Tammy Bowman prepays for a non-smoking room for four guests at a Holiday Inn in Manhattan. But she gets a smaller, smoking room and is then told to take it or leave it. She stays. Is she entitled to anything for her trouble?
Q: My family and I visited New York City last week. I prepaid for a room at the Holiday Inn Express in Manhattan for four guests. When I checked in, I was shocked to find that I not only had a smoking room, but also a king-size bed. Four people and one king-size bed! Also, I requested a non-smoking room, since I am allergic to smoke.
The hotel would not change our room nor would they put us in a different hotel. We were forced to stay there or we would have to pay for a three-day stay, as well as a $250 penalty for an early departure.
I called the corporate Holiday Inn number and they said everything was up to the hotel. I am in shock. Can you help? -- Tammy Bowman, Huntsville, Ala.
A: If you asked for a non-smoking room for four guests, and the hotel confirmed it, then you should have gotten one.
I asked Holiday Inn to look at your reservation, and it showed that the room was originally booked as a so-called "flow through" room, meaning that no specific room type or smoking preference was assigned. "While the guest did list a total of four people and a king-size bed was originally assigned, it's possible they may not have had the inventory to work with," a spokeswoman told me.
When you make a reservation -- even when you do it online, you've paid for it, and you have a confirmation -- it never hurts to contact the hotel directly. A hotel employee can make a notation in your reservation that you're traveling with four people and that you're allergic to cigarette smoke, and you can also note the name of the employee you speak with.
If something goes wrong when you check in, you can say, "But I talked with one of your associates and explained the situation."
The Holiday Inn Express shouldn't have given you a "take-it-or-leave-it" ultimatum. (Actually, it was worse than that -- it threatened to extract a $250 early departure fee.) Not only did they give you a room you didn't reserve, but they're also punishing you if you walk away from it.
Once you were at the hotel, you could have appealed to a manager. A brief, polite e-mail to Holiday Inn at the corporate level might have also been useful. Here's the web form where you can contact the company.
I'm not sure what happened during your stay, but the lines of communication weren't exactly open. According to Holiday Inn's records, the property offered you a different room the following evening, but you turned it down. If you're allergic to cigarette smoke, why would you stay in a smoking room?
I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf. In addition to the notations I've already mentioned, the hotel said it had no record of you contacting it to resolve this problem. It's possible that you tried to call the property but a formal complaint never was registered. Try writing next time.
Holiday Inn credited you with 50,000 reward points, which is enough for a two-night stay at one of its hotels.
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.