“We have been ripped off”

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By Christopher Elliott

Kate Silver didn’t stay at the Hotel Arlecchino in Venice earlier this year, even though she had a confirmation from her online travel agency. Instead, she and her husband, Howard, were “walked” to the Hotel Continental when the Arlecchino was oversold.

Here’s the Arlecchino’s site and here’s the Continental’s site. And I’ll save you the trouble of checking TripAdvisor: 89 percent like Arlecchino; 73 percent recommend the Continental.

So although they aren’t quite the same, they seem to be close enough.

But Silver isn’t happy with her agency, Hotels.com, because for her, the trip was an unqualified disaster.

Question is, how does an online travel agency address a problem like this after the guest has stayed in a hotel?

The Silvers had chosen the Arlecchino because it offered the facilities necessary for Howard Silver, who can’t walk because he suffers from Parkinson’s, a degenerative nervous system disorder. When the couple checked in, the staff informed them about the overbooking but assured them that the replacement hotel, as they were told, had four stars and was even better.

The staff assured them that the replacement hotel was even better

Obviously, that wasn’t true.

When I explained my husband could not walk there he called a water taxi which my husband could not climb into. I carried our bags to another spot that was lower and my husband was helped into the boat by strangers.

Arriving at the substitute hotel (Continental) we found it to have many stairs and no elevator. After much convincing, we were allowed to use the freight elevator. We were expected to tip for that.

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The room was musty and reeked of cigarette smoke, which I indicated to the bellman was not acceptable.

He gestured at us, pretending not to understand, and opened the window that had no screens and by the time we got back from dinner there were numerous small black flies stuck to the walls and furniture. During the night, they bit my husband. Four of those bites became infected and had to be treated three days later, leaving scars.

You get the idea. The visit only got worse, with a missed wake-up call the next morning, her husband taking a fall, missing a tour bus, and her discovery that she’d overpaid for her room. She’d paid $229 for two night at the Arlecchino, but a comparable stay at the Continental during the same time would have cost her $170.

I immediately called Hotels.com to inform them of the scam perpetrated on us by the two innkeepers in Venice in order to charge lots of money and pocket the rest, thinking they would want to know that they were representing such activity, and was disconnected each time I explained (even though they had my number and could have called back). I asked for a full refund.

I realize it is only $229, but that’s a lot of money to us and also it is the whole scam of the thing that makes it a matter of principle. How can we be totally unrepresented in this matter when it is so blatantly clear and supported by paperwork that we have been ripped off? I think they are hoping we give up and go away.

The question of accountability

I thought the Silvers had a reasonably good case. While their experience lacked in terms of service, the common practice when walking guests is to direct them to a superior hotel. The Silvers didn’t go to a better place.

Hotels.com turned the couple down. I contacted the company on their behalf. I’m not sure if a full refund would have been in order. I felt the Silver’s negative experience needed to be addressed.

A representative called Silver and explained that in the company’s view, the Arlecchino hadn’t broken its contract with Hotels.com when it walked them to the Continental.

I begged her to explain to me why they would take the word of the vendor when I had submitted proof that the vendor was telling lies to everyone about what happened.

She said the contracts department said nothing more can be done and they have considered this case closed. She told me that the contracts department does not speak directly to customers.

A call for accountability

Technically, Hotels.com may be correct. But this is a customer-service problem, so let’s dispense with the technicalities.

The Silvers couldn’t have known they were being sent to an inferior hotel. Unfortunately, they couldn’t know they needed to refuse the offer. To me, this is a clear case of a customer being walked down, or being sent to a cheaper hotel. (Related: The worst hotel ever? This traveler thinks he found it.)

Someone is probably making money from this. (Here’s how to find the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

I think Hotels.com could have done better. They could start with an apology, if not a partial refund. (Related: This “historic” stay was an epic disaster.)

Update (9 a.m.): Apparently, the couple’s credit card company agrees with me. Just received this from Kate Silver.

I just received a call from Amex and they are doing a full ‘charge back’ to Hotels.com on the bill and crediting my account. Perhaps the merchant can refute that action in the long run, but for now, it seems that we might have won this battle.

Thanks for all your help in anything that you did in the background to make my voice heard.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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