The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I’ve been ‘walked’ to a motel

Question: I made a reservation at a Fairfield Inn in Philadelphia earlier this year. I prepaid for two nights and received a confirmation.

The day before I left — six months after I made the reservation — I got an email from a manager at the Fairfield, saying that they were moving us to another hotel due to a “situation beyond our control.” It turns out there was a convention in town, and my room had been given to a platinum customer.

Fairfield promised to move me to a hotel with the same amenities. I was further told that a Fairfield Inn could cancel confirmed reservations any time in order to book platinum customers.

The motel they moved us to was inferior by any standards. No complimentary breakfast, no airport shuttle (we nearly missed our outgoing flight), farther from the airport, smell of paint as they were under construction, and no working phones in the room.

I have written to Marriott, which owns Fairfield Inn, and the Pennsylvania attorney general, as well as the manager of the property. I have only received an email thanking me for writing them.

I would like a refund of our stay at the hotel. Can you help? — Karen Johnson, Gering, Neb.

Answer: You were “walked” to another hotel, which is a fairly common practice in the hotel industry. Hotels sometimes accept more reservations than they can accommodate, anticipating that some guests will cancel. But on a busy weekend or holiday, when everyone shows up, a property has to turn guests away.
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“They know the squeaky wheel gets all of the attention”

Social media is making headlines in the travel world today, whether it’s my colleague Anita Potter’s wall-to-wall coverage of Cruisecriticgate, or my recent observations about the growing influence of travel bloggers. Both of these stories raise an interesting question: What happens when the travelers who wield new-media power are wrong?

I had to think about that after hearing from Ed Stumpf, a hotel industry veteran who now runs the Mohala Ke Ola B&B.

Spend a day at the front desk, and you will see legitimate complaints where people deserve compensation for the inconvenience they have suffered. Likewise, you will see scammers. They know the squeaky wheel gets all of the attention.

How do guests with bad intentions leverage social media to questionable ends?

In my bed and breakfast experience I can tell you how one squeaky wheel caused the cancellation of multiple reservations through her deceptive on line storytelling.

A guest wrote on line about having an unacceptable curfew at my home and being treated as a young child. She wrote with humor that made even me laugh. What she did not reveal in her story was how pushy she was right from the start. She entered the house, loved the place, spoke effusively about how great it was then demanded a discount because they had booked two rooms for three nights. Three nights is our minimum, but she was so pushy I actually gave in.

Each night they drank and smoke outside on the pool deck and became quite rowdy. They had been partying for a week to celebrate a family wedding. They invited outside guests over to party, and were totally inconsiderate of the other guests staying in the B&B.

They accused me of lying and said no one else was staying there. They didn’t like my explanation that we live in a residential area on a valley that echoes. They did not like the idea that we have a 10 p.m. quiet hour rule. Previously they had stayed at a beachfront vacation rental where they partied all night.

When these people checked out, the new in-laws who had stayed in the other room privately gave me a large tip and apologized for the rude behavior. Too bad the damage was already done. The party went home and wrote about their experience on TripAdvisor. I had more than a few bookings cancel over the review, and potential guests often quoted that review as the reason they chose not to stay here.

A look at TripAdvisor’s otherwise positive reviews of the property suggests this is the social media hit he’s talking about.

The empowerment for travelers quickly evolves into an emboldened tourist with a brazen attitude. For the hotelier or vendor involved there is no recourse when Web lies proliferate. Please let me know what recourse you suggest for the unjustly vilified vendor.

Interesting question. This is one of the problems with user-generated reviews. There’s no way of knowing who is behind them, or their motives for writing about a travel product. Even TripAdvisor, with its celebrated fraud-detection algorithm, can’t discern a reviewer’s motive.

One controversial solution is being tried by doctors, and it involves patients signing a pre-treatment waiver that essentially bars them from reviewing their physician online. A property can also hire a company like Reputation Defender to take down or bury unflattering information.

But I think Stumpf’s problem will go away — actually, has already gone away — on its own. By running a first-rate property, and getting good reviews which push the bad reviews down lower on the page, he’s essentially dealt with the issue without having to do anything.

Maybe there’s a lesson for all of us here: Don’t believe everything you read online.

Actually, don’t believe everything you read. Period.