I tried to book a hotel, so why did I end up with a timeshare pitch?
Christopher ElliottKing Features
I recently booked a room at a Holiday Inn in Orlando, Florida — at least, I thought I did. After making the reservation, I was switched to a sales agent, who invited me to attend a one-hour presentation that would show me "a way to enjoy all the luxuries of a vacation" at a cost of $199, which would be fully refunded, along with a $100 rebate.
Within 10 minutes of receiving my confirmation, I realized that this was for a timeshare. I'm 87 and not a candidate for a timeshare.
I replied to the confirmation email, but received a response that said: "The email address you entered could not be found." I called the confirmation number and spoke to a woman who said, "OK, I'm canceling the transaction and putting a $199 credit on your Visa card."
The credit did not appear on my statement.
I then received another email saying, "You're on your way to Orlando," and if I had any questions, I should call. I spoke with another Holiday Inn representative, who told me that "my refund should be credited in a few days." She also told me to send an email to her, explaining what had happened, which I did.
My Visa was never credited. Bank of America attempted to obtain the credit, but was denied. Can you help me get my $199 back?
— George Feld, Boynton Beach, Fla.
A: Holiday Inn should have booked a hotel room for you, as you requested, instead of transferring you to a representative who pitched a timeshare. When you asked the company to reverse your transaction, it should have done what it promised. Instead, it looks as if Holiday Inn just tried to pocket your money.
I take a dim view of timeshares. While some travelers may benefit from them, many more are disappointed by their "investments" and complain to me about it. You need to carefully consider a timeshare before making a purchase. Clearly, at age 87, this wasn't the right real estate transaction for you, and Holiday Inn should have quickly given you the refund it had offered.
I'm also troubled by the way your call apparently was handled. If you called to make a reservation, why would anyone transfer you to a timeshare sales department? And why would they charge you to attend a sales pitch? I wasn't there, but I imagine someone asked you if you wanted to "save even more" and you said "yes." Who wouldn't?
Your case should serve as a warning for when you're dealing directly with a company: Make sure you're buying what you think you are. If you're unsure, work with a qualified travel agent, who can help you get exactly what you need. A travel pro would book your room through a reservation system, bypassing the labyrinth of telephone pitches.
If someone ever offers you a refund again, make sure you get it in writing: Holiday Inn's verbal promises weren't enough. A written promise is viewed as a debit memo by the dispute departments at some credit card companies. In other words, it's the equivalent of having money in the bank.
You also could have contacted someone higher up at the hotel. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the Holiday Inn executives on my consumer-advocacy website: elliott.org/company-contacts/intercontinental-hotels/.
I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf, and it refunded your $199, as promised.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler." You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.