Kicked out of my hotel on a holiday weekend

When a family of four doesn’t get the hotel room it reserves, mayhem ensues.

Question: We are a couple from Brazil who was visiting Florida with our two children over the holiday weekend. Our trip was great, until a dispute with the Hampton Inn & Suites Sanibel Gateway ruined everything.

The room was booked in advance and paid in full through Priceline. We had contacted the hotel prior to arrival to confirm that we would have two double beds, since we have two children, ages 2 and 4. The Director of Sales confirmed our accommodations, after having some trouble finding the reservation.

On the night of arrival, we walked up to the reception desk around 6:15 p.m. The employee on duty, Nicole, was working alone. She informed us that the hotel was overbooked and that she had booked another hotel for us for one night. The following night we would have to return to the Hampton Inn and stay there the second night.

Given that we were on vacation with two young children, we didn’t agree to that offer. We agreed to move to another hotel, but for two nights, not for one. We explained that we had plans during the day, and it would be very inconvenient to switch hotels.

The receptionist did not agree and became very rude and aggressive in tone. In her own words, she was “very frustrated” and had “no time to deal with this now,” adding, “I knew this would happen!” She told us we’d better accept what she had to offer, or leave. She would cancel our reservation in the Hampton Inn, and we could find a hotel on our own if we wanted to. We were “only a third party reservation” as she said, because our reservation was made through Priceline.

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We are hotel owners ourselves and have dealt with these situations in our 25 years in the business. We kept calm and asked to speak with the responsible manager or with the director of sales with whom we had contact before. Unfortunately, at that moment, she paid no attention to us anymore because she turned her attention to the pizza delivery guy, who came in to bring pizza for her dinner. She attended to him and brought her pizza into the back office. Only then did she come back to attend to us.

She refused to contact the Director of Sales as we requested. Instead, she called another manager and handed us the phone angrily. When my wife explained what we suggested to Nicole, the manager asked to be returned to Nicole. When she hung up, she immediately called the police, saying we were disturbing the peace. I told her that was very unprofessional because we wanted to solve the problem she created. She told us that there was no problem anymore because she canceled our reservation and she would no longer provide another hotel. Then she asked us to leave.

I was escorted out by a police officer in front of all guests, and after a conversation with the officer, I was handed a trespass warning.

After three hours of looking for a hotel in the area without any luck, we had only one option left. We called some friends in Coral Springs, on the east coast of Florida, and drove there. We crossed the Everglades at night with two small kids, driving 120 miles without a cell phone or Internet connection, and we stayed two nights with our friends.

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The worst of all is that the Hampton Inn chose to kick a family with two small children to the curb. It is outrageous. Hampton Inn has our contact details and could have notified us of the overbooking in advance. We did not cause any trouble, nor harm anyone. We did not scream or raise our voices. We did not insult anyone or call any names. We simply asked them to do the right thing. For that, we had to pay an absurd price. We want to be compensated fairly and honestly for all the troubles we had to go through. Our three-week vacation ended very badly, and our memories of Florida are quite negative. We did not get to visit the west coast of Florida as we had planned due to this incident. Can you help? — Sandrijn van Hoof, Maragogi, Brazil

Answer: We hate to hear that you were forced out of the hotel because of an overbooking situation. As you well know, this can happen during peak season, and hotels typically make efforts to accommodate confirmed guests in nearby hotels.

Given your family situation, it is understandable that you would seek to be accommodated for both nights at the alternate lodging. While reasonable, this is not always possible.

Unfortunately, the front desk employee, perhaps with consent from her manager, made an unwarranted call to the police. These desperate tactics are sometimes used to diffuse a situation, though of course the opposite effect is achieved, tipping the power imbalance in favor of the hotel.

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That was uncalled for, unprofessional and simply wrong. And yes, you should get an apology and compensation, or at a bare minimum, an explanation for this unsettling event, which would ruin anyone’s trip.

You started by writing to the Hampton Inn director of sales, who simply offered you 50,000 HHonors points, but no apology. As you aptly note, 50,000 points doesn’t even cover two nights in that same hotel during peak season.

You responded that you didn’t think Hampton Inn was taking this seriously, especially when you had not yet received a refund from Priceline.

That was the last you heard from the Hampton Inn.

When you spoke with Priceline, customer service shared some background on your booking. The agent told you that the price you paid was low for the property during peak season — but that should not have mattered. When you confirmed your accommodations with the Hampton Inn director of sales, it took him three days to locate your reservation. Not surprisingly, when the hotel was overbooked, you drew the short straw.

Our team contacted Priceline, which refunded your money and offered you a coupon for five percent off your next booking. That was dissatisfying, though, because you really sought acknowledgment from Hampton Inn that their employees treated you and your family poorly.

It’s a painful reality that a customer service situation gone bad could mar the entire state of Florida. The unsettling display by the front desk staff, tacitly approved by hotel management, only solidifies your impression that customer service is a foreign concept in America.

Is American hospitality a thing of the past?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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