Christopher Elliott, The Travel Troubleshooter, July 23, 2013
Gladys Martin's hotel room is uninhabitable, but the property wants to charge her for it, anyway. Is there any way to undo this mistake?
Q: While traveling through Pennsylvania on a college tour with our daughter, my husband and I made a reservation for two nights at a Super 8 through Hotels.com. When we arrived at the hotel late in the evening, we were dismayed to find a hotel with questionable clientele (there was a couple behind us looking for a couple of hours' stay at the hotel) and a hotel attendant behind a double-panel glass window.
I asked to see the room before signing any paperwork and the attendant declined. He simply gave me a form to fill out with my name and address. Due to the late hour and not having any other viable option for a night's stay, we agreed to spend the night at the hotel but to check out the following morning as soon as possible.
Although the room had been recently renovated, the carpet was filthy. Our shoes stuck to the carpet. The air conditioner was set at 45 degrees, and it took more than three hours for the room to heat up to 74 degrees. The walls were thin enough that we could hear every move of our neighbor upstairs and of our neighbors around us.
The room was supposed to be smoke free, yet the bedspread on one bed had cigarette burns and the room smelled like cigarette smoke. We did not have enough towels for three people and the bathroom had not been cleaned, as evidenced the next morning by our find of a handful of long red hairs stuck to the wall of the shower.
The next morning, a hotel attendant informed me that Super 8 had nothing to do with our transaction, and that if I ever were to be issued a refund, I'd have to go through Hotels.com. I have called Hotels.com and asked for a refund, but so far, I've gotten nowhere. Can you help? - Gladys Martin, Berea, Ohio
A: Are you sure you were booked at a Super 8? It sounds like you tried to check in at the No-Tell Motel, instead.
Hotels.com shouldn't have sold you a room like that. But even a cursory online search would have revealed that this Super 8 was horrible. Sure, the Super 8 chain is a budget brand, but this one was - and I quote the recent write-ups - "just gross." One reviewer advised everyone to "stay away" and the hotel received an aggregate rating that would embarrass anyone associated with the Super 8 brand. In other words, you had ample warning.
Under the terms of your reservation, your room was completely nonrefundable by the time you checked in, so technically Super 8 was right for refusing your refund - both to you and to Hotels.com. But who cares about technicalities? Super 8's promise to be the "best in quality" means you should have expected more from your lodging experience.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few tips. When the air conditioner is turned down to 45 degrees, open a window. It will take only a few minutes to warm things up. If the rug is sticky and the shower is dirty and the bedspreads smell like smoke, ask for another room. And most of all, when dealing with a refund request, put everything in writing. Calling Super 8 was just an exercise in futility.
I contacted Hotels.com, which sold you the room, and it helped you secure a $150 refund from Super 8. Hotels.com also sent you a $20 voucher as an apology.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at [email protected]. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)