When is a Reservation Not a Reservation?

Remember the Seinfeld Show when Jerry went to rent a car with a reservation but when he got there even though he had a reservation they didn't have any cars? We all laughed because something similar had probably happened to us, but when it happens to you with a hotel room that you had reserved for your disabled parents, it's not funny.

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For years Alice Wright had been planning a big family gathering when her granddaughter Cecilia graduated from high school. She had family in Arizona and Germany as well as Texas, and everyone was looking forward to flying or driving in and coming together for this happy occasion.

Flights were booked, hotel reservations were made, and everything went well until the group decided to travel in to Dallas for the weekend so the kids, grandkids and great grandchildren could experience Six Flags over Texas. Everyone made their own reservations but they were all staying at The Hilton Garden Inn. It looked beautiful on the website, was convenient and had enough rooms to accommodate everyone. They trusted the Hilton brand, and loved that their motto is "You can count on us. GUARANTEED."

The kids went in early, but Alice stayed behind because her father was undergoing dialysis that day so they needed to get him through his treatment before they left. After the treatment and a 4 hour drive, the group arrived at the hotel with their reservation in hand that Alice had made through AAA. The clerk seemed to recognize her name and said "didn't they call you? We don't have a room for you. When AAA booked that room we didn't have any vacancies and told AAA to call you".

Even though the rest of the family had already checked in, Alice was exhausted after the drive and asked the clerk to at least help her find another room in the area and he declined to do so - he said he wasn't allowed. All of this was happening after midnight, and Alice had her mother in the car who has undergone multiple heart surgeries and is in a wheelchair and her father who had just undergone dialysis and no one would help her. When she received her confirmation it clearly stated "Guarantee Policy: Reservation is guaranteed for arrival on the confirmed check-in date only. If you don't check-in to the hotel on the first day of your reservation and you do not alert the hotel in advance, the remaining portion of your reservation will be canceled and you will not be entitled to a refund". She was there on the confirmed day but they did not give her a room.

In desperation she called her daughter who lives in Dallas to see if she could help, and she started calling  the hotel, Hilton and AAA trying to get this resolved. The gentleman at the front desk said it wasn't their fault, refused to help in any way and at one point hung up on her. Hilton said their system was down and couldn't help, and Alice couldn't get anyone to answer the phone numbers she had for AAA. After 1 1/2 hours sitting in the parking lot Alice gave up and started the 4 hour drive back to Longview. After she had started the drive home her daughter finally got someone at Hilton who said they would find her a hotel at another location but by then it was too late. The hardest part about this whole story is that with the health issues her parents have, this might have been the last chance they ever have to see their grandchildren and great grandchildren - an opportunity that was taken away from them because someone refused to honor a reservation.

We have tried to follow-up after we learned about this story with Hilton and AAA. I reached out to the Hilton Media Relations team and never received a response. AAA has been very helpful, and shared with me that "arbitration on behalf of our members is part of the services we offer". They have reached out to Ms. Wright and the hotel to find out what happened and why.

With Summer being such a busy travel time, we are now wondering what rights does a traveler have if they have made a reservation, especially when as in Ms. Wright's case the hotel actually charged her credit card for the room? It's something to think about and a topic we plan on investigating further. AAA has promised to update us when they have an answer to this situation, and we'll see if we ever do get a response from Hilton.