Hotel website cancels booking over ‘invalid’ bank card

Pricewatch: Does booking.com stand over bookings made on its platform?

 

A reader from Dublin called Niamh contacted us in something of a rage after being messed about when trying to make a hotel booking with one of the most popular hotel websites in the world.

She has plans to take her daughter to a tennis tournament in Eastbourne in June – it is one of the big pre-Wimbledon tournaments – and was delighted when she found a one-room apartment on the booking.com website which was available for about €30 for a single night.

“I was delighted not least because it seemed like a real bargain with all the other accommodation listed on the site priced at well over €100 for the same night,” she says. “Because of the tournament there is sure to be a lot of demand in the area, and I was thrilled and surprised to see such a good deal so I booked immediately.”

All was not well, however, and not long after she made the booking she got a text directly from the aparthotel saying it had tried to validate her card but the attempts had been rebuffed by Niamh’s bank. So she made contact with her bank immediately and was told no attempts had been made to take a payment or put a hold for any sum on the card.

She called the aparthotel and was told there was no need to worry and that sometimes this sort of thing happens and the person she was speaking to would take the details again and process the booking as agreed. Hours later and without any further contact being made, the booking was cancelled by the aparthotel.

So our reader made contact with booking.com and “spoke to a really helpful guy who got in touch with the hotel”. His name was George.

In a phone conversation George had with the hotel – details of which he mailed to our reader – he said he had been told Niamh’s reservation had been cancelled “due to having an invalid card”.

In the mail he sent to the hotel he said that she had contacted the hotel and had been told that it “would send a payment link within 24 hours and [the hotel] confirmed [it] would reinstate the booking. It was also confirmed in our telephone conversation that you would reinstate the reservation and that Niamh may pay using PayPal. We kindly ask you to confirm the booking has been reinstated and kindly ask you send the information for payment through PayPal to the following email address. This should be done within the next 24 hours, we look forward to your response.”

So that was all very promising. “I heard nothing more,” Niamh says. “And when I called booking.com again I got on to a much less helpful person who simply told me that there was nothing they could do about it as the card was invalid. It is not invalid and my bank has again confirmed that no attempts were made to take even a holding deposit. I’ve now been onto booking.com a few times and they’re not getting back to me,” she says

She has bought tickets for the tennis for herself and her daughter and booked the flights all on the basis of this accommodation “and to my mind the email confirmation from booking.com was a contract but the company has left me high and dry”.

Given that she booked with booking.com, we believe it has the responsibility to establish what has happened. So we got in touch with the company and asked how does it think she had lost this accommodation and whether or not it stands over bookings made on its platform. We also asked if other Irish consumers should be concerned that accommodation they find on booking.com could simply disappear.

We received the following statement. “If something unexpected occurs with a customer’s booking at a property, our customer service team is available 24/7 to answer any questions and offer support, as we have done in this case, by offering to refund the difference in the price between the original and new reservation as a gesture of goodwill.”

What the statement doesn’t say is that it only made this gesture of goodwill after we had made contact with them.

Difficulty accessing online Bank of Ireland account from overseas
A reader by the name of Joseph Francis got in touch with an issue he has been having with his bank. “I am living in Brooklyn, NY,” his mail started. “Today I called Bank of Ireland to unblock my online account access. The lady who answered said that she couldn’t unless I had a transaction on the account in the past two weeks.”

This prompted him to get in touch with several questions.

First, he wondered if this policy was “discriminating against immigrants who have accounts in Ireland but only use the account infrequently”.

He also wondered if it was “illegal to block someone from access to their account if they haven’t used the account in the previous two weeks” and he asked if other security measures could be used to establish ownership of an account.

And finally he wondered if, as a result of his bank’s policy, he would now have to “bother a friend to go into a Bank of Ireland branch and lodge say €10 to free my account” and he said that “bearing in mind that Bank of Ireland have drastically cut back on customer service at their banks he may have to wait half hour or more to do this. All in all it could take him, with parking, two hours and take time off work”

This is not the first time we have come across a bank making it difficult for people who are overseas to access their accounts although more typically the problem has to do with cards being blocked because they have been used – entirely correctly – by the card holder when they are overseas without the knowledge of their bank which, in an example of overzealous cautiousness, block the cards to protect the card holder and themselves for any possible fraudulent transactions.

This one is slightly different, however. We got on to the bank and received an eminently sensible response .

“If a Bank of Ireland customer is locked out of their online banking, they can call Banking365 to have their account unblocked. For security reasons when the customer calls to do this they will be asked a number of unique verification questions,” a spokesman said.

“In a case where a customer cannot recall the last transaction made, we recommend that they make a transaction using the Visa Debit card in a shop or at an ATM [this can be done abroad or in Ireland]. They can also make a lodgement into the account which can be done at a self-service device in a Bank of Ireland branch or from another bank account.”

The spokesman went on to say that he does not have to call into a bank branch and if he has his card, he can simply make a transaction in a local Brooklyn store, then ring Banking365 and reference that transaction to activate his online account access and if he has lost his card “he can call Banking365 and they will help him get a new card issued” after which he can make a transaction and get access to his online banking again.

It does sound like a palaver but, on balance, it is probably better that they adopt this approach than run the risk of having ne’r-do-wells gain access to John Francis’s money.

Case of faulty Tesco Mobile phone closed but not resolved
A reader from Dublin called Jean has had a trying time trying to deal with Tesco Mobile. She bought a prepay Tesco mobile in December 2018 for her daughter as a Christmas present and believes she was “sold a faulty one”.

“The phone powers down and restarts randomly multiple times every day,” she says. The handset was sent off for repair by Tesco in February but the issue was not fixed and it continues to crash.

“I submitted a complaint and a request for a replacement handset by phone on March 12th,” she writes. “Since then, Tesco Mobile has sent me a number of automated emails, saying that it tried to contact me but was unable to – this is completely untrue, I got one call on March 19th from a ‘no caller ID’ number where my phone rang once and disconnected before I was able to answer it. This has been the only attempted contact aside from automated emails,” she writes.

She has also been told that “the complaint has been closed, this despite no contact and the issue not being resolved”.

She has been told that Tesco Mobile “needed the account details – these had already been provided when I spoke to customer support on the phone. Responding with the account details caused them to issue another case number,” our reader writes.

And she was told that “a new case number has been issued despite the first one not being resolved”.

She points out that Tesco Mobile has “promised that complaints will be responded to or resolved within 10 days; it is now 18 days since I first submitted this and have had nothing except automated emails with incorrect information”.

Jean says that calling its customer support line “is really expensive, it is 20 cent a minute, with long hold times and staff who give conflicting and/or incorrect advice.

“The person in Tesco Jervis Centre who sold us the phone told me over the phone that it could be replaced, just submit a complaint. But then one of its phone support people told me that handsets have to be sent for repair three times before they’ll be replaced, which is obviously ridiculous, and they don’t provide loan phones while your phone is being repaired.”

We got in touch with Tesco and a spokeswoman said the company had been “sorry to hear of this customer’s complaint”. After our intervention Tesco “successfully made contact with her . She has received her replacement handset and we have apologised for any inconvenience caused”.

Three replacement AIB cards fail to arrive
“Engage your sense of humour” starts an email we received from Andrew Rous. He is retired and now lives in Spain but still retains his AIB account and his pension is paid into it. “About a month ago, I had a card retained by an ATM,” he writes. “Since then, AIB has posted three replacements to me. All have been intercepted in the post.”

He says that from what he can ascertain, this is a “growing problem”. He says other bank correspondence arrives and “it is only envelopes with plastic in [them] which are intercepted. AIB advises me that it gets a lot of requests to use registered post but that it is not its policy to do so. Plain English version: ‘We continue to put financial instruments into the hands of criminals, even when we have been given timely warning.’ (Amazon uses tracked delivery all the time.)”

He wonders if this is something a regulator might be interested in and suggests that there “is a clear case for contact between boot and backside”.

When we made contact with the bank we received the following statement. “AIB apologises to [our reader] for the inconvenience of not receiving his cards. Having been posted, his cards have not been delivered on numerous occasions. We should have put a more effective solution in place when he contacted us. Andrew’s replacement card has been sent by registered post and will be with him as soon as possible.”

Providers failing to do enough to protect customers from phone scams
“On Sunday evening I was scammed by a company using the number 57977,” starts a mail from a reader called Anthony. “I realised my mistake very quickly and contacted my mobile phone provider which explained that there was nothing they could do.”

The next thing Anthony did was to Google the number and he found “many similar stories on message boards. I think I’m in the clear now but this situation is extraordinary,” he says. “I think the unwillingness of the providers to act should be investigated further.”

Unsolicited premium rate text messages are a scourge and Pricewatch agrees more should be done by all the operators to end it.

Typically the messages will come to your phone unbidden and invite you to take part in a competition or quiz or some such nonsense. If you engage with the services, you can quickly find yourself signing up to some class of ridiculous subscription service for which you pay ridiculous sums.

But how did such a service get Anthony’s number? It could have been obtained from an app he installed or they could have got it because he clicked an ad on a website on his phone or it could have been something malicious.

The first thing a person should do if they get such a message is to text stop to the number. If the issue persists, the communications regulator Comreg – comreg.ie – has a dedicated section to deal with the nuisance and the company should be reported to it without delay.

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