46

I booked a hotel a yesterday though Booking.com for a special occasion in Barcelona (I'm traveling from another European country). The booking isn't for another few months.

The booking includes:

  • Free Cancellation

  • Pay at the hotel

  • Confirm booking with Credit Card

The hotel confirmed the booking this morning, and then a few hours later submitted this message though the booking.com website to raise the rate by around €40/night (If I try to book it again from Booking.com the price is around 265€/night and they are now offering the hotel at 165€/night)

Message:

Dear XXXXXXX, 

We contact you in reference to your reservation, made in the last few hours, at the Hotel XXXXXXXXX.  Unfortunately we have to inform you that there has been a serious human error and therefore the rate of your reservation does not match to this hotel category. Due to this situation, we would like to offer you the possibility to cancel your reservation, obviously without any cost, or to reconfirm your reservation at the special rate of EUR 165 per night / room VAT included.  We appreciate your understanding and cooperation in these circumstances and we ask you to accept our sincere apologies, hoping not to cause any inconvenience.  We are waiting for you to indicate which of the two alternatives offered is of your greatest convenience. 

Sincerely, 

XXXXXXXXXXX

Do I need to accept their new terms of the booking, accepting their new price/cancel or am I entitled to keep the original price?

I wouldn't want to arrive there with a sour taste in my mouth, or for them to cancel the booking last minute with no recourse, while I had originally budgeted €140/night, we want the trip to be special with no issues.


Thanks for the feedback everyone, just to keep you updated:

I've received the following mail from Booking.com (Previously the same details from the hotel itself)

Message from Booking.com:

Dear XXXXXXXX,

My name is XXXXXXXX from Booking.com and I had the pleasure of working on your reservation today. I attempted to reach out via phone but unfortunately we were unable to connect.

I tried calling you to discuss an error in the rates for your booking with XXXXXXXX(Hotel), but was unable to reach you.

Booking.com sent an email a couple days ago regarding your reservation. Since there has been no reply, I just wanted to follow up again and see if you had received our email. If not, the information from the original email is below:

The actual rate for XXXXXXXX(Hotel) is 660 EUR VAT included, and not 495.84 EUR as mentioned in your booking confirmation.

I am sorry for any inconvenience this situation may cause however, the property would like to offer you a free upgrade to a better room category, if available at check in, and they will offer a discount of 50% for breakfast.

Please reply to this email and let us know as soon as possible if you accept this offer or want to cancel your booking free of charge. If you have any questions or concerns, just let us know.

We look forward to hearing from you.

-- XXXXXXXX XXXXX Booking.com Customer Service Team

  • 7
    At the time you booked it,did you have a sense that the deal was almost too good to be true? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 28 at 7:14
  • 7
    @Harper Not at all. The price WAS good for the hotel star rating, and on the halfway point pricewise for the range of hotels I was looking for, but I've traveled a lot around Europe and I've got lots of deals not dissimilar to this discount and price range. – Dean Meehan Feb 28 at 8:48
  • 12
    Seems like an honest mistake and they are trying to make it right (within reason). There is no point fighting this: the effort required would likely outweigh any financial gain, and even if you'd win, it would feel weird staying there. Your best options are to accept or find an alternative – Hilmar Feb 28 at 10:32
  • 30
    @Hilmar Of course they want you to think it was an honest mistake. The reality is that hotels treat the room prices on sites like bookings.com as a video game. There is no "reality" between the prices and the actual room costs. You are not "allocated" a physical room until you actually turn up at the hotel checkout desk, and most likely that is the only room in the hotel that you will ever see, so the link between the "categories" on bookings.com and real life is at best tenuous. – alephzero Feb 28 at 10:40
  • 11
    @Hilmar What in the writeup convinces you it was an honest mistake? – user 56513 Feb 28 at 13:39
46

Can a hotel cancel a confirmed reservation?

Yes. The best you can do is report to booking.com and hope they get them to honor the original amount. This behavior is unfair however hotels and airlines sometimes post wrong fares. When they discover it, the decent ones honor the wrong fares.

Cathay Pacific error sees $16,000 flights sold for $675

Thanks to a glitch, $16,000 first-class seats sold for $675. Errors like these are more common than you’d think.

The airline quickly addressed the problem but agreed to honor the heavily discounted fares.

However many times the organizations that don’t care about customer service refuse to honor the fare.

You don’t have much recourse because you’re not going to file a lawsuit about it, neither can you force them to give you a room when you arrive there.

  • 8
    @DavidRicherby OTOH it may be possible to sue if you can show a pattern of deliberately advertising lower prices that they knowingly have no intention of honoring IE bait and Switch. – Peter M Feb 28 at 12:13
  • 20
    @DavidRicherby That is only true in England and Wales if the error is "obvious". Thus a rate of €1.65 would probably not be enforceable. However there is nothing obviously wrong (to me) about a rate of €140/night. The challenge would be in pursuing a claim against a hotel in Spain. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Feb 28 at 13:33
  • 14
    Booking.com probably doesn't want its hotels to start cancelling existing reservations for this kind of dubious reasons, and I suspect the hotel has more to lose from getting kicked out of Booking.com than from honoring the reservation at the original price. I'm also suspecting that the hotel are just messaging the OP because they can't really unilaterally cancel unless OP cooperates. If you call Booking.com and tell them "I thought I booked a room on your platform but now I got this weird message", I'd be surprised if they didn't force the hotel to honor the booking. – a3nm Feb 28 at 15:01
  • 10
    I would start by complaining to booking.com -- explain to them that the price was not obviously wrong and the hotel has the room available and is simply refusing to give it to you at the reasonable price you agreed to. – David Schwartz Feb 28 at 23:20
  • 7
    @DavidRicherby Can you provide proofs for that claim ( possibly grounded in European or Spanish law)? Because my understanding of trade is, as soon as an offer(room) is accepted(booked) the conditions are binding. At least in Germany this behaviour would be fraud. It would be different if the error would be on a flyer, but this was not an ad but an offer, which is binding. – Kami Kaze Mar 1 at 14:24
32

The booking.com terms and conditions state, in part:

Obvious errors and mistakes (including misprints) are not binding.

All special offers and promotions are marked as such. If they are not labeled as such, you cannot derive any rights in the event of obvious errors or mistakes.

You didn't say what the price was that you paid or whether it was marked as a special offer or promotion, so it's impossible for us to say whether this alleged pricing error was "obvious" or not. But you should still consider contacting booking.com anyway. In no event should you contact the hotel before exhausting your options with booking.com.

  • 44
    A difference of €40 on a €160 room does not seem "obvious" at all. – jpatokal Feb 28 at 6:12
  • 5
    @jp I think it’s actually an €120 error on a €260 booking, which is a significant but not unheard of discount, though normally that’s only on last minute bookings. – Notts90 Feb 28 at 7:13
  • 39
    Aren't a large chunk of offers on booking.com and similar pages marketed as huge discounts these days? How are you even supposed to identify obvious errors? I just went with some random data and the very first result was €256 instead of €434. I'm personally totally dulled by this and try to be entirely oblivious about the "original price". – Zulan Feb 28 at 8:09
  • 5
    Good advice. Hotel has already shown they're unwilling to honor their rate, and Booking.com is the first pressure point you could to convince them to reconsider. – dbkk Feb 28 at 11:40
  • 2
    @MartinZeitler If hotel is listed on booking.com then it has to have a formal agreement with booking.com, and I see no way booking would allow hotels to ignore TOS when signing such deals. – Mołot Mar 4 at 11:12
16

According to this page by the Barcelona City Council's Municipal Consumer Information Office (OMIC), the first thing you should do is contact the business to try to mediate the complaint. If they don't give you a resolution within 30 days, you can lodge a complaint with them.

The relevant quote from the page:

We remind you, in accordance with Decree 98/2014 of 8 July, on mediation procedures for consumer relations, that the first thing you must always do is contact the company you have the problem with directly, so that you have evidence of your claim or complaint. Once you have raised your claim or complaint with the company, it has a deadline of 30 days to reply to you. If it does not reply or the reply is not satisfactory, you may submit a claim or complaint with OMIC for us to study and process.

Only Barcelona City Council's Municipal Consumer Information Office (OMIC) is authorised to handle consumer affairs, and when the consumer or the company the claim or complaint is against belong to this municipality.

13

This should have been a comment but I am forced to expand. I am not 100% sure because IANL and I don't have track of Spanish and European laws, but I am familiar with most principles.

Basically, Europe protects consumer as they are in the weakest position. You have likely booked all your transports and entertainment for your trip, so you might suffer extensive damage by such a significant price change.

E.g.

  • The new price has significant impact over your budget
  • If you choose to cancel, you will lose significant amounts of money already booked for other expenditures as mentioned above
  • If you choose to look for another hotel, you might not easily find another good deal

From your description, the hotel made a mistake and admitted the fault, but is refusing to honour what looks to me a regular contract.

This all looks to me like an "Unfair treatment". That page shows examples of unfair treatments but none fall into your exact case.

What you can do

More than complaining with the hotel citing European regulations (what rule? I am no lawyer, sorry), if the situation gets worse and the hotel refuses to accommodate, you should be eligible to get assistance from Spanish consumer protection associations (e.g. ECCES, I am not associated with them).

Normally, a lawyer will find the rule applying to your case and prepare a formal warning letter to the hotel. The hotel is likely to accept to accommodate to avoid expensive litigation costs.

Of course, anyone here on Travel SE who has legal information on the exact rule codes can provide feedback in an answer here, so you can write your own complaint letter.

Edit

If the hotel hadn't yet confirmed your booking, chances might be that they could cancel your booking. A confirmed reservation is a contract at all effects.

I don't have direct experience in hospitality laws, but consider travel rules as example. Train and air lines are obligated to guarantee the travel to the passenger at the cost of bringing him/her with another carrier and sustain all the costs. The same principle should apply to hotels.

Some jurisdictions allow unilateral change of price only within specific sectors, bounds and conditions. But that's a bit out of scope.

Edit 2 - About legal actions

I would also suggest the following actions. None will likely help you get the deal price again, but they will all help the community, i.e. the next traveler.

  • First and foremost, I would report the case to Booking.com. It might be a human error happened only once, but if the hotel is systematically inputting wrong bait prices, reports from multiple travelers will help the staff act accordingly
  • Reporting the case to a Consumer Association/Bureau is always free. They collect aggregate reports from consumers and could sometimes provide free letter templates to legally threaten the hotel when they are blatantly according illegally
  • According to the above, even if YANL (You Are No Lawyer), it is possible for you to write an official letter as an attempt to settle the case. The hotel may settle or ignore
  • Ultimately, reporting such cases to the Spanish Antitrust Authority is free. You should expect them not to act on your report but to collect aggregate reports and start investigations once a number of similar cases are reported to them. We consumers should do our civic duty when similar case happen.

Again, have a nice trip

  • 2
    The booking was made yesterday, the hotel confirmed the booking today at 10 am and the message was received at 5 pm. Even though no money came out, this booking was confirmed for all intents and purposes. – Dean Meehan Feb 28 at 14:33
  • 2
    At least in the UK, a contract isn't formed until they accept your order. The fine print often says that this is as late as possible; in the case of a hotel booking it might be the point where you turn up at the front desk. The confirmation probably isn't acceptance. Check the fine print in booking.com and the hotel website. – Paul Johnson Mar 1 at 12:10
  • 3
    This. The confirmation by Booking.com is meaningless, but the hotel's confirmation is a kind-of-contract, so pacta sunt servanda. However, this doesn't just look like "unfair treatment" but rather like deliberate "low balling". Had it been 1,65€ or 16,50€, I'd say "OK, human error". But not 40€, this looks like a bait offer. Much to my surprise, there even seems to exist a ley de competencia desleal in Spain (if asked, I'd have sworn "no"). Now of course being right and enforcing it are different things. No competent lawyer will bother about a sum in dispute of 120€, so... just forget it. – Damon Mar 1 at 15:01
  • 2
    it this was a bait offer (it would require more than just a single case to rule out the claimed human error), it would be covered by the unfair commercial practices law: ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-topic/consumers/… – Martin Zeitler Mar 2 at 12:25
  • 4
    @PaulJohnson that would be a weird interpretation, because it would also mean that I can cancel the booking up to that point. At no cost, as no contract has yet come into existence. Obviously, the hotel would disagree quite strongly. – Tom Mar 2 at 18:43
8

I have been told by hotels that my reservation conflicts with planned construction work, or the room just isn't available, and in these cases they've arranged some nearby alternative hotel. Here, clearly, the room is available, and they just regret offering it for the particular price. And not a decimal-point error where they offered a $300 room for $30 or $3; this "error" is within the price spread that hotel rooms might realistically be discounted.

If it is an honest error, it's a serious incompetence with online sales, coupled with a very stingy management attitude. It has all the hallmarks of a "bait and switch" tactic, in which a good is advertised at a price, but once the customer is "in the store" they're told that good is not available (at that price) and steered toward a pricier option. "Bait and switch" is a very well-recognized term in US and Canada consumer law; I can't guess if the equivalent exists elsewhere.

I agree with the others that a complaint to the local business regulator is in order. My own response would be to prefer another hotel, if a reasonable alternative is available. If this hotel is still preferable, you might write back with "I'm very disappointed that you've chosen not honour the reasonable price at which your rooms were advertised, and which I reserved in good faith. I would hope that you'd reconsider and honour this reservation as booked. If not, you may consider this reservation abandoned."

8

It's funny you mention this, because I've had the exact same issue with Booking.com in my most recent (and only) booking with them. The accommodations in question decided after I'd paid that they actually intended to reserve the rooms for a wedding party. "Oops." I also note that the letter you received sounds suspiciously like a form letter...

Booking.com officially claims they are merely a matchmaker and do not guarantee anything, however in my case I was able to get them to give me another reservation at a different hotel nearby for the same price I'd originally paid. It took some back and forth--at first they wanted to put me in a hotel 20 minutes farther away from the event I'm attending than the original booking was--but I eventually managed to get them to make it right. (Supposedly, that is; they've had me pay upfront and won't reimburse me the difference in price until after my stay, so we'll see if that's another huge fight. Keep your receipts.)

At the end of the day, I don't see a way you can force the original hotel to honor the deal, but if you get Booking.com involved they may be able to help you. I would start there.

4

It may be that the agency you booked through (Booking.com?) is the one that erred. IF that is the case, they are responsible for fixing it. If the reservation made it to the hotel, and the hotel accepted it, they are on the hook for it.

I worked Customer Service for a major hotel chain for 8 years. Hotels overbook the number of rooms, expecting cancellations. Occasionally, it did happen when guests would show up and the hotel was simply overbooked. In that event, it was our chain's policy to "Walk" the customer by obtaining a room for them in a nearby hotel and comping the night. For the loyalty club members they frequently went a step further and gave them additional points, or other benefits.

Bottom line is that they CAN do it but if they expect to stay in business long they'll try to make it right for the customer. I would advise to contact the hotel's corporate offices.

3

Just report it to booking!

Sometimes hotels make mistakes, sometimes the company they're working with. I'm sure booking will offer you a good solution. I've had good experience with them. Either you get a coupon/reduced price somewhere else, or they'll pay the difference at a similar hotel. A good solution is in everyone's interest, just let them know about this!

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