If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Maria Telegdy’s photos from her recent stay at a Relax Inn would make for a disturbing novel. Since we don’t have space for a novel here, we’ll just have to summarize her case and share the images with you.
Telegdy’s case demonstrates the need to keep calm, even when you know that you’re being ripped off. And it’s yet another cautionary tale about nonrefundable, opaque hotel rates.
Telegdy used Hotwire’s “HotRate Deal” feature to book a seven-night trip this fall. The HotRate Deals require prepayment and don’t reveal your actual hotel until after you complete the booking. Hotwire describes HotRate deals as “amazing deals that, once purchased, cannot be cancelled, exchanged, refunded or changed.”
Telegdy selected a two-star hotel in the general neighborhood she wished to stay. She notes that the description of the unknown hotel said “Quality Inn or similar.” She then received notification that she would be staying at the Relax Inn of Augusta, Georgia.
When she arrived, Telegdy was less than impressed with its location in a seedy area with an adjacent adult bookstore.
After some initial confusion during check-in, where she says that she was told her room had been given away to a “long-term renter,” she became convinced that the hotel was being used as Section 8 temporary housing. This is the Federal government-sponsored housing program that provides vouchers to participants that they can use at housing facilities, including some motels, which will accept the voucher as payment.
Telegdy told us that she is familiar with this voucher program.
“In September, Hotwire sent me to a hotel in Phoenix that was used as Section 8, except that hotel was better maintained and had a separate wing for regular travelers,” she told our advocates.
Eventually, a manager arrived and confirmed that they did have a room for her. But when she checked in, she found it to be “deplorable” with “smashed bugs on dirty walls, peeling wallpaper, filthy vents and a disabled smoke detector.” (See images, above.)
Telegdy suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which can make it difficult to breathe, so when she smelled cigarette smoke coming from outside her room she knew that she would be unable to complete her stay.
Telegdy tells us that she slept with a scarf over her nose and mouth to avoid the smoke for the one night that she was forced to stay there. The next morning she informed the front desk staff that she would not be staying the additional six nights. Luckily, she had the forethought to take some pictures of her room before she left.
When Telegdy arrived home she called Hotwire to request a refund for the six nights that she did not stay. Hotwire referred her back to the nonrefundable terms of the HotRate Deals and rejected her request.
Telegdy then began her writing and calling campaign to Hotwire. Unfortunately, she used tactics that are rarely successful when approaching a company with a complaint. She admits that she was so incensed that she lost her temper and cursed at the customer service agent.
Her letters also reflected her anger and included many extraneous details; including her belief that some of the guests at this motel were “Section 8 residents.” She also threatened Hotwire that she would never be using them again. This threat typically backfires for the consumer, with the company losing interest in helping a lost customer.
When Telegdy’s complaint letters only resulted in Hotwire offering her a $25 travel voucher, she turned to us for help. In her words to us: “Adding insult to injury with that $25 voucher as I look at it, because it won’t cost them anything especially if I am never using them again. I have traveled the world and not even in the backwoods of Africa have I slept in a place as bad as this hotel.”
We reviewed her case and wrote a short, polite letter to Hotwire, including the photographs of the room.
These photographs show exposed lightbulbs, dirty walls and vents, falling draperies and the disabled smoke detector. We did not ask Hotwire about Telegdy’s assertions that the motel was being used for temporary Section 8 housing, because ultimately it does not matter. Every guest is entitled to a safe and clean living environment regardless of how they are making payment for their stay. One look at Telegdy’s photos makes it clear that this motel is not providing a clean or safe environment.
A working smoke detector is required in every motel room under Georgia Title 25 Code Section 25-2-40. By virtue of this information alone, we believe Telegdy was entitled to leave this motel early and receive a refund.
Hotwire agreed with us and completely refunded Telegdy for her stay. They also thanked us for the photos and concur that changes need to be made at this particular motel. But they noted that Telegdy should have called Hotwire as soon as she discovered that the motel was not acceptable, and they would have attempted to rectify the situation immediately.
The moral of this story: When troubles arise with a company, remember to be polite, concise and fact-based in your letter of complaint. You want to convince the company that they want to help you. Keep in mind the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”