Smoked out of the Days Inn

no smokingQuestion: I have a concern that I tried addressing with a specific Days Inn and with Wyndham, which owns Days Inn, but have not received a response. I recently stayed at the Days Inn in Fernandina Beach, Fla. I made a reservation for a non-smoking room and was given a smoking room when I checked it.

I spoke with a manager, who told me he was sorry he couldn’t offer me a non-smoking room. The only rooms the hotel had left to sell were smoking rooms.

So, my question to Wyndham is: Is it their policy to accept a reservation for a non-smoking room when no such room exists? I wrote to Wyndham, but after several emails, it stopped answering.
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Hotwire drops Days Inn hotel after “crazy lady” incident

Gerald Besses did not have a good stay at the Days Inn in Point Richmond, Calif. To put it mildly.

His visit featured a confrontation with a “crazy” employee, a substandard room and a run-in with police topped off by an early and involuntary departure. His online travel agency, Hotwire, agreed to refund his room, but Besses wants more. He believes Hotwire should blacklist the property.

If nothing else, his account reinforces what readers of this blog already know: Some trips just can’t be saved. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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A canceled room, but no refund

Question: I recently made a reservation on the Days Inn Web site for six nights at the Days Inn Barnwell, SC. My American Express card was charged $415.

Because of a death in my family that required me to travel to Oklahoma to attend the funeral, I called Days Inn and requested that my reservation be canceled. I was informed that online reservations could not be canceled and that my credit card would be charged — the reason for the cancellation request notwithstanding.

I sent an email to the corporate office using the Web site’s “Contact Us” feature, requesting a review. My Amex card was charged a few days later, and I received a call from a Days Inn customer service agent shortly after that, who informed me that nothing could be done to reverse the charge. Can you help me get a refund? — Art Wallace, Miami Beach, Fla.

Answer: Days Inn should have given you a refund, or at least allowed you to apply your $415 credit toward a future stay. But its “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude just doesn’t work for me.
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Tied up in a chain: hotel denies transfer, pockets guest’s money

daysCharles McGovern clicked on the wrong Days Inn property when he booked a room to attend his grandson’s high school graduation in Richmond, Va. He assumed the hotel chain would transfer his reservation to the right hotel.

He assumed wrong.

Instead, the company kept his money for the first nonrefundable reservation and made him pay for a second stay, only a few miles away. Can Days Inn keep McGovern’s money?
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A hotel bait-and-switch — how a $29 rate became $180

I’ve taken a considerable amount of flak for pointing out the obvious fact that the rate you’re quoted when you’re booking a trip should be the price you actually pay. My industry critics foolishly insist that’s not how it works — not when you’re dealing with a “highly dynamic” pricing system.

I’m not going to debate the misguided airline apologists here, except to point out yet another obvious fact: Bait-and-switch isn’t limited to air fares.

Consider what happened when Stacey Blakemore booked a $29 suite at the Days Inn and Suites in Auburn, Ala., through Travelocity, but ended up being charged $180 a night.

When I arrived at the hotel, they informed me that the room had been canceled. First, the desk clerk tried to tell me that I canceled the room. When I assured her that I had not, she said Travelocity had canceled it. When I told her that I had contacted Travelocity recently to confirm the room and that I had a confirmation code from Travelocity, she finally admitted that the hotel had canceled my room per the owner’s request.

The owner simply did not want to honor the rate because it was a busy weekend and he or she felt that the hotel could rent the room for more. No one ever contacted me to warn me that my room had been canceled.

Blakemore phoned Travelocity, which tried to persuade the Days Inn to honor the original rate. The hotel refused. And there were no other hotel rooms available in town.

A hotel representative told me there were two rooms left, and that I could book either one of them for $180 per night. Each room had two double beds. So, instead of the suite for $28.99 per night, I was offered a room with two double beds for $180 per night. I felt I had no choice but to book the room.

Days Inn refused to refund the difference between the original rate and the new rate after Blakemore contacted it at the corporate level. What ensued, as far as I can tell, was a blame game — with Days Inn trying to fault Travelocity for the problems, and Travelocity unable to negotiate an acceptable settlement.

Blakemore, for her part, was furious.

I feel this was a bait-and-switch. The hotel advertised a rate of $28.99 on multiple Web sites. The hotel allowed the room to be booked. Then, just days before my scheduled arrival, the hotel canceled my reservation and no one notified me.

I contacted Travelocity, and it refunded the difference between the original rate and the new rate.

Lesson learned? Don’t just phone your online travel agent to confirm a hotel reservation. Call the hotel directly.

And one more thing: Airlines aren’t the only ones that play the bait-and-switch game.

“With all due respect, this is just getting silly”

It’s no secret that hotels are tightening their rules to lift faltering earnings. But how far will the lodging industry go to bring in more money?

If you said “too far” then you must have read Matt Holly’s mind. He ran into a problem with a Days Inn reservation earlier this week and nearly had to pay for two rooms.

After he made reservations on the Days Inn site for a stay next weekend, he was taken to “a strange dialog box” that mentioned a special offer.

I assumed this was a marketing ad to entice me to enroll in a program, so I ignored the ad and closed the page, expecting to receive a confirmation email. But I never got one.

I began to worry that maybe the reservation did not go through; maybe I was supposed to somehow respond to the “live chat” box?

So today, I checked my credit card statement online, and there was no charge. I attempted to log in to the “Retrieve a Reservation” portion of the Days Inn Web site with my name and credit card number, but it said there were no reservations on file for me.

So Holly made another reservation. And wouldn’t you know it, he ended up with two confirmed reservations — both nonrefundable. That’s when the fun began.

Holly wrote a brief, polite e-mail to Days Inn, describing what had happened. Here’s its response:

Thank you for contacting Days Inn Customer Care. Our records indicate a reservation was booked on October 10, 2008 for arrival October 17, 2008 and a second reservation was booked on October 13, 2008 for arrival on October 17, 2008. Both of these were booked with no refund allowed.

The rate you booked allows you to purchase discounted rooms at a non-refundable rate. This information is provided to the consumer at the time of booking. In addition, you cannot submit a reservation without checking a box stating “I understand by selecting this checkbox, I have read and accepted the terms and conditions on this page.”

These terms and condition specifically provide that “There will be no credit or refund for early departures, cancellations, no shows, or changes in your reservation for any reason. Guests will not receive any refund or credit”. Accordingly, you were advised of the fact that this reservation was non-refundable and there was a no cancellation policy prior to purchase.

Nice form letter.

Here’s how he replied:

With all due respect, this is just getting silly. I have no problem with the Days Inn non-refundable policy as long as it works as it is supposed to. The nonrefundable policy is in place to offer cheaper rates to customers – this I totally understand.

However, the problem here is not a customer trying to weasel out of your policy – the problem is that a customer did not receive confirmation of their hotel room and a customer was not able to access his reservation online and was instead told “We could not locate your reservation.”

I do not understand why the Days Inn refuses to assist a customer that was a victim of their own technological glitch.

To its credit, someone from Days Inn actually read Holly’s letter and answered.

Thank you for your comments. We have been in contact with the property and have been given permission to cancel your reservation. I apologize for what you experienced and for any inconvenience this has caused you.

Holly was correct to be persistent, and Days Inn did the right thing by actually reading his response. But I wonder what this says about how hotels are handling cancellations and enforcing other rules? The better certain rules are enforced, the more money a hotel makes. But that approach can also alienate customers.

Is it worth it? Looks as if the hotel industry is testing its limits.

Double-booked at the Days Inn

Question: I’m disappointed with Days Inn’s “no cancellation” policy reply and frustrated by its indifference to my predicament. I hope you can help me.

I’m visiting the United States next week, and I made two separate hotel reservations. The first was for a night at a Days Inn in Bakersfield, Calif., and the second was for a night at a Days Inn in Williams, Ariz.

Instead of generating a reservation for each property, the hotel’s Web site gave me two confirmations in Bakersfield. Since Days Inn has a “no cancellation” policy, my credit card was charged and I couldn’t get my money back.

I’ve e-mailed Days Inn, since I feel I’m a victim of its bad online system. I want a refund on the second reservation. It refuses to help. I think Days Inn should be more understanding, don’t you? — Chan Hoe Yip, Singapore

Answer: No question about it, Days Inn should have a little heart — especially if this was a Web site glitch.

The Days Inn Web site can be confusing. I tried to book a room at the Bakersfield property and wandered through multiple screens in search of information about refunds. Instead of saying up front whether a particular room was nonrefundable, it presented me with a boilerplate notice that “any required deposit or pre-payment will be charged to (my) card immediately.” Its terms and conditions were equally vague.

I don’t know if Days Inn is trying to pull a fast one — I’ll leave that for you to decide — but I find its online reservations system to be problematic in many ways. For example, it doesn’t include an estimate of the total price, instead offering a deceptively low “base rate” and warning that, “local surcharges or service charges are not included in the total room rate.” You don’t get to actually see that information until you type in your credit card information. Nor do you find out if the room is refundable until then, as far as I can tell.

Also, Days Inn pre-checks boxes that sign you up for “special offers” from the hotel chain and promotional offers from its partners. That kind of pre-checking — assuming that you are interested in getting the company’s junk mail and depending on you to uncheck the boxes if you aren’t — is generally frowned upon by the online community.

I asked Days Inn to take a look at your reservation. It determined that you had made a mistake when you booked your rooms. While that may be true, I think the Days Inn site has what designers might call “usability” issues that make these errors easy to commit. I think it should refund your second room.

If you ever run into this problem again, don’t just e-mail the hotel chain. Try sending a message directly to the hotel (email addresses are listed on the Days Inn site). Work the phones, too. Applying pressure from all sides is perhaps the most effective way of getting your money back quickly.

Days Inn recommended that next time, you book your room using its toll-free number, which, given the fact that you live in Singapore, might not be practical advice. Even though it believes you erred, a representative from Days Inn corporate contacted the management of the independently owned and operated Days Inn property in Bakersfield, which agreed to issue credit for the room.