I checked in and then checked right out! So where is my refund?

Rhonda Arnold and her daughter were looking forward to a lovely weekend at the Jersey Shore. They didn’t expect luxury — but they also didn’t expect mold and filth in their motel room. Now they want a refund. Can we help?

This case highlights the importance of documenting everything when faced with unacceptable accommodations — especially if you have prepaid a nonrefundable rate to a third-party booking agent.

Arnold contacted us because she was having difficulty obtaining a refund for a “stay” at the Sunset Beach Hotel in Wildwood, N.J. She had booked the nonrefundable rate with Booking.com, but she and her daughter were unable to remain at the motel because of the condition of the room. She explains:

We walked into room 104D and were horrified at the conditions. It smelled awful and was filthy. I knew the hotels in this area were outdated and old so my expectations were not that high. I went to the front desk to see if there was another room. My daughter started looking at the room while I was there and found the bedspread underside was coated in MOLD! as well as the bottom portion of the bed. There was a big bug that crawled out also. The ceiling had black spots on it but we could not get up close to see if it was mold.

Arnold brought the front desk manager back to their room for his inspection. She says that he apologized and blamed the conditions of the room on the “new maid.” But he told her that the hotel was booked solid and there were no other rooms available.

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At that time, the hotel manager offered another option. He said that they had a partner hotel a few blocks away with an available room. Arnold and her daughter drove to the new hotel but found this room as undesirable as the room at The Sunset Hotel.

Because of a convention in town Arnold could find no alternative accommodations on her own. She informed the manager that they would not be staying and she asked that the owner call her at his earliest convenience.

Faced with no alternative, Arnold and her daughter drove the three hours back home.

When the owner did not reach out to Arnold after several days, she turned to Booking.com and requested a refund.

What happened next was quite strange. Arnold says that in response to Booking’s inquiry with the hotel, the owner reported that Arnold had a “very nice stay” and that she even “requested extra towels.”

Arnold was taken aback by this and wrote a strongly worded demand letter to the hotel. She told them,

“We have pictures of the room and the mold and unless I get a full refund I will be contacting the health department and the Better Business Bureau and whoever else to get this resolved.”

Taking photographic evidence of the deplorable conditions of the room was smart. However, subsequently losing that phone and those pictures was unfortunate. This left Arnold without the evidence that she needed to persuade Booking.com to give her a refund.

We contacted the hotel on her behalf, but the owner gave us the same silent treatment that he gave Arnold. Booking.com chose to believe the owner and declined a refund of the nonrefundable rate.

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While we could not help Arnold get a refund, there are lessons to be learned from this case. When using a third-party booking site to reserve a hotel, it is important to read the reviews of the hotel that you are considering. Cross referencing with other sites is important.

A quick search on the internet for this particular hotel would have revealed many unpleasant reviews and experiences from fellow travelers on TripAdvisor and Expedia.

Additionally, when using a third-party booking site, it is important to contact that company at the moment that you arrive at an unacceptable accommodation. Gather as much photographic evidence as possible and email it to the online travel agency right away.

In this case, Arnold’s primary mistake was not calling Booking.com immediately. When it became clear that she and her daughter could not stay at this hotel, she should have called Booking.com and documented her refusal to stay. Because of the lost photos and the owner’s disinterest in resolving this complaint, we must, regrettably, place this case in the Case Dismissed file.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • Rebecca

    I googled this hotel and the owners responded to every negative google review in an extremely snarky and accusatory manner. That’s about the biggest red flag there is to stay far, far away. These owners sound seriously unhinged.

    Direct quotes here from the owners:

    “Please do not slander our company name because you were negligent in making monetary decisions.”

    “If there were bedbugs on site anyone would promptly inform the staff of such and ask for a refund. It isn’t fair to our potential guests that after your full stay you decide to bring about these issues when they should have been addressed upon check-in if they were really true.”

    “We understand that mistakes do happen however it would behoove any staff member to ensure a quality stay of any guest….it is highly unlikely that any staff member would resist from cleaning a room here.”

    “Please do not slander our property because you did not have a spectacular time at Sunset Beach. Thank You”

    “We believe that everyone reserves their right to feel as if someone has been rude to them over the phone. However, it would be hard to determine if multiple family members were being treated as harshly as you felt you were.”

    “Hello, We apologize for the inconvenience however there have been issues with Orbitz that will not allow our Front Desk to process reservations. Therefore, the reservation had received push back. Orbitz unfortunately will not admit that it is their internal system that has been causing these problems. Again we apologize for this inconvenience”

    “Hello, you were greeted upon your arrival. Nobody in your party mentioned anything about any issues. Your wife even stopped by with her mother for a small discussion. Moving forward, please express any feelings of discomfort as soon as possible”

  • JewelEyed

    A lot of properties in Wildwood are, in fact, old and aren’t always in the best condition. In the future, renting a house for a week might be a better option. That’s a common option there and has been one since long before Airbnb. You also might have better luck in nearby Cape May, but expect to pay a pretty penny for it.

  • Alan Gore

    It’s the Jersey Shore. Isn’t a snootful of attitude supposed to be a big part of the experience?

  • PsyGuy

    Should of uploaded those photos to the cloud or backed them up on a computer. I’d contact my credit card and dispute the charges. Also call the health department, you don’t need photos to report them.

  • PsyGuy

    Very true.

  • Rebecca

    I think you’re right. I will freely admit the Jersey Shore is definitely not on my bucket list.

  • Rebecca

    Someone uploaded photos of mold right in the Google reviews.

  • greg watson

    I, also, booked a hotel in the UK through booking.com . Two hours after booking it, I realised that some info was not accurate, as to the hotels location to ‘major London attractions’. I contacted booking.com right away but they refused to allow me to change hotels or cancel the reservation. This was 8 months before our trip & both the Ruskin Arms & booking.com refused to make any changes. That’s the last time that I use booking.com or make a ‘non-cancellable’ reservation. Lesson learned !!

  • I have thirty past bookings and five upcoming bookings with booking.com and they provided excellent support both times that I needed them to intervene on my behalf. However, I always confirm the location, amenities and final price of the places that I book carefully before hitting the reserve button.

  • greg watson

    good for you………………I’m impressed !

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