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NEWS, TIPS & BARGAINS | THE INTERNET TRAVELER

Check that cancellation clause or bookings could be costly

January 07, 2007|James Gilden | Special to The Times

TIME was when a call to a hotel before 6 p.m. the day of arrival was enough to cancel a hotel reservation without penalty. Not so in today's wired world.

Canceling a hotel reservation, made online, often comes at a cost, whether the reservation is made with an online travel agency such as Expedia or Travelocity or directly through a hotel's website. It is important to note the exact policies for each website, but Expedia's cancellation policy is typical.

"Any changes to or cancellation of your reservation may result in fees from $25 up to the full cost of your stay," Expedia's site explains. Pretty straightforward, though it is more accurate to state "will result in fees" rather than "may" because once you make a reservation, cancellation fees apply.

A recent check of Expedia showed that you have until midnight Mountain Standard Time (11 p.m. Pacific) the day before arrival to cancel, but that comes with a $25 penalty (that time is subject to change so double-check in case you need to cancel a reservation). The price of canceling later than that goes up -- it's the cost of one night's stay if made before check-in. After check-in, there is a 100% penalty per room. In other words, you pay for your entire stay whether you stay or not.

Howard Scott of Irvine was aware of Expedia's cancellation policy when he made a reservation through the website for three rooms at the Bell Rock Inn & Suites in Sedona, Ariz., for late November. So when his plans changed, he dutifully went online to cancel his reservation.

He pulled up his itinerary, scrolled down to the "How to cancel this hotel reservation" link, clicked on it and canceled his hotel reservation. Or so he thought until he received his credit card statement. There he found a charge for the original reservation of $817 but a cancellation credit of only $247. He had been credited with canceling one room (minus the cancellation fee) but not the two others.

"When I entered the itinerary number to cancel, there was no reference to having to cancel each room," Scott wrote in an e-mail to Expedia.

If Scott had scrolled down an inch more, he would have seen that he needed to cancel each room separately. But he was working on a laptop with a small screen and missed that.

I studied Scott's situation by making a reservation using Expedia for the same number of rooms at the same hotel. Expedia agreed to waive any cancellation fees I would incur.

When I went to cancel the reservation, I encountered the same problem. There were three links with Room 1, Room 2 and Room 3 listed next to them, but unless I scrolled down far enough, all I saw was Room 1 and a link that said, "How to cancel this hotel reservation." I found no other notice on that page that said you must cancel the rooms separately, so the wording of the link -- "How to cancel this hotel reservation" as opposed to "How to cancel this room reservation" -- seemed misleading.

No further pages in the cancellation process indicated that I was not canceling my entire reservation. It was easy to see how Scott was tripped up.

"We do feel the instructions for canceling each hotel room are clearly stated in multiple places throughout the booking path, in the e-mail confirmation and also in the online itinerary," Expedia spokeswoman Katie Deines said. Translation: Read the fine print.

Nonetheless, Expedia agreed that the process could be better explained and will consider making some changes.

"It's these types of exceptions to the rule that inform the enhancement process," Deines said. "As a courtesy, we have refunded Mr. Scott."

Contact Gilden at www.theinternettraveler.com.

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