As Rokas P. explained to DELFI, he and his girlfriend decided to visit Kaliningrad at the end of July, after this Russian region announced visa-free entry for tourists.
"On 27th July evening, we were in Kaliningrad city Svetlogrosk next to the Baltic sea. On around 6:51 PM we booked a room via booking.com for two people in a guesthouse. We were so happy that this trip is going so smooth. The day was nice and we thought we would have a great evening as well", said the tourist.
The guesthouse's rules require that guests have to check-in the latest at 10 PM.
Email that ruined plans
"So we decided to go to a grocery store and spend some time next to the sea. We planned to go to the guesthouse around 9 PM", continued Rokas.
"Approximately 8:40 PM the couple had a call from a Russian phone number. They picked up the call but it was hanged up just after saying "Hello". In 10 minutes we received a short message in the Russian language that asked us to cancel our reservation because the hotel was full", he explained. Still, the couple thought they were safe because they had had the reservation on the booking website.
"We instantly started looking for booking.com helpline phone number. After finding it we made a call that lasted around 10 minutes. An operator assured us that everything would be fine and that it was the guesthouse's mistake, a solution would be found soon and we should receive a call back soon", remembered Rokas.
Ten minutes to 10 PM they got a call from an operator that told about the guesthouse's mistake and the couple would be offered at least two places to choose for new accommodation.
"We were checking our email every ten minutes expecting finally to receive the offers. One hour passed and nothing. Two hours passed and nothing. After about 2,5 hours at 11:31 PM we started calling again", assured Rokas.
According to him, both of their phones were already almost out of battery, so they started to use one for calling and another for checking email.
After some technical difficulties with the connection, they finally reached booking.com only a quarter to midnight.
"Once a new operator picked up the phone he said we will receive offers shortly. Finally, at about 11:58 PM we received an offer which was about 20 kilometers away from the place we were and we did not have a car to reach that place. Also, it was a shared bathroom. Not to mention that they sent us only one offer. We had no other option just to cancel this one", added he.
Because of the situation, the couple spent a night outside.
80 euros spent on phone bills
"As that was not enough there was more to come. On Sunday, we returned to Lithuania and opened our mobile phone invoices. Calling from our mobile phone to Booking.com helpline cost us 71,50 Euros for making a call and 8 Euros for the incoming calls. In total we spend about 80 Euros for all calls and around 10 Euros for mobile while checking our email constantly", counted Rokas.
The couple started contacting the reservation website to get compensation for the mobile expenses, but, according to him, the company offered just 22,50 euros refund.
"We said that this is not acceptable as we did provide invoices, we reminded that we were waiting for help but did not receive it and we spend a night outside", continued complaining Lithuanian.
After long conversations and emailing that lasted almost a week with the company the couple managed to be offered 40 euros compensation.
Booking.com: these situations are very rare
As a spokesperson from booking.com commented in this particular case the booking for a stay was made late in the evening the same day at a small guesthouse.
"We can't speculate as to why the property was unable to accommodate the customers when they arrived, but in the very rare instance that a customer might show up to a property and they cannot be accommodated for any reason, our standard policy is to help them find another place to stay of equal or better quality ASAP and at no additional cost", added a spokesperson.
As booking.com advises, if such situation happens it is suggested to reach out company's customer service team immediately. It provides help 24/7.
"Our standard policy is to help them find another place to stay of equal or better quality ASAP and at no additional cost to them", booking.com writes in their statement.
booking.com adds that if extra charges for contacting the company cannot be avoided the accommodation reservation company seek to reimburse customers accordingly in these situations.
"If customers ever have any questions about a booking they've made, our customer service team are available 24/7 to support. We also provide them with various options (phone, email, messaging) to connect and double-check any details with the property at any time before or during their trip", informs the company.
After investigating the case of Rokas booking.com refunded the customer in full and provided extra reimbursement for a total of 340 euros.
Every case has to be investigated separately
Giedrė Nenartavičiūtė from Lithuanian State Consumer Rights Protection Authority pointed out that every situation is analyzed individually and who is responsible in these situations - a booking platform or a hotel - depends on what did not provide a service.
"If customers were not provided with a service they can ask to terminate the contract, to get money back and a refund for all inconveniences that were related to a case. For example, the difference between the service they did not get and new one they ordered", commented the representative.
State Consumer Rights Protection Authority investigates cases between companies that are registered in Lithuania and Lithuanian customers. The European customer center that is a part of the Authority mediates disputes if an issue arises with companies that are registered in other European Union countries.
In this case, Rokas could have contacted the European customer center with the ongoing dispute if the service was not fulfilled because of the fault of booking.com that is registered in the Netherlands.
"If it the fault of the guesthouse that is registered in Russia, the Center could not help", explained G. Nenartavičiūtė.
She also reminded that customers should always contact service providers by written form. Only after having a negative answer from the provider it is suggested to contact customer rights authority.