When Zoraida Fernandez checks into her hotel, she's met with two surprises: Both of her rooms reek of cigarette smoke, and one of them has only one bed, instead of the two she was promised -- this, despite the fact that her online agency, Hotels.com, had guaranteed her two nonsmoking rooms. The agency offers her a discount and a voucher. Should it do more?
Q: I recently reserved a room by phone at the Extended Stay America Providence Airport-West Warwick in Rhode Island through Hotels.com (www.hotels.com). I repeatedly asked if the rooms where non-smoking, and that if it was OK to do a late check-in, and the answer to both questions was "yes."
When we arrived at the hotel at 11:45pm, the manager on duty said we had reservations for two smoking rooms, and one of them only had one double bed. I explained to the hotel manager that was not what I had booked through Hotels.com, but she said that was the type of reservation they had received, that she only had three rooms left, and all of them were smoking rooms. What's more, she could not give us a refund because the bookings were made through Hotels.com.
We called Hotels.com, but a representative insisted we had been given the rooms we requested. After some back-and-forth, and us explaining that these weren't the rooms we asked for, Hotels.com agreed to give us a $40 voucher and a 10 percent discount on our rooms.
We decided to use the room. We could barely sleep because the smell remained so strong. Both my sister's grandson and I spent the dawn hours throwing up.
In the end, it would've been better for all of us just to sleep in the car than spend $191 for two rooms where we couldn't sleep and got sick. I hope you can help me in some way. -- Zoraida Fernandez, Hackettstown, NJ
A: Extended Stay should have handed you the keys to two nonsmoking rooms with two double beds in each one. If it didn't, or couldn't, then Hotels.com should have found you a comparable room at another hotel.
What went wrong here? Everything.
You reserved a room by calling an online travel agency. But you're better off conducting that kind of transaction online, because there's less of a chance a mistake will be made. For example, you can tell offshore reservations agents that you want a non-smoking room, but they may misunderstand you and reserve a smoking room. That's probably what happened to you.
You could have contacted the hotel directly to make sure your reservation was in order. That's particularly important when you have special needs, such as a nonsmoking room, bed type or a late check-in. I wouldn't accept your online travel agent's assurances that everything is OK. Get it straight from the hotel.
Of course, the hotel should have had the correct rooms ready when you checked in late in the evening, as promised. When it didn't, the hotel or Hotels.com should have sent you to a property where you didn't have to spend the night throwing up.
The $40 voucher and discount was not enough. I would have left the hotel and disputed the charge on my credit card.
A look at Hotels.com's terms and conditions on its site confirms that the company normally doesn't guarantee any special requests such as the ones you made. Either the representative to whom you spoke wasn't clear about that, or misunderstood your question.
I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf. In addition to the voucher and discount, you were offered an apology and an $89 refund for the room with a single bed. A representative also said Hotels.com would review its policies regarding room availability at its properties.
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 email@example.com.
(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.