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'Keystroke error' turns $289 rate into $28

By Christopher Elliott, Tribune Media Services
  • Customer finds a $28 rate for a Westin hotel in Orlando
  • Hotel confirmed the rate, but sent an e-mail later saying it was a mistake
  • Guest was offered a $99 rate, free parking and additional loyalty points
  • Westin would not allow $28 rate, put paid guest's airfare

(Tribune Media Services) -- Terry Capps finds a $28 a night room rate at a Westin hotel in Orlando. Turns out the hotel made a mistake, and that the real price is $289 a night. What now? Should the resort honor the original price or can it change the rate and force Capps to pay?

Q: I recently found a $28 per night rate at the Westin Imagine in Orlando. I was amazed. I booked the room, and several days later I called the hotel to ensure that it was a legitimate rate. They confirmed this, so I booked nonrefundable airfare, and have been happily anticipating my getaway weekend ever since.

That is, until this past Monday morning, when I received an e-mail from the hotel's director of revenue management saying that the rate was caused by a "keystroke error" during data entry. The actual rate was $289. The Westin offered a rate of $99 per night as an apology, but refused to honor the original rate.

I contacted Westin at the corporate level, and the hotel offered to waive its mandatory valet parking charge of $18 per night, but insisted it couldn't honor the $28 rate. Then the manager of the hotel responded, offering to throw in an extra 5,000 loyalty points.

I'm writing because I don't think I'm getting fair treatment by this Westin hotel. If there is anything you can do to help, I would be extremely appreciative.

-- Terry Capps, San Diego, California

A: If you book a rate that you know is an error, then you shouldn't expect the hotel to honor the price. But $28 per night wasn't an obvious "fat finger" rate, and the fact that Westin confirmed it certainly didn't help.

If the hotel had offered rooms at $0, then this would be a different story. Actually, it wouldn't be a story at all. If a business mistakenly prices something at a rate no reasonable customer believes is valid, it shouldn't be required to honor that price. But you can find hotel rooms at $28 a night.

I admit, it's not a popular opinion. You don't have to look hard to find one of those vintage online forums where people feel that a travel company must honor every rate, no matter how ridiculously low. Nor do you have to search long to find a travel columnist who supports this misguided view.

They have a right to their opinion, but I won't advocate for them. People who try to force travel companies to accept unreasonable or erroneous prices are stealing -- no two ways about it.

You pushed the Westin to do the right thing. But did you push too hard? Your first contact resulted in a $190 per night rate reduction. Not bad. Subsequent requests prompted the hotel to remove its "mandatory valet parking charge" and a few extra frequent-stayer points. (I could write a whole column about mandatory valet parking charges, but I'll restrain myself.)

Is that enough?

That seems pretty generous to me, but I thought I would give the hotel one more chance to review your case. I asked the general manager to consider your request, and although he wouldn't lower your room rate, he agreed to pay for your airfare to Orlando.

I think that's a more than equitable resolution.