I’m Sorry Just Won’t Do

It was August 2002 and Lula Dukes Chisholm excitedly awaited her family members’ arrival for the reunion she was hosting in Jacksonville, Florida. Everything was set — or so she thought.

When she arrived at the Suburban Lodge to check-in her family, she was informed that their reservations were nonexistent and that there was no vacancy. “I explained that I had a confirmation number and asked to speak with a manager who could get us the rooms,” says Chisholm.

In the hotel industry, being turned away from a hotel when you have a confirmed reservation is known as being “walked.” In 40% of these cases, there is unintentional overbooking because guests have extended their stay. Conventions can cause hotels to overbook as well. If this ever happens to you, don’t leave unsatisfied. Here’s what you can do.

“When you make your initial reservation, always have a printed confirmation number e-mailed or mailed to you. That way, there will be no discussion about whether or not you made the reservation. If the hotel says it’s overbooked, politely ask the hotel manager to make contact with other hotels on your behalf,” says Shirley Rooker, president of Call for Action (www.callforaction.org), a nonprofit consumer organization in Bethesda, Maryland. “The hotel that you are being sent to should be of a comparable nature. I would not leave that hotel lobby unless I have a room somewhere else. If the other hotel is more expensive, inform the manager that you expect it to make up the difference.” In addition, always get the new terms in writing.

The Suburban Lodge hotel offered to send Chisholm’s guests to their sister hotel. That would have been fine with one exception: It was on the other side of town. “I said [it was] unacceptable,” she says. “The hotel made reservations for them at [a nearby] Residence Inn. Upon our arrival, I learned the rooms were $89 per night.” The original hotel cost $59 per night with the third night free. Suburban paid for the extra fees. For Chisholm, the circumstances were all too real, but hotel industry experts say it’s not as common as you may think.

“At most hotels, they only occur two or three nights per year,” says Bill Hanley, executive vice president for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (www.ahma.com) in Washington, D.C. “I don’t know of a hotel that wants to ‘walk’ someone. When they do, they are extremely sensitive [about having] inconvenienced the guests and [they] want to do whatever they can to make certain they come again.”

According to Rooker, it is important not to leave a hotel unless you have everything in writing. You should have a statement from the hotel indicating that it is overbooked, that you will be sent to another hotel with all of the differences paid, and that your credit card will not be charged.

In addition to ensuring a room at an equivalent hotel, the hotel should provide complimentary transportation, cover required long-distance calls, and pay for transportation back to the hotel if you