 AM local hotel
time on Wednesday, April 28, 2010, you will be charged a penalty of 1
night(s) room rate plus tax.

Cancellation Policy of the Super 8 that has stolen my money:

Cancellation And Changes:
If you change or cancel this reservation before 12 AM local hotel
time on Thursday, April 29, 2010, you will be charged a penalty of 3
night(s) room rate plus tax.

Did you notice the difference? I certainly didn’t when I was booking
in the first place.

That’s right. They changed the word “after” to “before”. That is the
ONLY difference in the cancellation policies. I, of course, consider
that a sort of legal bait and switch, where the contract you always
sign is exactly the same except for the one tiny word that changes the
meaning entirely.

So watch out everyone, because some hotels do not let you cancel.

In the numerous phone calls I made, I learned:
1. Continental has no responsibility for this at all because they
don’t make money of the service and it’s just for convenience. The
cancellation policies are those of the hotel.
2. Super 8 Corporate has no responsibility, as these contracts are
negotiated individually between the website and the hotel.
3. The specific Super 8 [redacted] has no responsibility because the
website said I couldn’t cancel and the manager keeps hanging up on me.

The Continental supervisor I talked with was under the impression, by
the way, that I should feel no ill will towards Continental, as
they’re just providing a service for “convenience”. So even though I
booked the “Continental.com Hotels Best Rate Guaranteed” at the Hotel
I found through Continental.com, for which I could use or get
Continental frequent flier miles and the purchase of which was listed
as “Continental.com” on my credit card bill, if I am unhappy I have
“no right to blame them”, as the supervisor said. Of course, they
fully expect increased brand loyalty if everything goes well.

And in response to “Are Airlines responsible for Hotels Booked on
their site?” I say yes, though they are of course not legally
responsible. We’re expected to think better of the Airlines if we
have a great time, but not if we don’t? I will never fly Continental
again thanks to my experience with the Continental branded hotels
website, and that is all, in the end, I can do.

And a question for the crowd: If the Airlines aren’t responsible for
the hotels that you book on their site, and the hotels chains aren’t
responsible because you booked through the airline website, and the
hotel managers are only as responsible as they want to be, who always
ends up the responsible one?

It seems pretty inconvenient and a strange cancellation policy on Super 8’s part. It’s temporally impossible to cancel the reservation after April 28, so this is effectively a “no cancellations” policy. If the reservation can’t be canceled, why not just say so?