October 29, 2013
Bev Eberly's discount hotel card doesn't work. How can she get the $50 she's been promised?
Q: We recently stayed at a Best Western hotel in Seaside, Ore. We made the reservation through Priceline and took advantage of a promotion run by the Hotel Card. The card promises we will receive $50 back as a refund from our stay. It's been four months since our stay, and we still haven't received a refund.
Numerous attempts at emails and phone calls to the number on the website have been to no avail. Calls to the number listed on their website have not been returned, and you can never get a live person. Can you help? — Bev Eberly, Portland, Ore.
A: If the Hotel Card offers a $50 refund, then you should have received one shortly after your stay. But a review of the card's terms online suggests that's not exactly how it works.
The Hotel Card, which was a Priceline partner at the time of your stay, is a discount card that allows you to "save" $50 off the price of a hotel. Once you enter your Hotel Card number in the designated place during the booking process, $50 will be subtracted from the lowest price. That $50, it promises, will show up as an "instant" credit.
I'm not a big fan of discount programs like this, precisely because so much can go wrong. Running a promotion through any coupon or card automatically reduces the redemption rates, which means that customers like you end up holding worthless scrip.
Now, to be clear, I'm not calling the Hotel Card worthless, but you have to jump through a few hoops to collect the discount, and that hassle means some customers will fail to take advantage of their cards. In fact, after four months of waiting, it looks like you might be ready to give up. (I'm usually the last person someone contacts before throwing in the towel.)
The Hotel Card should have credited you right away, as it promised. But if it didn't, you still had two other avenues of appeal: Priceline and Best Western. Failing that, you could have disputed part of your credit card bill, which would have been a lengthy process that may or may not have worked.
By the way, you can reach a Priceline executive through my website. Here are a few names: http://elliott.org/contacts/priceline/
A brief, polite email to a Priceline executive might have convinced the company to pressure Hotel Card to review your case. It's possible that, because of heavy demand, the Hotel Card was overwhelmed by requests from consumers. Rest assured, it's unlikely the Hotel Card would have also ignored questions from Priceline.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It got in touch with The Hotel Card (unlike you and me, it has a working number for the card) and someone from the card contacted you in person and offered either a credit or a check.
You asked for — and received — a check.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)