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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. I’m symapthetic to mistake rates for the travel providers. But we need some enforcement that gives a time period at which the reservation is “guarunteed”.

    When did the hotel contact him?

  2. Following their logic, any time any hotel fills up, they could just start lopping off the lowest priced reservations in the system one by one so they can free up inventory to sell at a higher price. The representative giving those worthless answers even would leave that option open up until the moment you check in, as they don’t see any limit on when the “error” should be identified and rectified.
    I couldn’t imagine another industry where it would even be conscionable to to renege on a deal just because the seller decided they could sell the product for more after the agreement but before delivery.

  3. 1. When did he book?

    2. Did the hotel in fact contact him, and how quickly?

    Answers will affect his response.

  4. Putting the issue of what’s considered a mistake rate aside for a second, I would hope that a company that values its customers would do something to try to make amends if it did have to go back rescind a confirmed booking. If I checked into the hotel and something went wrong that was clearly the hotel’s fault, I would expect in the name of customer service that they would try to make amends somehow. I feel this is no different.

    The customer was clearly not trying to scam the hotel, and they were clearly inconvenienced. You would think that Hilton would try to keep them as a customer and offer them a free night certificate, some Hilton Honors points, a free breakfast–anything which might show they actually care. If nothing at all was done here except to tell the customer they are SOL, then IMHO clearly Hilton DOES NOT care, and people should remember that when deciding who to give their business to.

  5. Wow this is pretty bad. I mean what if I book a normal rate for a hotel and then after that a major event is scheduled in the area. Will they cancel my reservation since now they can sell it for higher? This could be fairly common. Last month I stayed for three nights at the Hyatt Place in Omaha. I had booked about four months in advance. However, after my booking Garth Brooks scheduled concerts right down the road. The new rate on the hotel was now 3X what I paid. I couldn’t imagine how pissed I would be if they had cancelled my reservation.

  6. Like you requested, I’m judging Hilton’s answer to the second question you asked them as a complete fail. The question was when customers could rely on their reservations and they didn’t seem to answer it at all. They did use a lot of nice weasel words and phrases like “top priority,” “handled with care,” and “best of their satisfaction” that are meant to give us the warm and fuzzies. Perhaps their intern who wrote this response went to Duke. But if they really did care, they would have a policy that their Hotels had to follow.

    In truth, this isn’t the most egregious of mistake rate cases out there as it’s nearly a year until 2016 Duke Graduation and so, presumably, your reader can make other arrangements. But this isn’t really a mistake rate as such — like the Danish kroner caper or even the Beijing business class fare — both of which had more merit on the side of the provider. It seems that this is the normal weekend rate and the Hotel just forgot to increase the rate for — or didn’t know when — Duke graduation was.

    The bottom line, I like your suggestions. If your reader is angry enough about this about the best he or she can hope for is to raise the Durham Hilton’s costs by contacting the North Carolina agency responsible for consumer protection and the BBB.

  7. He should “cover” his reservation with another similar hotel in the area and take Hilton to small claims court for the difference (plus incidental fees). I’m curious to see the timeline, but a quick read this is outrageous!


    Normally, I am unsympathetic to mistake rates and I would be in favor of granting the AAA rate to this customer, but it is clear from the information provided by Gary, that we are talking about GRADUATION WEEKEND OF 2016 — PROBABLY SOME TIME IN MAY 2016 — and therefore, the complainant has sufficient time to find alternative accommodations should he not be interested in the rate the Hilton Durham wishes to charge him.

    Having said that, regardless of what he does the hotel should compensate him to the tune of probably 5,000 HHonors points for the trouble — that is an equitable solution IMHO.

  9. I’m sure this isn’t a Hilton only issue but they didn’t increase their stock with those answers. To me this is ridiculous. They make an internal IT error by not jacking up the price (price gouging) during a busy weekend or season. The result is someone books a normal rate which is priced to support their profit margins and then have it not honored. Gives a whole new meaning to HIlton HHonors now doesn’t it. I think it was a mistake for corporate not to make this right for this customer regardless of the local ownership of the hotel.

  10. Although the idea of going to small claims court is possible, most of you have no concept of the law and a mistake by one contracting party can vitiate the contract. In addition, the complainant’s “damages” are probably minimal as he can find alternative accommodations at 11 months prior to arrival that might be more suitable to his claims of his pocket-book.

  11. I agree that “I didn’t mean to charge my usual price” shouldn’t be a justification to cancel a reservation. Let’s say a big event gets planned (like a concert or music festival) after you’ve made a reservation, and the hotel realizes that they can sell out all rooms at 400% their normal rate. What’s to stop them from cancelling all existing reservations, or forcing those with existing reservations to pay a higher rate, and just blaming it on a “mistake fare”?

  12. (A) Hilton thinks this negative attention was worth saving nine whole dollars.

    (B) If this graduation event is such as a big event as to raise your rates, why wouldn’t you set them significantly higher rather than just a little higher?

  13. The hotel is essentially saying it doesn’t trust its own employees, thus this action undermines the credibility of the hotel and the entire chain. If this is Hilton’s policy then I agree with @seth, this sets a precedent that means I shouldn’t trust that my agreed on rate will actually be honored. Sounds like it’s time to find a different chain to attach my loyalty to. Hilton’s corporate response points to the fact that the agreed on price COULD be modified until service is rendered, bad news for consumers! Hilton should be smarter than this; driving away customers with poor policies will anger shareholders and will damage the brand. If I were a competing chain I’d play this up; come to us, we’ll honor the price you booked. And then I’d have a firm definition what ‘mistake’ means in my system, not some vague response saying we can do what we want. But in the end Hilton can do this, unless they start charging the full amount at time of booking. Maybe that’s the key here, if I can cancel my reservation up to one day in advance with no penalty then maybe they should be able to change my rate for the same period…but then we’d also have rental cars to contend with…

  14. I worked for a major hotel chain previously and there have certainly been cases of individual owners and GM’s doing things that were grossly unfair where we had to get involved. One particular example was where a hotel decided not to honor a group reservation (which had been booked several months out and at a low rate) because the owner and GM decided they could sell those rooms for more. The group ended up having to be accommodated at a different hotel. Needless to say, a very bad impression!

  15. @John

    Totally agree. For 9 dollars, they are willing to anger a customer, draw negative attention to this … for 9 dollars!!!???

    I get it if it was 1000 bucks. But 9 bucks? REALLY? Where is the common sense here? Someone with a lick of common sense would say that the right thing from the very beginning would have been to honor that fare.

  16. The hotel made contact 8 days after booking.

    This isn’t over 9 dollars, sorry for confusion, I was just giving an example that the AAA rate he received was normal. They will charge $349 for Duke graduation weekend.

  17. Carl – I dont think that was graduation weekend, I think that was the “regular” AAA rate.

    Is this 2015 or 2016 reservation? If it is 2016, then I would feel really differently as it is sufficient time to make other plans.

  18. The Jumeirah Zabeel Saray in Dubai did the same thing to me. I booked 6 months out at $250/night PREPAID.The going rate on my arrival was about $1100 per night due to a holiday. At check-in they told me that there was a “problem” with my reservation, but that they would be happy to rebook me at the going rate. I went to a Starwood property (Grosvenor House) instead. Stories like this are all the more reason to steer clear of Hilton. I can’t imagine Starwood or Hyatt pulling something like that.

  19. If Hilton thinks it’s okay to pull this kind of shenanigans, I’m crossing them off my list of places to stay. Ridiculous!

  20. @Colin I don’t think you have any idea of the law. A party cannot repudiate a contract just because they don’t like the price. While a contract may be repudiated for mistake, i think that it would be highly unlikely that Hilton would win on that argument. In this case, the breach may be efficient for Hilton, but they need to pay for their repudiation. Including the traditional measure of expectation damages, which should equate to the difference in the market rate of hotels in this situation. But that is just my “uninformed opinion”. I say go to small claims.

  21. 11 months for graduation may not be as easy as you think. I am not at all familiar with the hotel situation at Duke, but when I went to Cornell’s orientation with my son, the advice was to book a room for graduation……..NOW. Four years in advance. In some areas your choice is limited if you don’t want to drive an extra 50 miles. I think the Hilton response is pure BS.

  22. This was the important question, really: “At what point can a consumer rely on a reservation they make with Hilton?”

    The fact that Hilton basically said “it’s a top priority… blah blah blah” is damning.

    I encourage everyone to post feedback to the property’s Facebook page. When it starts to affect their bottom line is when they’ll care.

  23. If the rate booked was an AAA rate, wouldn’t they have a dog in the fight as well? I’m sure AAA wants to be confident their members reservations are not unilaterally cxl by a hotel so the hotel can raise the rate.

  24. To the consumer(s) in question – Post a negative review on Tripadvisor!

    Whether the consumer booked the hotel and the hotel contacted him five minutes, five weeks or five months after the fact, it is still egregious. This was not someone taking advantage of a “mistake rate.” This is someone who booked a standard rate that the hotel wish they hadn’t loaded into their inventory for a specific date period.

    I would recommend that this consumer and any others in the same situation post a one star review on Tripadvisor and warn other about the very unfriendly practices engaged in by the property. This consumer had a confirmation #, and even if the hotel can legally claim they have the right to engage in this type of behavior, the consumer should exercise his right to communicate this example of horrible customer service. Indeed, if the property deems this appropriate behavior, who knows what kind of customer service they may offer guests staying at the property.

  25. “This isn’t over 9 dollars, sorry for confusion, I was just giving an example that the AAA rate he received was normal. They will charge $349 for Duke graduation weekend.”

    Ah, thanks for the clarification.

    (A) I stand corrected.

    (B) I stand corrected.

    That being said, I agree that this isn’t a ‘fat fingers’ type of mistake and should have been honored quietly.

  26. I think the best remedies are to contact Duke, the local TV consumer reporters, and the BBB. A hotel booking is a contract with an offer and acceptance (day 1 contracts class). While mistake may void a contract, it depends on the contract terms and facts and circumstances. I’d think the family stands a fighting chance in court.

  27. I’m the person in question here a few things to note:
    1) Durham doesn’t have very many full service properties.
    2) Duke isn’t the only school graduating at that time. There are three other state schools that potentially graduate that same weekend
    3) we are encouraged to book ahead because there is a lack of rooms. Most hotels do jack up their rates for the weekend and maintain off-line wait lists.
    4) I’m a gold, my dad is a diamond. Both are noted in the Rez. Didn’t matter to the hotel that they would be pissing us off
    5) the rate they wanted to swap me to is 349/nite, prepaid now, 3 nite minimum. That’s a big difference from the 100% legitimate, regular AAA rate I booked of ~130 with regular cancelation privileges.

  28. Corporate and the property have both given me the runaround, and Aaa doesn’t seem to care either. The only solutions seems to be small claims. My reservation is for multiple rooms, so I am potentially paying almost 1000 more per room than I originally planned

  29. Hi Civet5,

    As I mentioned above, I would post a negative review on Tripadvisor and Yelp and have the other party in question do the same. Advise in the review that you are waiting for a positive resolution from the hotel.

    You can bet that had you paid $349 per night for the room, and then called to cancel five minutes later because you found a better rate elsewhere (or even more extenuating circumstances) that neither Hilton nor the hotel itself would let you out of their reservation.

  30. This is completely unacceptable. I don’t care if the reservation was for 1 week out or 1 year out. When I make a legitimate reservation with a hotel/airline/etc. I completely expect for it to be honored. I don’t see how this is legal at all. I think we should start a Twitter campaign. We can’t let them get away with this!

  31. This is horrible ans while I believe Civet5 would win in small claims, he would have to either go himself or hire a lawyer. Remember that he is not local or he would not have needed the reservation.

    I am a Hilton Platinum but after reading this am considering dropping them.

    For those who say, well it is a year away, that is specious. He made a legitimate reservation at a legitimate rate and they chose not to honor it because they could get more. What does the amount of time remaining matter.

    PS: I had family at UNC and Duke and can vouch for the paucity of full service rooms and that their graduations are often the same weekend.

  32. I made a booking for the J.W. Marriott in Rio for about $360/night (cancelable) for Carnaval. The hotel contacted me a month later saying that it was a mistake, should have been over $700, and prepaid/non-refundable.

    They only gave in because I caused a fuss and am Marriott Gold.

    But the problem is, these issues are all too common, and some strict regulation needs to be put in place regarding it, or it will continue to be a problem.

  33. I agree with most other posters that the rate should be honored and the canned response from Hilton was pretty lousy. This isn’t a “mistake” fare. It is the going rate for a standard room on most days. The fact that Hilton didn’t jack up their rate in time isn’t the consumer’s fault. The consumer has clean hands in this.

    I am curious to know is the customer a Hilton HHonors elite? I am guessing they would take that into account before taking the action they did.

  34. Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where he goes to get the rental car and they say they have his reservation but don’t have a car for him.

  35. Would Hilton have allowed a customer cancel a non-refundable stay if the customer booked the room “by mistake”?

  36. Completely ridiculous answer from Hilton. It’s not a mistake price if the price is within the range of what is normally reasonable. This type of behavior is what leads to government intervention unfortunately.

    A hotel should have at most 24 hours from when the booking was made to claim a mistake price. Otherwise you can never trust the price of the purchase, and cannot plan your other travel plans around it.

  37. @Dan: exactly… if I make a mistake in booking a non-refundable room for the wrong date or the wrong hotel, they’re not going to let me off the hook. I think the simplest rule for this and mistake airfares is a 24 hour option to cancel by both parties.

  38. Agree with @Captain.
    This is NOT a mistake fare. This is Hilton neglecting to realize that for that specific weekend they could charge more, uploading the correct fare and then wanting to charge the high season fare.

    Having said that, 8 days wait for a reservation for next year is fairly reasonable.
    He can certainly make other arrangements.

    This is a nice story Gary. Thank you for sharing with us

  39. As a Hilton Elite, I am appalled that they thought they could just “willy-nilly”
    Change a reservation to a rate they deemed profitable. It is like ransom.
    If our elite status holds no weight with them, it has no value to us.
    I Will no longer choose to use Hilton as a provider , many other good choices with ” fair” business practices. I am amused by their commercials begging us to book directly with them for the ” guaranteed lowest rates”.

  40. This makes no sense at all. I typically will not book at Hiltons because in my experience they do not have the best customer service but this is ridiculous. If Hilton gets away with it here, they will keep pulling stunts like that. Maybe someone can bring it to the attention of national media and see if the story has legs. Hilton corporate will be forced to defend how this could be considered a ‘mistake fare’

  41. Wow! So man y people on this thread are forswearing using Hilton family hotels from now on!

    Do I really believe them?


    Is it unfortunate for Civet5, yes.

    Does he stand a chance in Small Claims Court — Doubtful.

    Notified 8 days after reservation for a reservation one year away — I don’t think so.

    Nor is the analogy to Ithaca, New York, a very small town, comparable to where Duke’s graduation is taking place.

    I understand Civet5 says there are not many FULL SERVICE properties nearby — I don’t think that is accurate, but in any event, the complaint he would like to lodge is no alternative accommodations, and that is blatantly incorrect — just as he would argue, full service hotels.

    Civert 5, good luck in that quixotic quest of yours, and the advice to contact local media the BBB and the like from sympathetic posters — all of which is quite laughable. Pony up the dough or try to get some additional points out of it — or better yet, this is an ideal situation to use your points — as the rooms are available and the no-blackout rule for redemption remains in effect.

  42. As a HH Diamond, im finding this impossible to accept.

    No way is this a mistake rate. Im extremely shocked that Hilton Corporate is allowing such practices in their hotels managed. It is a complete joke. A branding disaster.

    Hilton is sending a ridiculous message to tell their guests that their reservation is never guaranteed. If the hotel can sell rooms at better prices.. u will be booted off without hesitation anytime down the room.. n the reason is.. when they can sell the room at a better rate.. then rooms sold cheaper previously.. can be classified retrospectively as an error/mistake rate.

    Gary, hope u can pursue this matter further. Recent discovery of HH policies is making me having a rethink of my loyalty to Hilton. This cannot be acceptable in anyway. To brand this as a mistake rate deserves a court ruling n i urge the person involved to get a legal precedence on what can be counted as a mistake rate.

    This kind of practices is a blatant insult to their customers n i am not sure if the legal interpretation of a mistake price is so easily fulfilled. It will make the contract between the hotel n the consumer look like a joke as well.

  43. On the flip side, I had a similar situation that Hyatt handled completely differently. I booked two rooms using points at the Hyatt Regency Louisville for 3 nights each during the Kentucky Derby. The rooms were priced at $1,299 per night (usually around $200) but the Hyatt site allowed me book for 12,000 points per night (actually 9,600 pts given the 20% rebate). Neither Hyatt nor the local property tried to renege, but I did get a certified letter from the GM of the hotel to make sure I had proper ID or they wouldn’t honor the reservation.

  44. Too many lobbyist being paid to protect the travel companies. Its sad to say but I believe more regulation is needed. If I didn’t anticipate that I wanted to go somewhere else hotels don’t just say, OK – here’s your non-refundable money back.. It is quite similar. Its corrupt capitalism.. They will do what they can get away with.

  45. Gary,

    This is odd enough that it seems like it could make a good USA Today Article in their Travel section. Can you use your influence to do that so that a broader audience see’s this? With travelers views in mind…

    Please use your influence to help make a difference…

    – Me2.

Comments are closed.