After having the foresight to book their Niagara Falls hotel rooms more than a year in advance, several families planning to take in the solar eclipse next month were shocked to find out their reservations had been cancelled.

“We presume that they cancelled a bunch of the lower-cost reservations and flipped them to make more money, whether or not that’s true, they’re not telling us,” Katherine Wilson told CTV News Toronto on Sunday.

Wilson's family booked three rooms at the Wyndham Garden Niagara Falls Fallsview, on the Ontario side of the falls, last April for $100 per night. She'd planned to take in the April 8 celestial show as part of a birthday celebration for her kids and nephew.

But on March 16, that booking was cancelled by the hotel.

“Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen extension in the stay duration of a large group currently accommodated at our hotel, we are facing constraints regarding room availability. Regrettably, this means we must cancel your reservation,” the hotel wrote in an email to Wilson.

Wyndham’s front office manager told CTV News Toronto a large group in-house extended their stay, which resulted in canceling all reservations. They refused to touch on why the current booking took precedence.

“The group has taken the entire hotel room inventory. It is very unfortunate that we were not able to prioritize our individual reservations this time,” Ankur Ahuja, the hotel’s front office manager, said on Saturday.

Wilson said the news gutted her family. “We feel like our family trip is getting cancelled because they just want to make more money,” she said. “We feel like we had the foresight to book way in advance for the eclipse, and we shouldn't be punished for that.”

solar eclipseSince being deemed one of the best places in the world to watch the upcoming solar eclipse, Niagara Falls has seen hotel prices skyrocket. The limited rooms still available are now priced around $1,000 per night, with some as high as $3,000.

Chelsea Bartja, who planned to drive with her husband from London to Niagara Falls for the eclipse, said the momentous spectacle was what prompted her to book a room well in advance.

“The entire reason I booked over a year ago was because I knew if I waited to book, prices would skyrocket,” Bartja said.

Like Wilson, she booked a room at Wyndham Garden Niagara Falls Fallsview a year ago for approximately $100 per night. On March 12, her reservation was cancelled.

“I don't understand why you’re cancelling my reservation. It just feels like the company is trying to profit,” she said.

solar eclipse niagara

On Tripadvisor, several reviews posted last week spotlight the same issue. One reads, “The hotel is cancelling reservations made a year ago so they can book groups for the eclipse at exorbitant prices … I suggest you do the right thing and honour your existing reservations,” Richard H wrote on March 20.

Initially, Bartja said she was told the hotel couldn’t find a room to relocate her. But a day later, after CTV News Toronto reached out to Wyndham, a room became available at no extra cost. On Saturday, Wilson said she also got a call from the hotel to say they were trying to find her rooms in the area and that she would be refunded if not.

Regardless, Wilson said it’s the principle that bothers her. “I feel like you shouldn’t be able to treat people in that manner.”

What are your rights?

Joel Rochon, a founding partner of Rochon Genova LLP, said a consumer in this situation could pursue several avenues of recourse, including small claims court or, in wider-scale situations linked by common elements, a class action proceeding for breach of the Consumer Protection Act.

“The conduct you’re describing would probably fall into deceptive conduct,” Rochon said. “It’s highly frowned upon by the courts.”

Consumers Council of Canada Executive Director Ken Whitehurst, however, thinks it is unlikely the issue would make its way through the court due to the relatively low dollar amount of the hotel bill. Often, the business operator is banking on that, he added.

Whitehall calls these kinds of agreements "contracts of adhesion." Often pages long, they contain "weasel language" and are frequently drawn up by only one of the parties, he said.

He said many of Ontario's consumer protection laws are "pro-business," a continuing trend that renders consumers vulnerable.

"Whether that's fair or not is another matter."