By Chris | October 26, 2007
If you have an extra half hour to spare, check out Megan McArdle’s lengthy rant about having the hotel room she booked on Expedia sold to another guest. Hotels, like airlines, frequently overbook rooms under the assumption that some guests will cancel. Moreover, reservations without a valid credit card will almost always be canceled. I spent the summer working as a night clerk at a mainstream chain hotel and have a few insights on how to avoid/deal with this type of situation:
- Never use Expedia to book same day reservations. Even in today’s technological age, Expedia’s reservation system is often out of sync with a local hotel’s software. The conglomeration of different computer systems trying to communicate results in frequent glitches. Also, customer contact information often isn’t transferred properly. That is likely why Megan was not contacted about her “declined” card.
- If possible, don’t book online. Hotels make more money when guests book their rooms by calling the hotel (and prices are usually the same). When an error occurs, hotels are more likely to alienate their less profitable internet customers.
- On the day of arrival, confirm your reservation over the phone and get the clerk’s name. Doing so gives the clerk a STRONG incentive to make sure your room will not be sold to someone else. This is critical if you plan on arriving late.
- If you find yourself in this situation, don’t be rude to the night clerk. Most overbooking problems are created during the day and inherited by the night clerk. Politely ask that the clerk find another room for you at the hotel’s expense (you shouldn’t have to pay anything). Night clerks have a lot of discretion when it comes to accommodating such requests, yet have little incentive to help an obnoxious guest (not to imply that Megan was rude). This is especially important when fault lies with a third party.
Expedia normally operates under a direct bill scheme. Expedia charges the credit card provided online immediately and later is billed by the hotel for the cost of the room. There is no reason, that the hotel should have tried to charge Megan’s credit card. It is my guess that the hotel clerk was inexperienced and did not realize that all Expedia reservations are, by default, guaranteed by Expedia. (Travelocity uses a different billing system, where the hotel charges a “Travelocity Credit Card” which can create confusion).
These things happen. Calling the hotel directly to confirm your reservation is a small inconvenience. Think of it as a small insurance premium to pay in order to avoid a traveling nightmare.