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It may be hard to hold hotels to their low-price guarantees

Special to The Times

LOW-PRICE guarantees on travel websites are about as common as warts on a toad -- and sometimes about as attractive.

The guarantees typically say that if a traveler finds a better deal on another website for the same hotel rate or airfare, the website will match it.

Some sites throw in incentives. Hilton, for instance, offers a $50 American Express gift card. Other sites offer a free night’s stay. Sounds reasonable enough.

But the websites typically require consumers to scramble through all sorts of hoops to qualify for the guarantee. Some say you must file a claim within 24 hours; others insist you show that the rate for the same room type for the same night at the same hotel was actually available.

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Even then, some consumers are not always guaranteed the guarantee.

Stan Dulkiewicz of Rochester, N.Y., made a reservation on www.daysinn.com for a standard double room at the Days Inn and Conference Center in Toronto for this month. He was quoted $113 a night for two nights. He later found a rate for the same standard room at the same hotel for the same nights for about $102 at www.hotels.ca, the Hotels.com website for Canada.

The guaranteed best available rate, advertised on the Days Inn homepage under “special offers,” says, “If you find a lower publicly available rate for the same hotel accommodation and date on another website, we’ll give you your first night free.”

So Dulkiewicz filled out the necessary form online and submitted it. Within a few hours he received an e-mail from a Days Inn customer service Internet representative saying his claim had been denied because “we are unable to verify that the room offered at the lower rate is the same as the room you have booked.”

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The rep signed off with “Book with confidence at Days Inn.com with the Guaranteed Best Available Rate. Enjoy your stay at Days Inn.”

Dulkiewicz was concerned. He had made a reservation in May at the same hotel using the Days Inn website, found a similar discrepancy and had received the same response. This time he decided to pursue it.

In an e-mail, he told the representative that the rate he was looking at could be found on Hotels.ca.

“The description of the room on Hotels.ca does not specify the number of beds in the room,” the rep wrote back in an e-mail response. Claim denied.

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They exchanged several e-mails about the definition of a “standard room.” Dulkiewicz asked to be put in touch with a supervisor. The customer service rep replied, “There is nothing further we would be able to assist you with. Have a nice day.”

Days Inn, a division of Wyndham Worldwide with headquarters in Parsippany, N.J., has encountered customer problems before.

It has an unsatisfactory rating, according to the Better Business Bureau of New Jersey, the lowest rating a company can receive, said BBB spokeswoman Melissa Companick.

“They do not respond to complaints and have failed to respond to some customers,” Companick said.

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In the last three years, the BBB received 113 complaints about service at Days Inn, and the company failed to respond to or resolve 23 of them. Of 271 complaints in the last three years, the company has not responded to or resolved 43.

“We would like companies to respond to every complaint we present to them, but it’s voluntary for any company to work with the BBB,” Companick said.

Wyndham spokeswoman Stacey Kennedy wouldn’t comment on the BBB report, saying only about Dulkiewicz’s case that, “Clearly a mistake was made. People make mistakes.”

Three days after Dulkiewicz’s exchange with the customer service rep, a supervisor from Days Inn called him. Dulkiewicz said he explained what had happened and made his case for the free night.

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“I was very clear that my concern went beyond simply wanting a free night,” Dulkiewicz said. “I was concerned about Cendant not honoring their guarantee, even when all of the conditions were met.”

He also mentioned he had contacted the media and had filed a complaint with the BBB. Three days later the supervisor e-mailed him.

“After reviewing your claim, you will be receiving a free night stay at this Days Inn property for your first night,” the supervisor wrote in the e-mail.

The message included the same “book with confidence” signoff as before.

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Dulkiewicz is taking them up on their offer of a free room.

“I’m not sure they investigated it, but at least they responded,” he said.

Spokeswoman Kennedy said employees are trained how to respond to claims against its best available rate guarantee. Days Inn did not respond to requests for information on what that training entails or allow us to speak with the trainer.

“We don’t like when mistakes happen, but they do,” Kennedy said.

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If there is a dispute about a best rate guarantee, consumers should keep printed copies of all correspondence with a company. It is especially important to print a copy of the web page where you found the lower price so you will have proof.

Reporting a company to the BBB can often get results. Many companies take their BBB ratings seriously and will make a good faith effort to resolve the complaint.

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james.gilden@latimes.com

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