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Okinawa 2023 Day 9 - HostileWorld, AKA The "Other" Kunigami Incident

Normally when I visit Japan, I don't spend much on accommodations, because with my extensive network of friends I'm usually imposing myself on them for a few days at a time (and sometimes longer, as the case may be). This is one of the reasons why I like to say that it's cheaper for me to travel in Japan than it is to live in America.

This year I probably spent the highest percentage of days paying for hotels and hostels in Japan, since I spent quite a bit of time in places where I don't yet have local friends, or I didn't want to impose too much, or I was just on the move a lot and needed a quiet place to rest where I didn't have to be social. Age-wise, I feel like I'm in the grey zone between wanting to travel cheaply, and have a nice private room to myself, so my accommodations varied from business hotels and private pensions to bunk beds in dorm rooms. I'm not a fancy man.

On my Tour de Okinawa, I wasn't too sure how far I would get each day so I either waited till the last minute to find accommodations (which didn't work out so well on day 1 of my ride, as you might recall), or I had to book in advance and trust that I could make it to that spot by the end of the day. Not wanting to be desperate for a room on day 2, I opted to book my room by lunch time, and set a goal to get to as close to Cape Hedo as possible.

I checked on Hostelworld and there were very few options, but I found the Yanbaru Hostel in Kunigami, which looked like a really cool spot. It was advertising dorm rooms, but the room price was clearly a glitch, displaying what looked like a yen price with a dollar sign. Feeling a bit pressed to make a decision lest I end up with no options at all, I pulled the trigger and figured it would be fine.


When I got to the hostel and checked in, they asked for 3,500 yen, which I gladly paid with a sigh of relief. As he was showing me around, the desk staff mentioned that I was their first booking through Hostelworld. He said something about the price being weird, and I just nodded and was like "yeah, it WAS weird!"

Later on when I thought to check, I looked at my credit card statement and saw a charge from Hostelworld, for a kingly sum of $1,077.86 USD!
I nearly did a spit take. This must be a joke! Was this the Ritz Carlton??

I called up the credit card company and they said it was still a pending charge so they couldn't dispute it yet, and I should reach out to Hostelworld to get it adjusted. The customer service agent was sympathetic "No way! That's an outrageous fee for a youth hostel!" I know, I said, it was so ridiculous I wasn't really worried about getting it resolved with them. Surely they would see the mistake and possibly even the humor in the situation.

There was no phone number listed to call Hostelworld, but I found a contact form and sent off an e-mail, fully expecting the issue to be resolved by the time I woke up. Here's what I wrote:
me said:
Hello I just booked a night at the Yanbaru Hostel in Okinawa, and when I checked in and paid the balance for the room, they mentioned that it was their first hostelworld booking, and said some (in Japanese) about the payment being weird.

I just checked my credit card and it says there's a charge from Hostelworld.com for $1077.86. That's probably supposed to be in yen, NOT USD. At the current exchange rate, that should be like $7.35 USD

I'm hoping you can do something to adjust this charge before it posts, otherwise I will have to initiate a chargeback. This is a nice hostel but I'm not paying a grand for a dorm room.

I hope we can get this sorted out soon. Thank you for your time

What followed was one of the most unbelievable exchanges I've ever been party to. The names have been change to protect the innocent (i.e. me, and me alone)

The first message was automated:
Hostelworld said:
Hi Nice Gaijin,

Thanks for your email.

This is an automated message based on the category selected when submitting your query.

Please check the rate type and conditions on your booking if you are querying a charge made by a hostel. If you have chosen a Non-refundable rate or if the hostel mentions they will charge or pre-authorise in the conditions section of your confirmation email this will explain the charge you are querying. Any questions about charges from hostels should be discussed with them directly, their contact details are in your confirmation email.

If the charge you are querying is from Hostelworld, or if the above doesn't apply to your query please reply to this email providing the screenshot of the charge and we will help further.

Your request has been marked as solved, if the above has not solved your query simply reply to this message.

Hostelworld Customer Service Team

Oof, that's not gonna cut it. I fired off a response to keep the thread alive and talk to a human being:
me said:
I would like someone to actually read and respond to my query, please. This is about the booking fee that hostelworld charged me. Because of a security setting I am unable to screenshot from my credit card app, but I included the exact amount charged in my initial message: $1,077.86. Thank you.

I got a nothing-burger follow up a few days later, while I was still riding around Okinawa:
Hostelworld said:
Dear Nice Gaijin
Hope you are doing well?

As it has been some time since our last update for your query 4584276 I wanted to advise that we are still working on your case.
I will update you further in due course.

Kind Regards,
By now the charge had cleared through on my credit card. I was surprised it wasn't just an "oops, sorry about that, we've reversed the charge" message.
me said:
Thank you, not doing too great, it looks like the charge went through, so is hostelworld going to refund me or am I going to have to initiate a chargeback with my bank?

I hope we can get this settled soon. Thank you
The next day, I finally heard from a person with a name. Doug. This was starting to get bizarre:
Doug at Hostelworld said:
Hi Nice Gaijin,

Thank you for contacting Hostelworld!

Payments can be made on our site in either USD, GBP or Euro. During the booking process you can view rates in whichever currency you wish, for your ease of reference. However, on the checkout page, you can choose your preferred payment currency (USD, GBP or Euro) by clicking on the currency symbol.

Please note your bank or card provider may charge you international fees depending on your country. You may check this directly with them.

The remaining balance will need to be paid to the hostel in the hostels currency.

When you made this booking, you agreed to pay the charges that were displayed during the booking confirmation process. You agreed to pay the following deposit amount:
<Screenshot saying "total paid: $1,077.86">

The deposit you pay is part of the total and it´s used to secure your reservation. It's usually around 15% - 20% and the property is obliged to deduct the deposit you paid from the total. I can see here that the amount due to the property was JPY 849,999:

Could you confirm if this is what you have paid?
If not, could you please send us a screenshot of that charge so we can investigate this with the hostel?

I need this information to be able to better assist you.
Kind regards,
Huh. Ok so I just need to prove that this hostel doesn't charge a hundred thousand yen for a dorm bed? To be fair, it's a really nice bed made out of the finest plywood and 2x4"s!

Wouldn't you trade your car in for a night in this honeymoon suite?
me said:
Hi Doug, Thank you for your response.

No I certainly didn't pay 850,000 yen ($5,745) at the counter, they asked for 3,500 yen, which is about $24 USD. I paid it in cash.

I think this hostel might need some guidance in setting up their payment structure. They actually remarked that I was the first hostelworld booking they'd received, and now I know why. I figured the price was in yen, as I've seen that kind of glitch many times before.

Ironically, I think I lost my passport there, so I am going back tomorrow anyways to look for that, and I will ask them for a pricing sheet so I can share it with you.


I thought I was being helpful. Clearly the either something was wrong on the website or the hostel made a mistake in setting up their account. To my surprise, Doug digs in his heels a little bit here
Doug said:
Hi Nice Gaijin,

Thanks for your reply!

Although the prices were set high, this booking was still confirmed, from your side, for the prices mentioned above.

All the currency and rate information was displayed during the booking process.

You will need to discuss further directly with the hostel.

Hope this clarifies things!

Kind regards,

Well, that did clarify one thing: that this wasn't going to be as simple as I expected! A little perturbed. I pushed back at the notion that I had agreed to be fleeced:
me said:
Hi Doug

Are you suggesting that you would stick me with a $1077 booking fee for a dormitory bed that costs less than $30? Is it your intention to rob your customers, or simply cause them anxiety on their travels?

I will follow up with the hostel but if that is your attitude then I will not be using your services in the future, and I will make sure everyone knows why.

Doug was feeling generous, but wasn't going to give my money back:
Doug said:
Hi Nice Gaijin,

Thanks for your reply!

I understand that the rates may have been very high, however, the rates were fully transparent before the booking was confirmed. This booking, and these charges, were fully confirmed upon booking confirmation.

Under these exceptional circumstances, I have added your deposit amount back onto your Hostelworld account so that you can use it on future booking deposits.

To use this voucher, simply log in with the same email address you used when making your original booking, and the voucher will automatically apply after you click on "Confirm". The voucher is valid for 18 months.

The website will still ask for credit card information even if you have enough on the voucher to cover the booking deposit as part of procedure, as this is used to secure your booking in case of a no-show/late cancellation.

I hope this helps!

No, that really didn't help, Doug!

Fortunately, I had lost my passport at this same hostel (now that's not a string of worlds I ever thought I would put together), and that very day was on my way to look for it with my friend as detailed in my last journal entry. I returned empty-handed, except for a copy of the receipt of my room fee, as Doug originally had requested
me said:
I was able to return to the hostel and they had a copy of the receipt from my payment, attached below. As you can see, the 男女共用 (co-ed mixed dorm) room was 3,500 yen. I paid with a 10,000 yen note.


Ive also informed the hostel of the issue with their listing, they should be emailing you shortly about this. It would be a great help to them if you could guide them to set up their fees correctly so this doesn't happen to anyone else.

I am not interested in hostelworld credits, I would like the money refunded to my credit card please.

Thank you,
I folded my arms in satisfaction, having relatively maintained composure through such a difficult exchange and emerged triumphant, having proven my case, and even given a helpful suggestion that their customer service actually do their job and help their customers not step on a rake.

But Doug must've had a quota of customers to screw over, or maybe he didn't like me using the casual version of his name:
Doug said:
Hi Nice Gaijin,

Thanks for your reply!

The voucher was given as a gesture of goodwill in this case. This is the most that we are able to do with this amount.

Hope you are able to book some great hostels!

Kind regards,

To recap, Hostelworld only collects a booking fee, which is about 15-20% of the cost of the room. To put it mildly, it was a little far-fetched to think I was going to book another $5000-6000 worth of hostels in the next year and a half, and even more unlikely that I would be using Hostelworld to book anything moving forward. This was unacceptable

me said:
Excuse me, you first said that if I had proof of payment from the hostel that the fee would be adjusted, which I went way out of my way to do.

You said that the reservation fee was based off the assumption that I would be paying nearly 850,000 yen at check in. I have provided you proof that that number is off by an order of magnitude, and 20% of 3500 yen is 700 yen, or roughly $4.78 at the current exchange rate. $1077 USD is a lot more than 15-20% of 3500 JPY ($24 USD), to put it mildly.

Are you telling me that's not your policy? On your word, I wasted a day of travel to go back to this hostel to retrieve proof of their actual fees and to inform them of this issue, which they should have emailed you about already as well.

Please refund the $1072 that I was overcharged, in accordance with your policies.


Doug didn't need to be reminded about my passport; there was no need to pretend I went back to Kunigami for any reason other than to get this little slip of paper at his request.

But 'ol Dougie has one more trick up his sleeve:
Delivery has failed to these recipients or groups:

Hostelworld Customer Service ([email protected])
The recipient's mailbox is full and can't accept messages now. Please try resending your message later, or contact the recipient directly.

WOW, what a coincidence that as soon as he tells me I'm SOL, the entire company's customer service inbox is completely full! I didn't even know that was a thing anymore.

When Doug first offered me the rotten olive branch of store credit, I decided I wasn't going to wait around for him to do the right thing, and reached back out to my credit card company and initiated a dispute on the charge, explaining the entire situation to them. They immediately credited me the full amount temporarily, pending review of the incident. After a couple days, right around the time the credit card company said they had ruled in my favor and I'd be keeping the full amount, I heard back from an old friend:
Doug at Hostelword said:
Hi Nice Gaijin,

Thanks for your reply!

As a gesture of goodwill, we have removed your voucher and refunded the deposit amount.

This will be back in your account within 15 days.

Hope this helps!

Kind regards,
Gracious as ever, I thanked him for his bedside manner
me said:
Hi Doug,
Thank you, I appreciate that. I'll keep an eye on my credit card statement.
Have a good day,

His response was just perfect:
Delivery has failed to these recipients or groups:

Hostelworld Customer Service ([email protected])
The recipient's mailbox is full and can't accept messages now. Please try resending your message later, or contact the recipient directly.

Episode 8 Nbc GIF by America's Got Talent

On the bright side, I just checked the Hostelworld listing for Yanbaru Hostel, and saw that the price of a dorm room bed has been steeply discounted, down to about $27. So hopefully they'll start getting more bookings, and no one else will go through the same trouble I had. We'll call that a silver lining to a dark orange cloud.

But if you're going to stay there, I recommend booking directly at their website. I wish I had!

My final grades are as follows:
  • Yanbaru Hostel: C- for not setting up their Hostelworld account properly and for somehow being the venue for TWO Okinawan misadventures, but they get bonus points for keeping a paper trail for me. Would stay there again, but I'd keep my passport close and maybe book another way.
  • Hostelworld: F+ for having absolute trash customer service, thinking that a voucher was anything more than a kiss-off, and actually trying to keep all my money. They only get bonus points for the tireless hustle, and for that little inbox-full move. But 0.2/10 would not recommend.
  • Chase Credit: Solid A. They took as good care of me as they could, and even preemptively credited me to prevent undue hardship during the dispute resolution.
  • Myself: B+ for keeping my cool, more or less, through an absolutely ridiculous exchange. But I could've saved myself a lot of grief by sleeping on the beach.


Thanks for sharing this, NG! At least we know where NOT to book when staying in Okinawa. Glad you got your money back.

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