What is a ‘Mistake’ Price Really? Hotel Refuses to Honor its Regular Rate on a Night It Could Charge More

A reader contacted me after he booked the Durham Hilton near Duke University. His reservation was for a fairly typical $125 AAA rate.

The first date I pulled up, AAA rate there was running $134.

The hotel advertises at Hilton.com rates ‘from $118’.

The hotel, though, claimed he had booked a mistake rate. His reservation was for over Duke’s graduation weekend, and the hotel could clearly sell its rooms for more.

I’m actually sympathetic to travel providers, and think there are times they should be able to cancel a mistake fare or rate.

Typically, though, we think of a mistake rate as a ‘fat finger’ fare, hitting the wrong key or leaving out a digit. Or perhaps a currency conversion error — for instance Hilton honored a rate at the Hilton Moorea where $1000 a night overwater villas with meals went for ~ $100 because prices were listed in Congolese Francs (CDF) instead of French Pacific Francs (CFP).

That’s different, it seems to me, from a hotel loading their usual rates and then deciding not to honor a booking because you can sell the room for more.

I helped the reader get his case in front of Hilton corporate. In my experience Hilton doesn’t have as much control over its hotels as some chains like Starwood. Unfortunately, Hilton didn’t make good on the rate.

I wanted to offer Hilton’s side in this discussion, too, and so I asked them a few questions.

  • What is Hilton’s definition of a mistake rate?

      On rare occasion, our hotels will offer guests a rate and later discover that it was made in error. In this instance, Hilton Durham Near Duke University, mistakenly offered a lower rate than what should have been posted on certain dates in 2016. Upon realizing the error, the hotel quickly reached out to those who had booked reservations to explain the situation and have also created a hotline for customers to call to amend their reservations as needed (919-564-2918). Hotels do have the right to cancel or modify reservations when made in error.

  • At what point can a consumer rely on a reservation they make with Hilton?

      It is a top priority for our customers to be able to trust that their reservations are handled with care and when changes do need to be made, we work directly with the customer to resolve issues to the best of their satisfaction.

  • If a hotel contacts a guest to cancel their reservation, or requiring that they pay more, what steps should they take if any with Hilton corporate?

      The guest should contact the hotel or Hilton Reservations Customer Care who will investigate the issue and do their best to resolve to the guest’s satisfaction.

I’ll leave it to you to judge those answers on their merits.

In the meantime, in a situation like this, what’s left for a guest to do? If you can’t voluntarily resolve a disagreement with a hotel, and the hotel chain won’t help, what recourse do you have?

  1. File a complaint with the state’s Department of Consumer Protection, in most cases this will just raise the cost to the hotel but you may not get anything out of this (it will vary substantially by state and the circumstances of the case)
  2. File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the hotel may be more inclined to help with them as an intermediary
  3. File a lawsuit in small claims court.

Ultimately, though, there’s an even bigger question here than a single reservation disavowed by a hotel. What is a mistake rate?

I’ve offered in my discussion of airline mistakes, that in order to take the extreme step of dishonoring a booking there needs to be both an objective standard (like 80% or 90% below the lowest rate at which the same product was sold in the preceding 30 days) and a timely response.

Simply leaving it up to a travel provider to decide a mistake has occurred creates situations where they can simply choose not to honor a booking because they realize they can get more money selling a room or a seat to someone else.

“I didn’t mean to charge my usual price” shouldn’t be justification.. should it?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yes, a feature calling them out on USA Today would be deserved. If anything, just to alert travelers to the fact that this can happen to them, and that hotels can get away with it, and travelers should be prepared. This was not a “mistake” in the sense of a mistake airline fare where someone made a typo, e.g., $24 versus $2400. It was a reasonable rate and the hotel went back on the deal after the reservation was made. I would not expect this from Hilton. I would expect this from some third world hotel. Hilton should be ashamed.

  2. I found this page, by trying to understand what recourses I have with a similar situation. I booked a hotel in Boston, a 5 star hotel, I was looking to pay about $100-$150 per night in a decent hotel for 9 nights. And all of a sudden found that a 5 star hotel in the Booking.com page had an 80% Discount, the night was at $50, with the big coner sign saying that it was 80% off, I made the reservation, received my email confirming. I had doubts on the price and went to the Hotel’s website and found the same rate, actually it was $59. Three weeks later I received an email from Booking.com saying the hotel had made a mistake, the room was $490. Which I really doubt, because today, 3 weeks prior to my reservation I still find the hotel at $249. But they simply call it a mistake and cancell the reservation. I have already booked arilines, and other expenses. Now I have to look for an alternative at a higher price than I would have found three weeks ago. How can I complain or defend myself, any suggestions?

  3. @Jorge While I cannot guarantee success, you should try to make the biggest stink possible using all 3 avenues:

    1. Booking.com

    2. The corporate parent of the hotel (assuming it’s a national chain) which means email any/all executives you can find

    3. The manager of the hotel itself

    I would call, email, cajole, threaten to file complaints with the BBB, explain that you know influential bloggers, etc. Basically go full court press on the the hotel and booking.com. Explain your situation and tell them that you expect them to honor their commitments, just as they would have made you honor your commitment if you had booked a non-refundable reservation. If you put enough pressure on them, there is a decent chance they will step up. They are basically looking for you to roll over and accept the cancellation. Make it so that it becomes far easier for them to just honor the reservation than to endure your barrage of phone calls, emails, etc. This sort of “royal pain in the ass” approach doesn’t come naturally to most people, but if you really want to hold their feet to the fire, you gotta really roll out a full frontal assault until they cry uncle.

  4. I don’t know anything about mistake rates, but I once booked what looked like a completely valid rate and almost got scammed! I booked a room for one night at the Conrad Pesula in Knysna, South Africa because it was a “castle” (villa) with a private plunge pool, chef, butler and chauffeur (according to the website). There were several different rates on the Hilton.com website from which to choose…the cheapest was for a nonrefundable rate that had to be paid in full up front. I was booking almost a year in advance and therefore did not want a nonrefundable rate so I chose the more expensive “easy cancellation” rate of about $2,500/night and my confirmation email clearly stated that no money was due before my stay and I could cancel without penalty up to 24 hours before the date of the reservation. Afterwards I received an email from the hotel stating that they were going to charge 50% of the rate to my credit card and it would be nonrefundable. I sent them my confirmation email which stated the opposite but they insisted that they were still charging me because that was their high season and the hotel was filling up quickly. I called Hilton customer service who said that the hotels can do whatever they want. I then posted it to flyertalk where it was seen by one of Hilton’s employees (and I threatened to dispute the charge with Amex) and was soon contacted by the hotel with an apology and explanation that they didn’t know Hilton.com was offering nonrefundable rates and their reservation systems didn’t match. They also informed me that the information on the website was wrong because the castle didn’t come with a chef but I could pay extra for one if I wanted, and they couldn’t confirm anything about a chauffeur. Needless to say I cancelled the reservation (without penalty)!

  5. OMG! Jorge! I just encountered the SAME problem with booking.com today! I haven’t ever used them before. On 2/18 I received an email from Trip Advisor that a resort I vacation at in Cancun was running a one day special. I clicked the link and it took me to booking.com. I read, re-read had my husband read and yeah, it all seemed legit. Great price but totally legit. Even had friends look at it. We all booked.

    Today, I get home from work to read an email from booking.com saying the hotel made a mistake. $1,000 mistake! WHAT? I’ve already purchased my flights. And really? $1k mistake? Where, why, how is that fair?

    I take one vacation a year and it’s at this resort. My husband and I knew the rate was super good (we’ve hit really good deals before like 15 days/14 nights all inclusive w/airfare for $1,900). That’s why I shop around. Found this and now they are scamming me?

    I’ve called booking.com to tell them I want to pay now, not once I get to the resort. They said they can’t help me and I need to call the resort.

    Every time I’ve called the hotel and I mention booking.com, they put me on hold and never come back to the phone. I was on hold for an hour one time, 1/2 hour the next. I’ve even messaged some of the employees I know that I’ve kept in touch with and they say they can’t help.

    Is this called a bait and lure? I have over 10k views on my reviews on TripAdvisor – just on this resort alone. I’m really upset right now. Should I say anything about this now on TripAdvisor?

    I never complain, throw a fit. I’m not that type of person but $1k? Really? That’s not chump change. I think I can muster up finding a broom and being a witch for this.

  6. Adelphi hotel in Melbourne, Australia did this to me.

    I booked a weekend birthday staycation using a Tripadvisor link to their direct website. It was advertised as $275 per night, their direct website said $275 a night. I received a confirmation at that price. A few hours later I get a call from Sean, assistant manager of the hotel, that the price was $400+. After a few phone calls and the approval of the managing director, he informed me they will honour it at the price I booked it.

    That evening, I decided to update my comment section – the section where you say you want a higher floor, a quiet room, a non-smoking room, etc – I wrote to inform them of my allergy to alcohol as I know that Adelphi has a bar. Before clicking to confirm the updated comment, I took a snap shot making sure the booking details were still the same (i.e $275), then clicked confirm. And voila, the price was jacked up with no prompt, indication or confirmation. Since when do hotels save the current price and not the price you booked it at just for updating guest details? I rang and received the most sarcastic response from Lulu, assistant manager, that because the price now says $455, they will go back on what they said earlier – regardless of the email confirmation with the price I booked it at and the note saying they would honour it.

    This was followed up by a call from the managing director Dion- he insisted that we changed the booking and that he never told Sean to honour it in the first place. Highly doubt it- as if an assistant manager would disobey his boss and make a call on his own. When we asked what the complaint procedure of the hotel is, he became aggressive and said he won’t say, and hung up. A managing director hung up on a customer for asking about protocols. Let that sink in. Most likely because there isn’t one.

    Mind you, even airlines don’t go back on their promise. And this is a 4-star hotel.

    Furthermore, Adelphi hotel staff showed no professionalism for customers and complaint handling. A managing director hanging up on a customer, when we asked to speak to Sean- he was apparently in ‘meetings’ all day on a Sunday, and at one point, Lulu ended our conversation with “Thank youuuuuuu” in a sarcastic condescending way before she hung up.

    This has never happened to me and I’ve booked a lot of hotels. You would a they would have integrity for being a 4-star. There should be some protection for consumers just like how it is for hotels where you have to abide by their terms and regulations – you can’t go back on it.

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