When Erin Hott checks into her hotel, she's shown to a room with an unmade bed. When she asks for clean sheets, an employee tells her they can't change her linen until the next day. And if she doesn't like it, she can find another hotel, but she'll still have to pay for her room. Whatever happened to customer service?
Q: I'm trying to get some compensation for a hotel stay that didn't meet my expectations. But all I've gotten so far is an empty apology. I hope you can do better.
I recently stayed at the Howard Johnson Oceanfront Plaza Hotel in Ocean City, Md. When we arrived at the hotel early Friday morning, the room was not cleaned, the bed was not made from the previous occupants and there were no pillowcases on the pillows.
I went to the front desk and I was told they were booked solid for my entire stay and the room couldn't be cleaned until the next day. We reluctantly agreed to sleep in the unclean room.
I spoke with the head of housekeeping, the manager on duty the morning we checked in, the manager on duty Saturday morning, and the manager on duty Sunday when we checked out. Every time I tried to get a resolution I was told there was nothing that could be done. My only option was to go to another hotel and forfeit my money for the remainder of the stay. We endured the stay.
I contacted Howard Johnson customer service directly to inform them of my stay. I received an e-mail from them that said my information and complaint were forwarded to the general manager of the franchise for review and I would get a response. The hotel replied with a form apology. That was almost six months ago. Any suggestions? -- Erin Hott, Waynesboro, Pa.
A: Ewww. You slept in an unmade bed? Someone should give you an award for the most accommodating hotel guest. Ever.
Obviously -- and I can't believe I have to point this out -- Howard Johnson should have offered you a clean room. If it mistakenly gave you the key to a room with an unmade bed, it should have offered to change your sheets immediately. It doesn't matter what time of the day or night you check in -- clean sheets are the bare minimum.
When I received your letter, my first response was disbelief. I asked you why you didn't protest the conditions in your room more loudly. You say you did, but that the hotel staff was equally insistent that they couldn't clean the room and that your only other option was to leave, but that you'd still be charged for the room. I don't like those choices.
As always, your best bet is to resolve the problem right there and then. It might have been helpful to contact Howard Johnson at the corporate level. Here's the contact form.
To underscore the seriousness of your grievance -- and trust me, this was serious -- you could have copied Maryland's Consumer Protection Division (consumerAToagDOTstateDOTmdDOTus). I think it would be interested in your story. If nothing else, it would have signaled to Howard Johnson that you didn't intend to let this go.
By agreeing to live in an unclean room, you limited your chances of resolving this grievance. Once you check out, a hotel is far less likely to compensate you for a substandard stay. One way to light a fire under it is to rope the corporate office into each complaint and subsequent rebuttal. Many hotels fine a franchisee that ignores a customer complaint.
So don't accept the hand-off to the hotel by the hotel chain. Keep corporate Howard Johnson in the loop, because that keeps pressure on the individual hotel.
I contacted the hotel on your behalf. A representative contacted you, and admitted the hotel had experienced some housekeeping problems while you were a guest. Howard Johnson refunded $131 to your credit card.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2009 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.