As a kid in the 1960s, Kevin White would spend summer evenings lying on the driveway as his father pointed out stars and constellations.
White, who lives in Orange County, Calif., still likes to stargaze. When he learned of Monday’s solar eclipse, he knew he wanted to see it.
“I thought, man, this is a big deal,” he said. “How many people get to sit in totality of an eclipse? And that’s on my bucket list.”
He decided to travel to Boise, just south of the eclipse’s path of totality. He booked a room in April at The Boise Motel on Vista Avenue for $55 a night.
But on Monday morning, “they called and canceled my reservation, stating they had to do some maintenance work,” he said.
White was one of three customers who told the Statesman they’d booked rooms at the hotel months in advance, only to get cancellation calls on Monday.
Ram Kumar, who works at the hotel’s front desk, said the cancellations were simply unfortunate timing. The hotel, which has about 50 rooms, is undergoing renovations because of plumbing and electrical problems, including an electrical unit shutting down, he said.
But they left people scrambling to find lodging at a moment when hotels in or near the eclipse’s path have jacked up rates to take advantage of the surge in demand. All over the Treasure Valley, hotels are vastly increasing prices for Sunday and Monday nights.
Take the Cottonwood Suites at 3031 W. Main St., which look out on the Boise River and the Greenbelt in Boise. The hotel is charging $543 per night for a room for two adults on Sunday and Monday nights, according to the Travelocity booking site. That’s an increase of 596 percent from the typical price of $78.
The Super 8 near the Boise Airport at 2773 Elder St., which typically charges about $70 a night, has its rooms priced at $520 a night, an increase of 642 percent.
Of four hotels the Statesman contacted Monday about the price increases, none returned messages. But if all they’re doing is boosting prices, that’s legal, said Brett DeLange, head of the consumer protection division in the Idaho Attorney General’s Office.
“Idaho law does not prohibit high prices,” DeLange said.
The lure of sun and moon
A dozen hotels from Boise to Nampa still showed available rooms on Thursday afternoon for Sunday and Monday. More than 100 other hotels listed showed no rooms were available on those nights, and some of those may have charged more than the Cottonwood, whose prices were the highest still posted online Thursday.
Idaho is one of 14 states where the moon is expected to block the sun for one or two minutes along a thin path on Monday morning. The sky will begin darkening about 10:15 a.m., with peak darkness at about 11:25 a.m.
Emmett, Weiser, Horseshoe Bend, Stanley, Sun Valley and Idaho Falls are among the Idaho towns in the totality zone.
Tyler Jensen, who lives in a suburb of Los Angeles, booked two rooms in February for the Boise Motel for three nights at about $50 a night. When he got the cancellation call Monday, his wife got to work trying to find another place for their small group to stay this weekend. They settled on a single $200-a-night room at the Hyatt Place.
“It seems kind of weird that less than a week before the day we were to arrive, they canceled on us” due to maintenance, Jensen said.
The Boise Motel was offering a room Thursday for $209 a night. Its website also offers rooms Monday for $199 to $209 a night, but nothing in the days between.
There were dumpsters, construction materials and furniture on the ground outside the hotel Thursday. Kumar said he did not know why rooms were still being offered for online booking as of Thursday. “It’s not one or two, it’s all the reservations” being canceled, he said.
The hotel’s management is working to repair problems and is focused on making sure extended-stay customers are taken care of ahead of those coming in for the eclipse, he said.
What can a customer do?
Do customers have any recourse during a peak travel time like the eclipse?
The AG’s office has received about 10 complaints from people who believe they’ve been gouged by hoteliers. The complaints range from people who say hotel prices are too high to people who made reservations months ago when prices were lower. Others said their reservations were canceled when the hotel gave what seemed like a bogus reason, such as the elevator not working or something wrong with the room, DeLange said.
People whose reservations were canceled might have a legal action for breach of contract, for which they could sue. “One side doesn’t just get to cancel and change their terms,” he said.
If a person had a reservation canceled because of a bogus reason so the room could be rebooked at a much higher price, that might be a deceptive practice that could fall under Idaho’s Consumer Protection Act, which the attorney general enforces, DeLange said.
A tour company sued after booking 40 rooms in 2015 for four nights around the eclipse at an Idaho Falls hotel to house tourists from the United Kingdom. The hotel canceled the reservations earlier this year, citing issues such as an elevator overhaul required by state inspectors.
The hotel’s state elevator inspection records show its most recent failed inspection was in 2014.
Their dispute over the cancellation is still in court.
White, the Orange County stargazer, has decided to wait for the next eclipse in seven years instead of trying to find another hotel room on such short notice. There was one upside to the experience, he said. When he told the website hotels.com what happened, it gave him a $100 credit to use in the future.
“Quite honestly, I don’t have a great taste in my mouth for Boise at the moment,” White said.
The Better Business Bureau Northwest has not received any complaints but invited people to contact the organization if need be. The BBB can be reached at (208) 342-4649 in Boise or online at www.bbb.org.
Oregon’s Department of Justice has been working with 12 Oregon hotels to resolve complaints over price gouging and canceled reservations.
Good for the economy?
Jim Hebert, an Emmett native who now lives in Ogden, Utah, said he was surprised by the jump in prices. He made a reservation at a Meridian hotel and said he didn’t have much of a choice. He’s coming to Idaho to attend an aunt’s funeral.
“I guess all the people coming into Boise for the eclipse is good for the economy, but it seems like a waste of money to me,” Hebert said.
Boise resident Janet Brown, who booked a Ketchum townhouse on VRBO.com for $500 a night, thought about suing when her vacation rental was later canceled. She paid for the reservation in April with a credit card, but in June, she got a message from the owner, saying the rate was actually supposed to have been $1,000 a night. The owner canceled the reservation and sent Brown a refund.
Brown eventually found another place in Ketchum for $600 a night.
And the original townhouse? It was still open to rent as of Thursday — for $650 a night, with a six-night minimum stay, or a total cost with fees and taxes of almost $5,000.
“I found it disappointing that this is a great thing and people are talking about, ‘Oh, isn’t this wonderful,’ ” she said. “The fact is, there’s a real ugly side of it. ... They’ve overbooked the cars at the airport, and they’ve canceled people’s reservations, and they might arrive and have no car. ... There’s a dark side, no pun intended, to the eclipse.”