I expected to wake up surrounded by police tape…
At first, things seemed to be going well….
Many people love to travel. Which is exactly why when a big event comes to a town, big prices and big crowds usually follow.
It was summer and a summer getaway was in the works. I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to find a hotel with vacancies. Even harder to find one with a reasonable price. Then, I got a call. “The biggest convention of the year just happens to be the same weekend”
The convention was not the destination; however, we did have to pass through the convention town on the way to where we were going. This meant one night in an overpriced hotel.
I booked a room at a budget hotel at triple the normal price simply because it was the only bed available. The arrival time was after midnight so I figured a couple of hours in a lumpy bed wouldn’t be the end of the world. As a backup, I rented a mid-sized SUV, just in case we had to sleep in it!
At first, things seemed to be going well.
I called the car rental company ahead of time because their normal closing time at the desk was midnight…the exact time the plane would be landing. They gave me alternative instructions to get the car. So, even though we landed 15 minutes ahead of time, I was confident we would have a set of wheels even if the rental desk was closed when we arrived.
Next, we revved up the GPS and punched in the hotel address to make our way to what I hoped would be a decent night’s rest. The streets were empty, as expected at that time of night. However, as the familiar voice coming from the GPS device said, “The destination is on your left”… my stomach tightened up.
Are you sure?
I looked at the address on the building. I looked at the address on my room reservation. They matched.
What didn’t match was the name on the hotel sign.
As we pulled into the small, littered parking lot with too tight parking spaces, the bums and late night party-ers slowly cleared a path for us. We walked in behind a couple of young convention-goers carrying a 12-pack of beer. I counted 10 signs from parking lot to lobby desk which read “We have the right to refuse service to anyone…”
Judging by the crowd in the lobby, they didn’t seem to exercise that right too often.
Sleeping in the back of the car was starting to look like a real possibility…
Well, that would have explained the smell…
I inquired at the desk. Yes, this was the place. They had changed hands a year or so ago. They were not just under new management, part of the building was now designated as a hostel. In some places, that’s fine; where we were, it meant something very different.
Apparently, nobody had updated their records.
The clerk was friendly and got us all checked in. We got into the elevator with floor to ceiling tile, you know, the type of set up that makes it easy to hose down blood and urine, and prayed the elevator would make it to our floor. There was a smell, and I just wasn’t sure how long I could hold my breath.
Luckily, when we got to our floor, the doors opened and we were met with a wonderful cross breeze. The emergency doors at each end of the halls were wide open with the help of rope which someone had tied to the exterior stairs. How convenient. Now, folks didn’t have to go through the lobby to get to the rooms upstairs. They had easy access from the street.
Our room was right by the propped open door. Nice. Sleeping in the back of the car was starting to look like a real possibility.
We swiped the key in the door. No luck. We tried again. Nothing.
Did I say it was after midnight?
So, back down we go to the lobby to repeat the process. Another key. Another elevator ride. Another patron with a 6-pack of beer. And another swipe.
So, down we go again. I can’t lie…I wasn’t completely disappointed. I just wanted to get a refund and get out. There was a very real possibility we would wake up with white chalk and police tape around us. My companion was convinced there were dead bodies hanging from hooks on the other side of our inoperable hotel room door…
Well, that would have explained the smell.
But first, we inquired about another room. There weren’t any. (Ah…the angels are watching over us!) Completely sold out. So, I inquired about a refund. Nope. Couldn’t happen that night.
No worries. We could handle that part later. The current challenge was finding a place to rest. After a bit of searching and a few U-turns on the empty streets, we found a La Quinta Inn with one (and only one) room available because of a cancellation.
They were amazing.
Not only did they discount the room $100 after hearing about our adventure and taking the current time into account, they also gave us late checkout at no extra cost or extra hassle. The complex was nice and clean, the parking lot big enough to park in, and the rooms were wonderful. Not a single bum or 12-pack in sight.
I slept well without visions of blue lights or sirens dancing around in my head.
The next day, it was back to the original hotel in order to inquire about a refund for the room which was not available. I thought the place looked pretty sketchy at night. It looked even worse in the light of day.
The day was new, but the answer was the same. No refund. I would have to go back to the original source of my booking.
“Well, honey, you ain’t at the Ritz.”
Frustrating, but everything is figure-out able. Rather than get upset, I simply rolled with the punches because that’s what you must do when you travel. I had faith it would get resolved even though the resolution wasn’t going to happen that day.
And so, we enjoyed our getaway.
After we got home, I got on the phone and proceeded to get the runaround.
Here was the problem: The room I booked had a “No Refund” policy. I guess I got a “special” rate. According to the hotel, it didn’t matter if the room I paid for was not available or accessible, or that the hotel I arrived at was not the one I booked because the information was incorrect. Even my receipt showed the name of the hotel I thought I was booking rather than the hotel I pulled up to.
I kept thinking at worst, this was fraud; at best, it was just bad business.
I was given advice for next time: Check the Yelp reviews to be sure you’re booking a place you would be comfortable staying in. This is great advice…and I do that often. However, the problem with this transaction was I was never given accurate hotel information. I wouldn’t have known to look up the Yelp reviews for the dive I arrived at because to my knowledge I was staying in another hotel.
I didn’t get angry. I just kept asking the same question as I moved my way up the chain of customer service “Who do I need to speak with to make this right?”
It took some time, but I did get my full refund.
The take-away from this? Well, I learned a couple of things which I’ll share here to hopefully help you on your travels:
1) When something unexpected happens when you travel, don’t panic and don’t get angry. Everything can be figured out and I believe because I asked questions and remained focused on a solution, people showed up to help. Life just works that way. Don’t let a temporary inconvenience ruin your entire travel experience.
2) The first step once I saw the refund was going to take time was to alert the credit card from which the booking took place. They put a hold on the funds while we went through the process of resolution. Book with a credit card, not a debit card, because you have more protection.
3) As they suggested, check the Yelp reviews for the hotel.
4) Check the address of the hotel you are staying at through Google maps. This gives you a good overview of the neighborhood where you are going and it allows you to see the building (and the sign) to be sure you are staying where you think you are staying. For my stay, I did check out the neighborhood in advance (I always do) and I was prepared for that; however, I didn’t notice the discrepancy in the signage.
5) When you search and book online, keep copies of everything. I had taken screenshots of every online confirmation and the hotel advertisement which showed the name of the hotel I believed I was booking. All of this came in handy as I scaled the network of customer service personnel.
6) Consider booking your hotel stay through a travel agent. I don’t normally do this; however, for this trip I did. (There are those angels again!) As a result, I had some additional leverage because the vendors had an ongoing and important relationship with the travel agency.
Travel is always fun when you approach it with a sense of wonder…and a sense of humor. We had a great trip, have a funny story to share, met some interesting people, and learned a few additional lessons to keep in mind as we go forth into the world.