All Melvin Miller wanted was a hotel room with two beds. And that’s exactly what he thought he had when he made a reservation at the Ramada Cumberland Downtown in Cumberland, Md., through Booking.com. “Should a “double” room have two beds? Not at the Ramada”
Half a star may not sound like much to the average hotel guest, particularly when there are no nationally-recognized hotel rating standards in the United States. But it means the world to Sandi Tanner, who is planning her 20th wedding anniversary in New Orleans.
Hotwire offered her a pre-paid, nonrefundable room at The Inn on Bourbon, which TripAdvisor gives three stars and AAA rates as three-diamond. Even Hotwire gives it a three-star rating at the time of her booking.
Just one problem: She paid for a 3.5-star room.
Now, before you say, “What’s half a star among friends?” consider what fudging half a star rating can mean to a business. Putting guests in slightly cheaper hotels can translate into millions of dollars of additional revenue per year. It’s like skimming a little off the top. It adds up.
Tanner, though disappointed, at first did what the average hotel guest would do: she went along with it.
“I would take the hotel,” she told me. “But it won’t work with me. The woman I spoke with had a very uncaring attitude even when I explained the situation. On the hotel’s own website they are still offering non-smoking king rooms, but according to her they are out of them. How is this possible?”
A downgraded hotel, forced to stay in a smoking room for her 20th anniversary. There’s got to be a better way, right?
“Can this trip be saved? Cheated by half a star on my New Orleans hotel”
Question: I recently reserved a room at the Ramada Charleston in Charleston, S.C., through Hotels.com. When I checked in, I was told there was no Internet in the rooms despite what the Hotels.com Web page said.
I explained that I needed Internet access and that the Ramada would not do. I called Hotels.com from the Ramada lobby and the Hotels.com representative, whose English language skills were poor, confirmed with Ramada that there was no Internet and canceled my reservation.
I then went across the street to the Red Roof Inn, confirmed they had Internet in their rooms, and called Hotels.com back to book it instead. This time the phone representative (whose English was even worse) told me my credit card was declined. This was because she couldn’t understand me and input the wrong number.
Finally, I had to book the room with the front desk of the Red Roof Inn using the same credit card that the Hotels.com agent said was declined and the same credit card I used for the initial Ramada reservation. I lost four nights of Welcome Rewards and about 35 minutes on my cell phone.
I think, at the least, my four nights of welcome rewards should be reinstated. But Hotels.com refused, instead offering me $50 worth of “Hotel Bucks.” They promised them within four to six weeks, but it’s been five months, and there’s no sign of them. Anything you can do to help would be appreciated. — Michael Rosenthal, Miami
Answer: Your room should have had an Internet connection, as promised. I can understand how some hotels might think of a wireless high-speed network as an amenity, like a TV or a hair dryer, but if you’re traveling on business, it’s a necessity.
I reviewed the Hotels.com listing of the Ramada Charleston several weeks after working on this case, and I saw that the hotel still claims to offer “high-speed Internet access” on site.
“Hey Hotels.com, what happened to my Internet connection?”
Question: I made a huge error when I was making a reservation through Ramada Inn’s Web site, and I need your help fixing it.
I was traveling for business to a military base in Enid, Okla. I had just booked my flight reservations to Oklahoma City, which is the closest airport.
I knew that I wanted to stay at a Ramada Inn, but when I searched for the property, I accidentally typed the airport code for Oklahoma City — OKC — and ended up reserving a nonrefundable room near the airport, which is 1-1/2 hours away from the base.
After I got the confirmation, I noticed what I had done. So I called the hotel to correct the error. I told them I needed to stay at their hotel in Enid, not Oklahoma City.
They told me I could not cancel this prepaid reservation because it was some kind of cheap, online, nonrefundable rate. I was transferred to the customer service department, but they told me they couldn’t do anything either. Am I stuck with this room? — Donald Johnson, San Antonio, Texas
Answer: In a word, yes. You clicked on the hotel’s Web site and booked a nonrefundable room. Rules are rules.
But that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. I think you had a reasonably good case for asking Ramada to at least transfer your reservation — with any applicable rate difference — to the Enid property. But calling the company isn’t the best way to get its attention.
A brief, polite e-mail is far more effective. I would start by sending a note through its online form. Here’s the link.
If that doesn’t work, try a written appeal to the general manager of the Ramada in Oklahoma City. It’s pretty easy to find the manager’s address, either by calling the hotel or by running a quick online search. (Here’s a tip: most addresses at Ramada follow the convention of firstname.lastname(at)wyndhamworldwide.com).
Why not a phone call? Because the written word is easier to track and harder to ignore.
I tried to duplicate your erroneous reservation, and I couldn’t. In order to book a nonrefundable rate at the Oklahoma City airport property, you would have had to gloss over the hotel names and locations and ignore important rate information. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you might have been in a real hurry when you made your reservation.
At the same time, I think Ramada’s site could stand to be a little clearer when it comes to its rate restrictions. I pulled up several quotes, and I was never entirely sure if the rate was refundable or not. To be fair, I didn’t follow the booking through until the end, because I didn’t want to end up like you — stuck with a room that I didn’t want.
But my point is, I think the site can be improved. That, plus your willingness to make a booking at the Enid property, should have given you a relatively strong case. I think a written request would have done the trick.
Next time, either slow down when you’re booking a hotel or use a travel agent. A qualified travel counselor knows the difference between Oklahoma City and Enid, and can make sure you’re staying at the right hotel for the right price.
I contacted Ramada Inn on your behalf and it refunded your first reservation.
The customer isn’t always right.
That’s the message from a Ramada hotel employee who read my recent recommendations about how to complain more effectively. So what’s going on behind the scenes when a complaint comes in? And is it true that Ramada has a quota for customer grievances?
I asked, and my Ramada insider answered. Here’s the full interview.
Q: What’s the fastest way to get a complaint resolved at a Ramada hotel?
Ramada Insider: Don’t complain. Just kidding.
Seriously, the fastest way to get a complaint resolved is to talk about the situation to a worker on the property and seeing what can be done to resolve it. Usually, that ends up in some form of compensation. That’s all that will satisfy some people.
Q: When someone complains about your property, what’s happening behind the scenes?
Ramada Insider: If a call comes in, we will try and get the guest to talk to a manager or manager on duty to see if anything can be done at that time. If a manager is not available, they can leave a message so that he or she can call back. We listen to the complaint and apologize for any deficiency in their stay and assure them that the matter will be looked into — and we always mean that.
Sometimes a guest is satisfied there, other times they want some form of compensation from either 10 percent off [that we guarantee] to a full nights stay off, and sometimes a full stay free. That just happened.
Q: What if it comes through corporate?
Ramada Insider: Corporate will briefly sum it all up and fax it to us, where it is reviewed. A manager can call, write or email the guest and all of the above happens. It usually takes much longer on this level as well as a lot more effort to resolve.
Q: Can you describe the relationship between your corporate parent and the hotel when it comes to complaints?
Ramada Insider: The customer is always right. That’s corporate Ramada’s belief. It doesn’t always work for us.
Q: I’ve heard that franchises have a quota for complaints. How does that work?
Ramada Insider: That’s true. The number is determined by how many rooms were sold in the previous year (at least for Ramada hotels…shhhh). I don’t know our number, but once it’s over the number the hotel is charged for just processing the complaint — whether it is legit or not.
Q: Does it matter if the complaint is filed by email or phone? Sent to you directly or to the corporate office?
Ramada Insider: We recommend calling the hotel first trying to get it settled because the hotel is where the problem occurred, and that is where the problem needs to be fixed. Calling or e-mailing both work equally as well.
Calling corporate makes us scared most of the time that the guest is extremely upset and we’re upset that they didn’t call the hotel first because usually it’s just minor.
Q: How about contacting a manager?
Ramada Insider: This usually works fine. Freaking out and yelling from the guest usually will end up in a big argument. Put it this way: Would you want to help anyone who’s treating you badly? Not really. Let us take notice of your problem with the hotel and we will find the best way possible to help you out. We want our guests to return. We really do.
Q: Do managers ever de-escalate a complaint — in other words, if I have the email of your manager and send it to him or her directly, how often would the complaint get kicked back to the customer service folks?
Ramada Insider: Other hotels have specific departments (i.e. customer service, front desk, reservations, etc). However, at our hotel it’s just front desk and management. Basically, if a complaint comes in, the manager will try to take care of it, but if he or she is unable to tend to it at some time, then one of us will try and take care of it. We all try our best for guest satisfaction.
Q: What do you think should hotel guests know about the inner workings of complaints, and the relationship between a hotel franchise and hotel chain, that would make them more effective at filing a
Ramada Insider: A guest should file a complaint and word it in a way where he or she is actually concerned about the hotel’s problem instead of just wanting us to fix that one experience. It makes the guest seem self-centered and extremely picky. Also, avoid listing out problems, like a laundry list.
Q: Do you think the system is fair? If not, how should it be changed?
Ramada Insider: I personally don’t think the system is fair because guests have taken advantage of it. The customer is not always right.
I’m not joking when I say that a guest was complaining so much about a small crack in the tile that we gave the guest 10 percent off. Corporate offices need to understand that some people here cannot be made happy, no matter what happens.
Guests can try to see a hotel from our point of view. Imagine us, normal people like yourself, working here trying to make your vacation better. That’s what a hotel is all about. We will help guests in any way we can — however, it would help if some guests put themselves in our position as well.
Complaints take so much time for the guest and the hotel itself to settle through corporate. Calling the hotel and talking to, not yelling at, a manager – writing works too – can get your situation resolved and respect will be earned on both sides. Some people just need to vent, that’s all.