An uncomfortable night at the Comfort Suites

1-hospital bedHow do you say “I’m sorry” for a really bad hotel stay?

That probably depends on how bad “bad” is, right? Well, here’s what happened when Tracy Hart checked into a Comfort Inn in Fairfield, NJ, recently.

Before I get to her story, I should probably say that she’s one of the hotel chain’s better customers. She carries a Choice Privileges credit card and “often” stays in its hotels when traveling on business or driving from Pennsylvania to Florida, where she has a vacation home. In other words, she knows this hotel chain really well.

She redeemed 16,000 award points for a night at the Comfort Inn, which seemed like the best place to stay because she had plans to be in New York until 11 p.m., on a recent evening. When she checked in, she was shocked by what she found.

“Wow,” she says. “I don’t know how this particular hotel manages to have the Comfort Inn name out front.”

The hotel was located in an iffy neighborhood, right next to a large “Adult Emporium” store.

The entryway was dirty linoleum tile, the whole place was shabby, the room didn’t seem clean, didn’t look like anyone had vacuumed. The sheets were limp.

Pretty yuck, but what were we going to do at this time of night? I asked to see another room, which they reluctantly let me do, but it was worse: there was a burn mark on the bedspread and just as shabby and dirty.

That’s not what she expected, nor is it what she should have expected. Comfort Inn bills itself as the exact opposite. From its website:

From the moment you arrive at Comfort Inn hotels, we want you to relax and feel at home. We offer a warm atmosphere and helpful service. You’ll restore yourself in our clean cozy rooms and you can stay connected with free high-speed internet access.

In the morning, you’ll enjoy the complimentary new Your Morning Breakfast with lots of options and hot items as well as a free newspaper. It all helps you start your day feeling renewed.

I’ll let Hart continue.

So we went to bed. At 9:30 the next morning, we were just waking up, and someone started to bang on the door.

We said “Hey we’re in here! Go away!” or something like that. The banging continued and then a key card was put into the slot and the door opened.

We could hear a man’s voice. Luckily, the chain was on the door. He rattled the door and the chain, but it held. I called the front desk; they weakly apologized.

I should have called the police, but it didn’t occur to me at that time.

She contacted me to find out how to handle the stay. Although I might have said something before checking out, I can understand why she would just want to leave as soon as possible. I suggested that she send a brief email to Choice Hotels, explaining her disappointment (and, of course, carefully vetting any future Choice stays).

She did. Here’s what happened.

Choice Privileges apologized and told me that in fact they are investigating that particular Comfort Inn location. They also gave me 8,000 points in my account.

I got the impression that they really don’t want to have hotel properties that don’t measure up to their brand image. This was the first bad experience I have ever had with the brand, and told them that. I am just glad we put the chain on the door.

Is that enough of an apology? Hart says she’s OK with getting half her points back, and I’m happy with the Choice promise to investigate this particular property. It looks squeaky clean from the outside. The user-generated reviews? Not so much.

Just for once, I’d like to see one of these properties lose its flag in response to a consumer complaint. In the meantime, what do you make of Choice’s response?

Did Choice Hotels offer Tracy Hart enough compensation?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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