Letter: HoJo canceled reservations to profit from Mumford concert

400-LISA-DOLYAKLetter: HoJo canceled reservations to profit from Mumford concert

Lisa Dolyak
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Dear Editor:

My fiancé and I will marry in St Augustine on September 13, 2013 and I began making the arrangements from Michigan in early December, 2012.

After pricing out many hotels in the area, I decided to book a block of 20 rooms through the Howard Johnson at 137 San Marco Avenue.

The hotel faxed me a confirmation which they said acts as a contract. I was told to sign and date it to confirm my end of the agreement. I returned the confirmation to them by fax, as instructed.

I was told that I needed to put my credit card “on file” with the hotel and when I asked why, I was told it “acts as a guarantee” in holding my rooms — so I provided my credit card number, as instructed.

So far, three family members have made reservations in that 20-room block.

On February 9, after the Mumford and Sons concert was announced, the St Augustine Howard Johnson called one of my family members (not me) and said “Sorry but we can only hold 10 rooms for you now and you need to book them by February 15”.

I found out about what the hotel had done on February 10, and sent a mass message to everyone telling them to book immediately. The first member of the wedding party to call Howard Johnson was told that there were no further rooms available.

I called the hotel and was told that another wedding party, who they claim booked rooms before me, had requested additional rooms. The hotel said that ALL of my rooms were given to them.

Looking online, I found that the $60 rooms Howard Johnson promised me — before the concert was announced — were being sold for $258 per night.

The reservationist asked me about the three reservations that were already made and I told her NOT to cancel them. A family member holding one of those reservations called Howard Johnson directly and told the woman not to cancel. Now we have discovered that the hotel canceled all three of the confirmed reservations at that time.

I started calling other hotels immediately; but, because of the concert, everything that wasn’t booked in the historic district of St Augustine skyrocketed in price and was more than double the original amount.

I’m getting married at the White Room and they provide a free trolley to pick guests up in the historic district since there is no parking at the venue. Since we will now not be able to stay in the historic district, we’re going to somehow have to come up with money for a shuttle that wasn’t in our budget and from what I’m seeing so far we can’t afford.

Guests are going to have to pay more to stay further away because Howard Johnson breached their signed agreement with me to make more money — the price gouging is appalling. I booked the rooms far in advance so that I wouldn’t run into any of this.

I have family coming from out of state that now have to rethink their whole trip. One of the main reasons they were able to make it is because we found such reasonably priced rooms.

When I filed a complaint with the corporate office of Howard Johnson, their response was “Hey Lisa! Congrats on your upcoming wedding! While all of our hotels are independently owned and operated, we’ll see what we can do from our end. Thanks.”

I asked the manager in St Augustine how their hotel misplaced my confirmed 20-room reservations and why they released those rooms to another wedding party — she dismissed my complaint as a simple “human error”. If that were the truth, and windfall profit were not the real motive, wouldn’t someone at Howard Johnson simply release the rooms back to us?

I intend to pursue my complaint with the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourist Development Council, the City of St Augustine and the office of R.J. Larizza, State Attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit.

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