“I never forgot how kind this hotel was to us”

Kimberly Palmer/Shutterstock
Kimberly Palmer/Shutterstock

I’m researching an article about hotel cancellation policies for the Washington Post, but one of the stories shared by a reader resonated with me so much that I just had to pass it along. It’s another heartwarming, almost too-good-to-be-true tale of customer service.

Last winter, Lauren Staley and her husband were driving from Colorado back to California, where they live. They’d planned to spend the night at the halfway point, in Elko, Nev. But they never made it.

“A huge snowstorm caught us unaware,” she remembers. “We ended up stopped on the Salt Flats [in Utah] for several hours due to an accident, and by the time we got moving again the sun had gone down and the roads were completely iced over.”

The hour was late and they still had almost 200 miles to their hotel, America’s Best Value Gold Country Inn & Casino.

“I called the hotel to let them know we weren’t going to make it and had fully expected them to charge us,” she says.

And with good reason: Its cancellation policy is crystal-clear. “If reservation [is] not cancelled by 6PM day of arrival and guest does not show then 1 night will be charged,” it says on the hotel’s website.

“But the desk agent not only cancelled our reservation without penalty,” says Staley. “But the agent also helped us to rebook a reservation at another hotel — not of their chain — very close to where we were stuck.”

“I never forgot how kind this hotel was to us,” she adds.

Staley is no stranger to the hospitality industry. She’s worked at the front desk for several hotels, and she understands it’s a business, not a charity, and that the policies are there for a reason. All of which makes America’s Best’s actions even more meaningful to her and her family.

The Staleys repaid that kindness by becoming repeat customers. “We made a point of staying with them and thanking them the next time we passed through,” she says.

What impressed me the most about her story — and the reason they’re this week’s recipient of the Elliott Award for Excellent Customer Service — is that the hotel didn’t have to do anything for the Staleys, but it did anyway. The folks at America’s Best didn’t have any Ritz-Carlton customer service training, they don’t have a stuffy employee manual that says they’re “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” — and yet they did the decent and right thing.

Next time I’m in Elko, I know where I’m staying.

Note: This feature is going on hiatus, but will return in a few weeks in a new format and in a new home. Please continue sending me your stories of excellent customer service. Here’s my email address.

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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  • earthlings3

    Hampton did this for us once also. We were on our way to Mesquite TX (stopover on way to funeral in AZ.) It was almost midnight and we were 2 hrs from there. Stopped at Hampton in Lindale and they called Mesquite for us, no problem cancelling, and had a room for us there. Wrote a letter to Hampton, got response from both corporate and both hotels thanking me for kind words and expressing that they wouldn’t have expected either hotel to do any less for us.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’m with you, Chris. There’s not enough money in the world to pay for customer service like this! They just got my business.

  • Lauren S.

    This was my story… I actually found a photo I took of the roads (this is I-80) well before it got *really* bad that afternoon and evening. I’m so glad the hotel got a nice write up, they deserve it!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Thank you, Lauren. Those are some seriously challenging road conditions!

  • GeoffDepew

    A few years ago I was going to visit a friend in Salt Lake City, UT. There was a problem with the reservation (something booked someone else in my seat, and the plane was full, so there was no way in hell I was getting on it), and basically I ended up not even leaving LaGuardia. I called my hotel – a Courtyard by Mariott – in Utah and explained the situation, and the reply was “Just a moment, sir.” I dreaded what was happening, and then came off hold:

    “Okay, sir, I cancelled just tonight, but you have the rest of your reservation still intact, and now I’m going to hand you over to our reservations department; they found a room for you close to the airport, and we’ll be honoring the price for tonight there.”

    And they did. Completely and totally. They even connected me to the local hotel’s transportation desk to get me picked up from the airport. That was service.

    (Also, the airline – Delta – got me on the first plane out they could, the 6 AM direct, so no changing planes in Chicago, and bumped me up to first class. I mailed them a thank-you letter.)

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    ABVI has been helpful to me in the past, too. I was driving from Texas to Florida to deliver my parents’ old minivan to my sister. Not even an hour into the trip, the van broke down, and I had to turn back and delay for a day to get it fixed. I had planned to stay at the ABVI in Marianna, Florida for the night, but obviously wasn’t going to make it now. I was past the 48-hour cancellation deadline, and fully expected to be charged (didn’t even bother asking for a waiver when I called), but they never did.

    ABVI isn’t the fanciest motel chain around, but after that, and some phenomenally friendly service I received at another ABVI in Las Cruces, NM, I make it a point to stay with them whenever I can. As an added bonus, they often offer the lowest price in town…

  • y_p_w

    Several hotels in the Lake Tahoe area will allow cancellation without penalty if the roads are closed. I don’t know if they make exceptions for being slowed down by bad weather though.

    Could unsafe driving conditions be considered Force Majeure?

  • Bettina

    And isn’t it this kind of service that keeps you coming back. And that is what makes it so valuable.

  • Nigel Appleby

    It’s great to hear these reports of good service. It restores my faith in the service industries. As a sidebar, a few years ago I came across a couple of hotels which had a special (lower) rate for stranded travellers when snow closed the highway or made driving extremely hazardous.

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    Waiving the cancellation policy under these circumstances was a smart business move by the hotel. Too bad more travel providers aren’t that smart.

  • TMMao

    Out here in Hawai’i Island with travelers flying in from all over the world, we try to waive the cxl charge if it’s due to travel delays. On the flipside, guests trying to fly home are affected by those same delayed/cxld flights so they may extend their stays.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve seen worse. US-50 coming from Lake Tahoe at night. Saw a RWD pickup truck trying to exit a parking lot with a slight incline up to the road and kept spinning the wheels. Saw a big SUV that plowed into a snowbank in the other direction. Almost complete whiteout conditions and I couldn’t even see any sign of pavement like in your photo. I could see tire tracks in the snow that went all over the map. This was just before they installed “rumble strips” on the shoulders and center line to indicate that you were drifting (as well as wake up drivers nodding off). Did I mention this was at night, where the glare off of headlights in both directions were sometimes blinding?

    My deal was that I had to get to work the next morning.

  • y_p_w

    My stay at a Hampton in Islemorada was automatically cancelled on me. Something about a hurricane coming through the Keys. I think it was appropriate. By the same token, the hotel I’d booked in Miami in two days honored the rate when I arrived early.

  • Carchar

    We had 2 rooms reserved for 7 nights at the Hotel de Suede in Paris. We did not do our homework, and when we got to Calais from Dover by ferry, we went to purchase train tickets to Paris. Little did we know, and little did a crowd of people, who had just gotten off the boat, know that the Calais to Paris trains do not run after early afternoon. We called the Hotel de Suede to tell them of our plight, totally our fault for not doing the research, and to ask them not to give our rooms away. We would arrive the following day around noon for the remaining 6 days. After a wonderful week in Paris, we checked out and saw that they had not charged us for the missed night.