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What you need to know before booking your hotel through a third-party site

HOUSTON – Third-party booking sites can save you a lot of money on hotel rooms, but one couple visiting Houston found out the hard way the hotel can also take your money and leave you stranded.

Juli and Stephen Harmon drove all the way from Sanford, North Carolina to Galveston for a work conference. The trip is normally about 17 hours, but bad weather and traffic extended it by about six hours. Their check-in was scheduled for Saturday evening, but the Harmons reached Four Points by Sheraton Galveston on Sunday at 6:30 a.m.

They had reserved a room and prepaid for seven nights through Hotwire weeks earlier, but upon arriving at the hotel, the Harmons were told they couldn’t be checked in.

“(The clerk) said, ‘I have your reservation, but it’s been canceled,’” Juli Harmon said. “And I’m like ‘What do you mean canceled?’”

The Harmons had already paid $543.52 through Hotwire, but the hotel said the amount would not be refunded. The couple called Hotwire and an employee tried to help resolve the issue, but the hotel clerk told Hotwire they were working with the couple to “take care of them.”

“She said, ‘Yes. We canceled your room. And we can make you a new reservation with the full rate,'" Juli Harmon said. “That’s how they were going to take care of us.”

Here’s what we did:

KPRC 2 contacted Marriott, the parent company of Sheraton. A spokesperson told us the Four Points by Sheraton Galveston is an independently-owned franchise location, and the decision to refund the Harmons was entirely up to the owner. The general manager of the hotel never returned our calls or emails.

When we reached out to Hotwire, the company sent this statement:

"Thank you again for your patience as we looked into this matter. As you mentioned in your email, Hotwire’s Hot Rates work by immediately confirming the booking with the hotel and making our payment available. This allows the hotel to ensure the room is sold and accounts for our policy that states Hot Rate bookings cannot be changed, refunded, exchanged, or canceled. As the intermediary facilitating the booking, we reached out to Four Points Galveston to secure a refund for Mrs. Harmon, but unfortunately, have so far been unsuccessful.

When situations like this arise, we encourage travelers to contact the hotel directly or to reach out to Hotwire’s customer support team via phone or our online messaging prior to check-in, at which point we would assist the customer in getting in touch with the correct hotel representative.”

What Happened Next:

More than two weeks after the incident, a Marriott representative called the Harmons and offered a refund of about $340, which is $200 less than what they paid. The Harmons are not satisfied with paying $200 for a room they never stepped foot inside. They have disputed the charge with their credit card company, and they are still waiting to find out if the charges will be reversed.

What you should do if this happens to you:

Call Hotwire, or whatever third-party site you used and the hotel as soon as you realize you might be late for check-in. The Harmons tried calling the hotel, but never got an answer at the front desk.

File complaints with the Better Business Bureau, post a review on Yelp, call the corporate office of the hotel and dispute the charge with your credit card company. The Harmons did all of these things before they called KPRC 2. Consumer expert Amy Davis shared the story on Facebook, tagging the hotel and Marriott. It was only then that Marriott offered to return at least a portion of the Harmons’ money.