Guests who want it all and the hotels that pander to them

By | December 25th, 2012

From time to time, I get an email from one of you that makes me want to say, “That’s ridiculous!”

The one I received from a guest at a budget motel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of them. Problem is, I can’t figure out who is being more ridiculous — the hotel or the guest.

As this column makes its curtain call, I’ve critiqued air travelers, car renters and cruise passengers. But this week it’s time to talk about hotel guests.

Specifically, the person booking the room at the bargain hotel in South Florida. In addition to expecting all the creature comforts of an American hotel, and getting the benefit of a super-low rate, they were upset when they found a $4.50 per night “hotel shuttle/parking service fee.”

“The hotel home page very prominently boasts — in red print — that it has a free shuttle service,” she says. “And in the list of hotel services, it offers free parking.”

Here’s the thing — when you pay $49 a night for a room, you should expect them to nickel and dime you, if not bend the truth. The fact that you can even get a room in South Florida for next to nothing is such a fantasy, it might as well be a scam. Why? Because you will pay much more, once everything’s added to your folio. (And just to be clear up front — that’s no excuse for making a bogus offer. None whatsoever.)

The griping guest didn’t see it that way. “The fee really makes me angry,” she told me. “It’s sneaky and dishonest at best and just because ‘every other hotel does it’ doesn’t make if fair.”

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So she called the hotel to complain. She was connected to a hotel manager named “Izzy,” who berated her for raising the issue.

“He called us cheapskates for even questioning the fee,” she says. “He became very defensive, and refused to answer our questions about the fee.”

OK, time out!

Both the hotel and the guest are wrong. The hotel is running a bait-and-switch, offering a low rate and “free” shuttle (which is “free” after you’ve paid a $4.50 a night fee for it) and the guest is wrong because she thought something that looked too good to be true wasn’t.

As a consumer advocate, I’m obliged to take the guest’s side in this dispute. But as a practical matter, I’m annoyed by this silly tango between cheap hotels and their miserly guests. The motels dangle a ridiculously low price, promising guests the world. The guests expect to be staying at the Marriott. They act shocked when they are not.

The problem isn’t limited to fees. Hotel guests give up the right to choose their hotel in exchange for saving a few bucks when they book through an “opaque” travel site, and then have the audacity to complain about the result. What did they expect, a room at the Four Seasons? After mediating enough conflicts between guests and hotels, I’m convinced that the answer sometimes is: yes, they do.

Here’s what you need to know: The average nightly room rate is somewhere around $100, according to Smith Travel Research, give or take a few bucks. If someone is offering you a room that’s well below that, they will almost certainly try to make up for it with a fee, surcharge, or substandard service. If you pay more, you can reasonably expect more.

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Sometimes, I really want to reach through the Internet and grab my readers by the lapels and say, “What did you expect for $39 a night? The Taj Mahal?”

To be clear, I think hotel guests have every right to live in their fantasy land; hotels, on the other hand, shouldn’t be able to represent their rooms as being cheaper than they really are. That’s why I support tough rules that ensure the hotel room rate you’re quoted is “all in.” Mandatory resort fees are a special kind of evil that must be stamped out.

But just because you can live in a bubble doesn’t mean you should. Get with the program, people. Stop expecting the world from a business and then feigning outrage when you don’t get it.

You know better. Or at least, you should know better.

Who has more unrealistic expectations?

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This is my next-to-last Tuesday column. I’m saying good-bye next week and on Jan. 8, a new feature will debut in its place. Thanks for the memories, and happy holidays! (Note: This blog will still be published every day by yours truly.)

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