I recently attended a job fair in Marietta, Ga. Because I was unsure of the number and date of interviews I would have at the event, I decided to book a room for one night at the Hyatt, in case I had to extend my stay.
I didn't need the room, so I called a full day before I was supposed to check in to cancel. But a Hyatt representative told me they could not find my reservation and that I would need to call back later in the day to cancel. I called back that afternoon and was transferred to central booking. A representative said they could not process a cancellation for me. So I called the hotel and they agreed to cancel my reservation.
When I tried to book a flight back home this morning, my card was rejected because of insufficient funds. I checked my account and found the Hyatt had charged my card $141.
I immediately called the hotel; they told me that if I did not have a confirmation number there was nothing it could do. I kept calling back until someone in accounting said they would research the issue, but no one ever said they would be able to refund my money.
Without a cancellation number, they said, I would be considered a "no show." I have $10 in my account and am stuck in New York. Can you help me?
– Fallon Speaker, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Hyatt should have canceled your room as promised. But you had a few warning signs that it didn't – or couldn't. That included the hotel not being able to find your reservation, the central reservations line not being able to process your cancellation, and a promise (but no verification) from the hotel that your reservation had been deleted.
Any one of these should have sent up an enormous red flag. But the one that should have sent you into a panic was the lack of a cancellation number. When a hotel doesn't offer you one, you should assume your reservation is still active.
Unfortunately, yours was.
Although some hotel rooms are still cancelable, many are not. In fact, there's been a steady move toward the airline model, where the most affordable rooms can't be changed or canceled for any reason. So it's worth making sure, as you did, that your room can be canceled and ensuring that if your plans change, you give the property ample notification.
I checked with Hyatt, and it turns out your reservation couldn't be found because someone – it's not clear who – misspelled your name.
Within an hour of asking the hotel to investigate, it had reversed the charge, allowing you to buy a ticket from New York back to North Carolina. As a gesture of goodwill, Hyatt enrolled you in its loyalty program and deposited enough points in your account for a one-night stay at one of its hotels.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or email him at email@example.com.