I needed to do some traveling, and so I chose a Holiday Inn where I had stayed before. The trouble was that the rate was rather higher this time—and I also got little sense from the agent on the phone that my request for a top-floor room would receive serious attention. I told him distinctly at one point that I wanted to do more research before booking a room. He virtually pleaded with me to go ahead and book, however (“They’re going fast at this locale—must be some kind of special event”), and to cancel later if I discovered a better deal. I took the bait. As Jeremy Wade would say. “Fish on!”
Within 24 hours, I did indeed find a better deal. I called to cancel. The girl on the line was happy to oblige… but informed me that I’d be rung up for thirteen bucks. I was furious. I asked why I hadn’t been alerted to this fee when making the reservation. She didn’t know. Whatever. I told her to cancel my room, to forget about my ever staying at Holiday Inn again, and to consider our call at an end. I’ve never hung up on anyone before in that manner. Our changing world is transforming us before our very eyes.
The confirmation email did indeed mention the charge in its fine print, as I found upon double-checking:
For the room type you’ve selected, you can cancel your reservation for a full refund up until noon on [Month. Date] (local hotel time). If you decide to cancel your reservation anytime between noon on [Month. Date] and noon on [Month. Date+two days] (local hotel time), the hotel requires payment for the first night’s stay. You will be charged for the first night’s stay including taxes and fees. Any remaining amount will be refunded to you. Refunds or cancellations are not available after noon local hotel time on your day of arrival [Month. Date]. The $12.99 USD fee included in the total is non-refundable. We do not charge any additional change or cancellation fees.
I logged onto the Holiday Inn comments page and gave them my response to their little landmine hiding in the confirmation notice:
I made a reservation at the H Inn and Suites yesterday (Rome, Ga) ONLY because the agent assured me that I could cancel without penalty up until [Month, Date] at noon, two days before my arrival. As anticipated, I had to cancel this morning… and the agent on the phone informs me that I’m being rung up for $12.99. I happened to look at the receipt sent to my wife’s email, and I noticed the charge stipulated in fine print… but, of course, even if I’d been checking the fine print, I wouldn’t have seen this email as I was in the act of booking with your rep, who essentially talked me into the transaction.
I won’t stay at a Holiday Inn again. I won’t be staying in any related properties again. I’ve taken my IHG rewards card and trashed it. I have plenty to say about this on my blog site and to my friends. I consider what you have done to be outright fraud, and I despise people who treat customers this way. Your business practices are contemptible; and if I were a lesser man, I would wish that you would have a lifetime of dealing with nobody but shysters like yourselves. It’s bloody disgraceful! For thirteen bucks! Disgraceful.
At least the cancellation went through. I promptly received the following, which of course was wholly unrelated to my own message just above:
This email is to confirm our conversation that your reservation is cancelled and you will be receiving a refund. The $12.99 USD fee included in the total is non-refundable.
Please allow 3 to 10 business days for your bank to post it to your account. And should you need further assistance please don’t hesitate to respond to this email, and we will be happy to take care of you.
I’ll just bet you will! But all irony aside (for there was neither irony nor humor nor sympathy in any of these exchanges on the part of the company hacks), I at last received the wooden missive below:
This email is being sent to confirm your request to waive the booking fee. The refund will be processed within 24 hours back to your credit card, but you should allow 3 to 10 business days for those funds to post your account. If you would like to expedite the process, you will need to contact your credit card provider.
For any other questions or assistance, please respond to this email, and we will be sure to take care of you.
Still and ever wanting to take care of me! No, Holiday Inn, I think I’ve been taken care of quite enough. In the first place, don’t call me John. You don’t know me like that. In the second place, I didn’t request a waiver. I told you that you were scavengers and scoundrels. And in the third place, I never did get an apology from you. Your agent set me up so that you would be assured of bleeding me for at least a little change, no matter what… and then you thought you’d patch everything up when I turned out to be one of the 1% that complains. Yes, I wanted my money restored to me; but I wanted an apology just as much, and I got something that any half-intelligent robot could easily have out-performed.
This is why young people are suspicious of capitalism—or why some young people think they can enter the capitalist workplace with the ethics of a Visigoth. Our corner drugstores and Mom & Pop storefronts on Main Street are all gone. Everything’s a video game. And as for robots… yes, even a robot would be more pleasant to live around than the post-human degenerates that e-culture is turning us into. Robots stick to their programming: humans keep following the trend—and if it’s a downward spiral, they keep spiraling downward.