A friend of mine, a very frequent flyer, usually has to book travel through her employer, but she is quite comfortable booking things for herself. Often she decides not to bother me for something small and simple.
In this case, she needed one inexpensive night in San Francisco at the beginning of a conference. She did a little research and found a $98 rate at the Majestic Hotel through Hotels.com and prepaid it.
When she arrived, the hotel was overbooked.
The Majestic is not a deluxe property (some reviewers call it old) but others call it charming. It seemed perfect for her needs, with a nice location not too far from her meetings and near Japantown.
Upon arrival at the hotel, she was told, “Hotels.com overbooked. But, we will give you a room at our ‘sister hotel,’ the Super 8 Union Square, and give you a free taxi ride over there.”
Now, as many travelers know, showing up late at night, while it might mean a lucky upgrade, does occasionally mean the hotel has given away all its rooms. But, this was about 4 in the afternoon, which is an odd time to “walk” someone.
Since the traveler had just walked about a mile from the conference site, she was in no mood to go anywhere.
She showed them a confirmation saying it was from the Majestic Hotel itself, not Hotels.com. After a few minutes of quietly stating she wasn’t going anywhere, they gave her a room, and it was a decent room at that.
When she told me the story later, she added that the Union Square location wouldn’t have been bad, had she not been tired. Plus, the “Super 8″ brand made her a bit nervous.
But, actually, there were a couple other issues:
First, the Super 8 was a significantly less expensive hotel, with rates starting at $66 for AAA members, and $74 otherwise. The Majestic usually doesn’t go below $98 and is often higher.
Second, the Super 8 is not exactly in “Union Square.” It is on the edge of the Tenderloin district, which is generally considered a sketchy area with a number of SRO hotels and people around who range from colorful to scary.
To be fair, the hotel is “only” three blocks from Union Square and there are interesting restaurants in the area. But, it certainly is not the first place I would suggest for a woman traveling alone, especially if you turn the wrong way walking out of the hotel.
In the end, things worked out. But had my friend not stood her ground, she would not have discovered the location issue and probably wouldn’t have gotten any money back (or even known it was a cheaper property).
Another option would have been to call Hotels.com on their 800-number.
Out of curiosity, I tried that today. It took a while to get an answer. A woman on the phone said Hotels.com did NOT overbook, and if a traveler called, they would call the hotel to get them to honor the booking.
Clearly, in this case the hotel was somehow overbooked, and was either trying to bump anyone they could early, or perhaps they were singling out online bookings as less revenue. (Often, when a hotel is booked through a third-party site, the property only gets a fraction of the price.)
The main lesson here, and my friend did it right, is that the time to complain and get a hotel problem fixed is at check-in. Once you accept an alternative, a partial refund is likely the best option and it’s not guaranteed. If it is late and a hotel truly is full, try to get as much information about the alternative hotel as you can and get any compensation offer in writing.
Regarding both overbooking and rate issues, never, ever, leave home without some sort of hotel confirmation either in an easily accessible email, or written on old-fashioned paper.