A filthy hotel room and an unhinged hotel clerk conspire to ruin my vacation

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By | December 21st, 2016

All Sharon Moe wanted was a clean hotel room for her visit with her parents. All she got was filth and grief. How could a hotel have bad housekeeping, bad customer service, and bad follow-up all at the same time? And how can we help her walk away with a refund?

Question: I booked rooms at the Motel 6 in Prairie du Chien, Wis., through Hotels.com for me and my parents. When we arrived the parking lot smelled like marijuana, and when we got to the rooms we dropped our bags and went off to dinner.

When we returned, I switched on the lights and discovered toothpaste stains on the mirror, stains in the bathtub, and garbage on the floor. The furniture was falling apart and the chair had a huge stain on it. I went to pull back the comforter and there were stains and hairs in the bed. I also found a used earplug under the pillow.

We went to the front desk to tell the clerk that we did not want to stay there any longer. Apparently, the hotel doesn’t staff the desk after a certain time so I had to phone an employee. I told him what happened, and he rudely insisted that the housekeeper had cleaned the room. He added that we would not be able to get a refund, as he would not be able to sell those rooms for that night and would lose the income.

As we were packing up we saw the employee in the lobby. We talked to him and he agreed to a partial refund, but that we would have to contact Hotels.com to initiate the process. He said that Hotels.com would subsequently contact him, and he would tell them to give us a refund. We followed up the next morning, but when Hotels.com called the employee, he told them that the rooms were fine and that no refunds should be given. Hotels.com told us to contact the property ourselves if we had a problem with this. We called the hotel again, and the employee rudely yelled at us and said that no refund would be given.

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After two subsequent calls to Motel 6, all they would offer was a $100 voucher, which I would never use. I am looking for a refund of $290. Could you please help? — Sharon Moe, Excelsior, Minn.

Answer: I’m so sorry to hear that not only were you given an unacceptable room, but also that neither the hotel nor the website stood behind their product and offered you a refund. You were treated poorly, and surely there was something both parties could have done for you.

It’s always complicated when you book travel through a third-party website like Hotels.com, Expedia or Orbitz. Often, this creates accountability issues. It also might actually have been just as cost-effective to book your reservation directly through the hotel. Many hotel chains guarantee you’ll find the same price or lower on their website as you will on third-party websites.

It also wouldn’t hurt to read reviews written by people like yourself on websites like TripAdvisor.com. The property you booked has a rating of 1.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor.

In this case, Motel 6 should have provided you with a clean room, and, when you complained, the staff should have offered you a room swap or a refund.

Unfortunately, no satisfaction guarantee can be found on Motel 6’s website. There also isn’t a listing of terms and conditions. All that is provided is a toll-free number for help with reservations. That seems rather skimpy.

You could have found a link to the hotel chain’s executive offices and customer service contacts on our website.

Instead you reached out to us directly for help. We contacted Motel 6 on your behalf, and you were refunded for both rooms.

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  • MarkKelling

    I used to choose Motel 6 when I was younger and drove most places around the US I wanted to visit. I always found them clean, relatively quiet, and although very basic did provide a good night’s sleep. Most are franchises with the owners living on site and they really have no one to answer to. Unfortunately things changed with other motels improving and leaving Motel 6 in their dust. It has been at least 15 years since I last stayed at a Motel 6 and the last time I attempted to was scared away by the activities in the parking lot. This is one example of why the cheapest isn’t always the best option.

  • 42NYC

    To some extent i’d agree ‘you get what you pay for’ applies to a motel 6. Pot smoke in the parking lot, a dingy lobby, not the best and brightest employees, customer service akin to Spirit Airlines (aka we suck, but we’re cheap, so we dont care if youre crammed into your seat).

    That said, there are some basics to be expected when staying in a hotel. Clean sheets, no garbage laying around, a door that locks, functional heat/ac, etc…. and those should be provided regardless of the cost of the lodging.

  • Rebecca

    This is a $45/night hotel (I got that directly from the hotels.com website). I can’t imagine anyplace at that price would be somewhere you’d want to stay. Not that it isn’t gross, but what exactly were they expecting?

  • deemery

    Take photos of the room! There’s nothing like that when you’re engaging with the hotel, and particularly with corporate.

    I remember once staying in a Hilton (on a business trip) that wasn’t quite that bad, but was still in bad shape. I had just bought a DSLR and had it with me to experiment with, so I used it to document the problems with the hotel and mailed the photos to Hilton corporate.

  • AAGK

    The term Motel 6 is used to describe just the worst possible hotel on earth (see, Urban Dictionary). The OP seems to have mismatched expectations.

  • Patrica

    we’ve found Red Roof Inn to be very good with one exception. . Have not stayed at Motel 6 but have had relatives stay (at a higher price , much higher , than that…) i’ll post their “consequences’ for staying

  • Patrica

    My brother and sister in law stayed at one 7 years ago. Their credit card was “lifted” and used…My son stayed at one 3 years ago… he left and checked into another hotel because the constant “in and out” of the rooms, the pulling of cars in and out of the parking lot was disturbing. He ventured a guess that it was “escort” services but my mind says worse . These were both in Indiana. nuf sed.

  • Dutchess

    I don’t care what the price is, you shouldn’t be presented with soiled sheets, dirty room, and rude staff. “It’s Cheap” isn’t an excuse for unsanitary conditions.

  • Dutchess

    I’m a big advocate for do your research BEFORE booking but there’s never an excuse for a dirty hotel room, dirty bedding, and rude employees who lie.

    The weird thing is Motel 6’s website lists this place as “Newly Opened” it looks like they may have just renovated.

  • Bill___A

    Unfortunate. The last Motel 6 I stayed in was quite nice, actually. And new. I hope the OP had pictures, and Motel 6 corporate should punt the hotels that are bad.

  • Rebecca

    Not that I disagree, it’s unacceptable. But, personally, I would have seen it as a big red flag that 2 and 3 star hotels in the area are all priced more than double this property. The reviews are terrible.

  • Alan Gore

    The only time that we consider Motel 6 is when we’re headed for a downtown that has no reasonably priced alternatives, the property is newly renovated and it’s one of those times when we will be spending little time in the room. An example is the San Diego Downtown location.

    Motel 6 has a lot of grimy old properties in out-of-the-way locations, those being the ones you want to avoid.

  • Altosk

    Photos. Always take photos and upload them to Facebook and Twitter. Make them public and SHARE SHARE SHARE. Also, Reddit. Use Reddit. Many “real” news sites pick up their “viral story” of the week from Reddit.

  • Barthel

    Hookers and drug sellers. Some motels turn a blind eye to this.

  • Pat

    The reason it could be “newly opened” is because it used to be under a different hotel franchise and it did not met the standards required to keep the franchise. I number of the Holiday Inn Expresses (HIE) I stayed in during the 1990’s and 2000’s are now Quality Inn’s or Best Western’s. When I compare those old HIE to the current HIE, it is easy to know why they changed franchises.

  • Annie M

    I never stay at a motel without checking reviews first. There is a reason some rooms are cheap and there were sure enough warnings on Trip Advisor. Glad you were able to get a refund but in the future, check reviews before you put a penny on a hotel room.

  • Annie M

    just looked at the Trip Advisor ratings – apparently Sharon’s is the first review and there are two after hers. So is it possible there were no reviews when she booked?

  • JewelEyed

    The only reviews I see are either Sharon’s or after her stay on TripAdvisor. I’m not seeing any other reviews for this place. Did you?

  • cscasi

    Good idea. And, what were the results when you sent that to the Hilton Corporate?

  • William Leeper

    I generally stay at Motel 6. They are mostly clean, and generally comfortable. After all, all I am doing is sleeping there because when I travel I am going and doing until bedtime.

  • jerryatric

    Not just Motel 6! Staying @ Welk Resort in Escondido, Ca. Really dirty windows, Bathroom floor stained with urine or worse, missing towels & a really filthy convertible sofa. Call housekeeping & no one shows up.

  • deemery

    Underwhelming. But I didn’t pursue it with Hilton Corporate, I just sent them the photos and said, “I expect more from the Hilton brand.” As I recall, that hotel didn’t stay a Hilton very long after I was there.

  • Tim Mengelkoch

    Check the neighborhood first

  • joycexyz

    Perhaps the light is red?

  • PsyGuy

    I’d have disputed this with my bank card. I like hotels.com book a lot of nights with them espcially when overseas and tyraveling internationally. A 1.5 rating however is a sign of severe problems with a property.

  • PsyGuy

    Motel 6 is how all sadistic homicidal horror movies start.

  • LeeAnneClark

    While I agree that Motel 6’s tend to be low quality rooms, I disagree that their expectations were “mismatched”. Even the lowest prices hotel room needs to meet basic standards. Those standards include the room having been cleaned, and fresh sheets for each new guest, which apparently were not provided.

    The pot smell in the parking lot was immaterial – you expect a bad hotel to be in a bad neighborhood. But not cleaning the room or changing the sheets is a whole different ballgame. They had every right to expect a clean room and fresh sheets.

  • AAGK

    I may have been a snob here. Apparently this one was of very low quality while usually solid. Motel 6 needs some new branding :)

  • pauletteb

    The real horror is that they don’t have in-room coffeepots!

  • PsyGuy

    Would you really want to drink their coffee made in one of their coffee pots?

  • Carrie

    Had the same experience ten years ago at a Motel 6 in the midwest. Dirty room with burned lampshade and one gray towel in the bathroom. Plus it was a noisy room at the end of the hall with the exit door banging constantly and TV blaring in the next room. It took me about 3 seconds to realize this was a mistake.
    They would not move me to another room so I asked for my $33 dollars back (the only motel room I have ever paid cash for) and I was on my way.
    Not surprised that this Motel 6 was closed the next year. Now it’s just a vacant lot.

    Another topic for another time but what is going on that one Motel 6 differs so drastically from the next? Are they not working off the same set of room/motel standards? What are the expectations of Motel 6 corporate with their franchisees?