But no one told me the pool was closed!

Question: I thought I would try to see if you could resolve a problem we had with Hotels.com. My husband searched for hotels in the Wisconsin Dells with indoor water parks. My son, who is in college, was bringing home his other ROTC cadets to see Chicago and go to the Dells during their spring break.

My husband found the Polynesian Water Park Resort and called what he thought was their number. He didn’t know he had been redirected to Hotels.com and booked the room.

When my son arrived in the Dells, they checked in and went to the desk to get information about the water park. This was midweek and it seems the water park is only open on the weekends during the off-season. They went to the pool area and it was closed.

My son and his friends checked out and went to another hotel with an open water park. I called the hotel to see if they would refund their money, and I offered to pay a cleaning fee since they changed in the room.

The Polynesian refused and said if we had booked directly with them, we would have known the park was closed. The problem was, until my husband paid for the hotel on the phone and got email confirmation, he did not know he was on a third-party site. I called Hotels.com and it agreed to pull up the recording of our call, and if indeed they did not tell us the park was closed, they would refund our money. But they haven’t. I’ve called Hotels.com six times and am about to give up. Can you help? — Renee Fasanella, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Answer: When an amenity like a hotel pool or exercise room is closed, that’s usually not a reason to check out of a hotel and ask for a refund. But for the Polynesian, I’m willing to make an exception. The water park is a central part of this property. Take the waterslides and pools away, and it’s not the same experience. Not by a long shot.

Complicating matters is the fact that you were connected to Hotels.com when your husband phoned what he thought was the Polynesian. The representative he spoke with should have clearly identified himself or herself as being with Hotels.com when he called.

I think your husband could have done some additional due diligence. Did he ask the representative if the pool was open midweek, or did he assume it would be? A look at the Polynesian’s website would have shown that some of its water facilities are only open during the summer, while others are only open on weekends. The information was only a few clicks away.

None of that changes the fact that if he’d called the hotel, they might have said something about the pool closures, and particularly if he’d mentioned the reservation was for a few ROTC cadets on spring break. I think Hotels.com should have pulled up its call transcripts and listened to the transaction when you contacted it, as promised. Instead, it apparently did nothing.

I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf, and got more or less the same response. A month later, I asked again, and this time it responded, refunding the $167 your son spent on his accommodations.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • ChBot

    How can you research a property on the web, find a phone number to call and not realise you’re talking to an agency is kind of a mistery ?!!

  • EdB

    What’s so mysterious about it (I’m assuming that you meant mystery)? If the person answer the phone does not identify them self as a 3rd party or the website doesn’t list the booking as going through a 3rd party, how are you suppose to know?

    I got hit by this same thing once with a specialty hotel. Found the room on the hotels website and called to book. They even answered the phone with ” reservations”. It wasn’t until after I got the email confirmation that I realized it was a 3rd party because they tacked a 15% booking fee on it, something that was never mentioned. Of course I called back to cancel but it was a no cancellation booking. I turned it over to the credit card company and was able to get my money back though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree with Chris. The lack of an amenity is not a reason to cancel a nonrefundable reservation. However, under some circumstances a pool is not merely an amenity. If water is central to the hotel’s identity or marketing then it’s part of the experience and is integral to the reservation.

    That’s akin to going to a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and being told, after the fact, that the casino is closed.

  • SoBeSparky

    If you are not concentrating, and someone answers the call, “Hotels reservations, how may I help you?” you might skip to the assumption you reached the specific hotel’s reservation line. OTOH, if they answered, “Hotels.com, how may I help you?” then that is a different situation. Amazing how a two syllables (dot + com) can change the assumptions in that context.

    Some independent hotels have network reservation services handle their advance reservations. You can always ask, “Am I talking to the hotel’s location?” In any case, a resort always should post a prominent notice when the main “feature” is closed, especially for telephone reservationists. This should have been on line as well in the reservationist’s property file.

    Note: What is the hotel’s main “feature?” It is what is in the name of the property, in this case, “Water Park Resort.” Some places have the word, “beach” in the name, and there should be an adjacent beach open for use by hotel guests.

  • Andrew F

    Yep, that happened to me once as well, although I realized I was talking to a 3rd party mid-way during the call. They certainly didn’t volunteer that information. The number was listed next to the hotel name on the list of accommodations of a popular skiing site.

    I would’ve gotten burned too if I weren’t paranoid after reading Chris’s column. I made the reservation, but I also sent an e-mail directly to the hotel to confirm it. The owner replied that she won’t open that season due to a family emergency. Classic.

  • Daddydo

    I am glad that you were able to get a refund, but I would have never butted in this time. Renee’s husband messed up. I just called the hotel –
    1-888-703-4522 and found it on the first search. Why should Hotels.com be held responsible for his error? Customer’s complaining over their own errors may be the worse reason to arbitrate.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Rather than clicking the “down vote” (which I reserve for trolls), I’m going to offer my reason for disagreeing with you. Mr. Fasanella may have found the Polynesian Water Park Resort via some 3rd party search engine, saw the phone number posted on that site and called it, not knowing the call was going to a vendor rather than the hotel itself. Mrs. Fasanella didn’t say her husband *hadn’t* made a mistake; she just wanted help with a promise Hotels.com made when she originally called to ask about a refund. I think Chris made a difference in the Fasanella’s lives, however small, and they – and readers of his column – have learned what to look for in making their own reservations in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    The entire calling the hotel or hotels.com is a red herring and totally irrelevant. The hotel allowed hotels.com to sell its inventory so it is disengenious of them to complain that the room was booked through hotels.com. The hotel should have made sure that its agent, hotels.com, was aware of the situation.
    The important aspect is that the reservation was made through an authorized channel and a major component was not disclosed.

  • BobChi

    And if “airport” is in the name, they need to be close to the airport or offer a shuttle service.

  • jim6555

    How can you post something on this site without using a spell checking program. It’s the same principal. You didn’t realize that you made a spelling mistake. Mr. Fasanella didn’t realize that he was dealing with a third party vendor with policies that make it extremely difficult to get a refund if the hotel guest is not satisfied.

  • Stephen

    Very clever – a message mentioning a spell checker with a spelling mistake – well, clever or ironic :) (principal vs principle, in case you don’t see the irony)

  • exploringme

    So sad to hear baout it. I wonder whats the real reason behind it.
    Chris Cipriano Pools NJ