Last week, I used a discount hotel app to book a room in Orlando. The property I chose, the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, is a major resort on Walt Disney World property, a few years old, with 400 high-quality rooms to fill each and every night. Which is why it turns to the discount hotel apps, which shore up occupancy rates and reduce the load of unsold rooms.
When I arrived at the check-in desk to redeem my non-refundable app reservation, I was offered a room on the 14th floor ("there's a balcony," said the clerk temptingly). That sounded great! But then she looked at me and said, "There's a sofabed."
I asked what she meant. Was it a room that had a sofabed, or was there no bed?
She replied the sofabed would be my bed because it was a suite. A suite that had been partially rented by someone else. I was being booked into the leftovers of a half-rented unit.
I told her this wouldn't do and I wouldn't take it. She said she'd waive the resort fee of $18 if I took it.
I suppose that could be termed an incentive, but I could sleep on a sofabed at my Cousin Joe's or use Airbnb and skip paying for a resort. So it was really more like a bribe to accept what she knew wasn't an acceptable room.
Never mind the fact that resort fees are a scam that none of us should be paying separately to begin with. I imagined my back after a night of sleeping on Wyndham's expensive hide-a-bed, and I said absolutely, emphatically not.
I don't know how many travelers would have stood as firm as I did, especially if they had booked through a discount app and might not realize what they're actually entitled to get.
Within seconds, the clerk conferred with a colleague and I was given the keys to a normal room with an actual bed in it. Clearly, this wasn't a case of being out of rooms, since an alternate was immediately available. This was a case of the hotel trying to pass off a substandard room to me.
I reached out to the property's representative to ask if it was normal policy to rent customers leftovers from suites, and if it had anything to do with my using an app. Its reply:
"Our policy upon check-in is to place guests in the best available room that meets the requirements of their reservation. For reservations that don’t have a guaranteed room type, and especially during high-occupancy times at the hotel, this may result in a guest being placed in one of the adjoining rooms of our parlor suites, which offer many of the same amenities as our standard rooms with the exception that instead of a traditional bed, they feature either a murphy bed or, in some cases, a pull-out bed. With regards to your specific situation, it wasn’t a result of booking via a third-party. Rather it was the combination of booking last minute, during a time of extreme high occupancy, and through a channel that does not guarantee room types."
In other words, this resort may indeed try to rent you a sofabed. Although the official statement claims my situation was not a result of using a third-party booker, it was partly because I booked "through a channel that does not guarantee room types"-- in other words, because I used a third-party booker.
It's also hard to blame "extreme high occupancy" when the resort was using a third-party seller to fill unsold rooms and an alternative was immediately made available once I refused. However, that's what it reports was going on behind the scenes.
I also contacted the third-party app, which in this case was HotelTonight to see if it considered partial suite rentals to be fair game. Its CEO, Sam Shank, was fair, pointing out that the Wyndham Grand Orlando Bonnet Creek has an overwhelming approval rating from prior customers who used his app--a very good point that suggests this wasn't something that happens to everyone. That said, according to Shank, "This falls far below the standards of HotelTonight and our hotel partners."
According to Shank, "HotelTonight and our hotel partners guarantee our customers that the rooms they book on the app will accommodate 2 adults, comfortably. This equates to 1 full/queen/king or 2 double/queen beds." Not, you might surmise, a fold-up couch.
In my case, the hotel changed gears when I balked and supplied an acceptable room. So what should you do if you book through a hotel discount site or app and you feel the hotel is not giving you what you paid for?
Here's how HotelTonight recommends you handle the situation if it happens with them:
"Customers should contact us in-the-moment about an issue like this - our support staff is highly trained to be responsive and immediately take action. We would contact the hotel on your behalf to seek immediate resolution. With your comfort our first priority, we'll always work to get you accommodated into the room type you purchased. If the hotel that was initially selected was unable to provide the promised accommodations, we'd provide a full refund to the customer's credit card. We'd also work with the customer to secure a room at a different hotel on HotelTonight's dime."
To prove his point, Shank refunded my night's stay. And other than that hiccup at check-in, it was a lovely property (the restaurant's fantastic, too).
If something like this happens to you--and if you use a third-party seller, it very well could since you won't have locked in a room type--contact the seller right then and there. That's why it's important for consumers to keep a copy of a customer service phone number of the site or app that booked them. If your travel seller can only be reached by email, book with a company with a live help desk instead.
Photo credit: Daniel Lobo/Flickr