When Jim Smith, CTIE, woke up Saturday, July 14, 2018, he realized that a variety of issues would prevent him from flying from his home in Florida to his former home, Long Island, to attend the last day of the Great South Bay Music Festival.
A music and concert industry veteran, Smith had frequently attended the event and celebrated with friends and musicians. Several months earlier he had booked a one-night stay at the LaQuinta Inns & Suites property near Long Island’s MacArthur Airport, through Booking.com.
“I’m not a fan of online travel companies, but I use them occasionally, to competitive shop and measure pre- and post-trip service levels by the online companies, just so I have a finger on the pulse of reality as it exists,” Smith said. That morning, he needed to cancel.
A printed confirmation from Booking.com said that Smith needed to cancel his reservation by 11:59 p.m. Friday night, otherwise he would be subject to a $199 cancellation fee.
In previous dealings, Smith had known that LaQuinta’s cancellation policy was 6 p.m. on the day of arrival. But the company had been purchased by Wyndham Worldwide earlier in the year, so he called the property directly to make certain the merger hadn’t initiated any changes.
“Someone at the front desk picked up, and I said, ‘Can I verify that none of your cancellation policies have changed? Can you pull up a reservation for me?’” Smith recalled. “They did, and greeted me by name. I asked them if I canceled right then, would there be any penalties.”
“No, Mr. Smith,” they told him. “You are within our cancellation period.”
After he got off the call with the property’s front desk, Smith sent an email to Booking.com’s customer service, asking them why there was a discrepancy in cancellation properties.
“They’ve never responded,” Smith told Travel Market Report. “But, they do keep sending me email promotions about a hotel I stayed at in Norcross, Georgia, a long time ago. So, I know their email works.”
Smith offered up his story as a cautionary tale to consumers who use online travel agencies, versus booking with an experienced agent.
“What my experience underscores is the importance and need for a professional travel advisor,” Smith. “Consumers are at the whim of companies and their stated policies, like hotel cancellations, when what they’re telling you isn’t true. And then, when you ask for clarification, you don’t even get a reply. Consumers need an experienced travel agent who knows what the rules and policies are, and one dedicated to going to bat for them when travel plans change.”
Travel Market Report contacted Booking.com to ask about Smith’s situation, and how their stated policies could be different than a lodging chain they list and sell. Booking.com did not reply before press time.