Anyone who has yen for travel has done it: Made a last-minute decision to stay somewhere for a night or two and then booked sight unseen on one of many on line booking services that offer what appear to be miraculous discounts.
Just last night I paid $79 through www.wotif.com for a night at Hobart's older-style but perfectly clean and acceptable Macquarie Manor Hotel.. It was a bargain and I was delighted.
What to do, however, when the “luxury” hotel you have booked on line turns out to be a fleapit. I had such an experience a couple of years ago, but won't name the hotel as, in fairness, it may have changed.
This experience was in London at a busy time of the year and things went wrong from the moment the ancient lift jerked its way into action, depositing me on the fourth floor, where the carpet looked as if AC/DC and Cold Chisel had been partying on it for weeks.
Although I had requested a double room when booking, I had been allocated a hostel-style room with four single beds, covered with 1960s-style quilts. And with no air conditioning, or fan, the room was insufferably stuffy. The choice was to open the window and let in the street noise, or eventually expire from lack of oxygen.
While the bedroom was minimalist at best, the bathroom was worse; because the shower had virtually zero pressure.
As the booking agency website claimed the rack rate for this establishment was ₤500 – and described the place as “luxurious”, the ₤128.85 I paid should have made it a bargain.
It wasn’t. It was grotty with free wifi just about the only saving grace - and the "direct walkway” between Paddington Station was non-existent.
But by leaving it late to book in a city that was hosting several conventions I’d put myself at the mercy of the market (lesson learnt) - and a handwritten “hotel full” sign in the window told me it would be pointless asking to switch rooms. Otherwise I might have tried my foolproof tactic of unpacking in the lobby and setting myself up in a comfortable spot so that others checking in have to step around me and my luggage.
The last thing any hotel wants in its public areas is a fuss, so the response to this tactic should a timely check-in not be available or a room be unacceptable is usually an upgrade or other swift resolution (although I did recently have to wait until 10pm for a check-in at a hopelessly disorganised luxury hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg).
In the case of the London stay, I wasn’t going to let blatant dishonesty go. In addition to Tweeting about my experience, and doing a TripAdvisor report, I emailed the booking company with my comments.
The initial response was not encouraging: "It’s really disappointing to hear that the service you received from The Dodgy Hotel did not meet your expectations. I’ll make sure that your feedback is passed on to the hotel’s management to raise their awareness. The product manager responsible for this region has also been made aware of this matter and your comments will be recorded for our future reference. If we were to find a recurring issue, the hotel's listing on our website would certainly be reviewed.”
There was also the usual verbiage about how much they appreciated customer feedback etc, etc.
My email reply was to the point: “Not good enough. As I stated in my complaint, several of the statements on your website are misleading and deceptive and I demand some recompense.”
I was then assured: “I have passed your email onto our Customer Relations department so they can look into this matter further.”
A further Tweet finally resulted in serious action a week later, with an email saying: “The property has confirmed if you had advised upon your arrival that you were not satisfied with the room allocated, they would have been happy to provide you with other room options. [Clearly not true as the hotel was full]. Hotel management have confirmed they are in the process of updating the carpets in every room and expect to have new carpets in every room shortly. [It was the disgusting carpet in the corridor I was more concerned about].”
The email said the old building made water pressure an issue, but confirmed the hotel did not have direct access to Paddington station via a footbridge, as advertised. I was then offered a 50% refund “due to the inconvenience caused”.
So I got ₤62 back – probably paying what the room was worth. And the booking website removed references to “luxurious” and the non-existent footbridge from its website listing.
If you are unhappy in any way with a hotel the best tactic is to complain long, loud and at first politely (and goodness knows there is much to complain about in what is laughably called the "hospitality industry; hello Queensland hotel with a viper on the check-in desk).
Consumer advocacy group Choice advises making sure you have as much evidence as possible (photographs, conflicts between what was advertised and what was provided). You should be firm and polite with your complaint and try to get it resolved at the time, as making a complaint to Consumer Affairs can be “long and drawn out”.
Asking directly for a refund, discount or a free night, gives a hotel a way out of the impasse. If you get an inadequate response you should then threaten to escalate the complaint to the hotel owner, or chain. But make sure your case is solid if you are making stuff up then you put yourself at risk of legal action.
Or you can get angry and use my occupation tactic. And if you have paid for your accommodation in advance you have a very strong case. The hotel has nowhere to go legally. The matter is a civil dispute between you and them.
Using social media to get your point home also puts pressure on - most hotels hate criticism in a public arena.
And PS: Remind me to let you know about your rights in restaurants. Most restaurateurs would rather I did not.