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 I knew the hotels in this area were outdated and old so my expectations were not that high.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.

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.

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.

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