Hey Hotels.com, when were you planning to tell me I needed a visa?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Jane Torres books a hotel “near” Hong Kong International Airport, Hotels.com omits a key detail. She also needs a visa. Now what?

Question

On my recent trip to Southeast Asia I needed to spend the night in Hong Kong en route to Hanoi, Vietnam. I looked up hotels near the Hong Kong International Airport on Hotels.com and found the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai listed under the category “near Hong Kong International Airport.”

Before making the reservation, I called their customer service number to inquire if there was a shuttle from the airport to the hotel. The representative informed me that there was no shuttle, but that I could request a limousine pick up or just get a taxi when I arrive at the airport. Based on that information, I made the reservation.

When I arrived at the airport and tried to get a taxi to the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai, I was in for a shock.

I was told that the hotel was in China and that I would need a visa to enter China and that it takes about five days to get a visa. Obviously, I couldn’t get to the hotel so I had to get a last minute room at the nearest hotel, which cost me $327. Plus, I was still charged the $129 for the reservation at the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai.

I would like your help in getting Hotels.com to refund my room rate. — Jane Torres, Miami

Answer

The Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai’s isn’t “near” the airport. According the hotel’s website, it’s a 40-minute drive. Hilton also prominently discloses the visa requirement for American citizens.

When you called Hotels.com, a representative should have informed you about the distance and the visa issues with this hotel. Its solution to “just get a taxi” was lacking important detail.

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You turned to a place you believed to be a reliable source, but it wasn’t. In the end, however, finding the exact location of the property and your transportation options was your responsibility.

Here’s where a competent travel agent could have helped you. Agents are trained to know about any potential visa problems and they’ll find a hotel that’s close to the airport. (Related: When should you have reservations about your hotel reservations?)

And if there’s ever a dispute, a great agent can act as your advocate, securing a full refund for a hotel that didn’t live up to its billing. (Here’s how to get the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

I retraced your steps on the Hotels.com site after resolving this case. Disappointingly, there’s no mention of potential visa issues and the hotel is still listed as being near the airport. I guess distance is all relative, but how hard can it be to let guests know about the potential for paperwork problems?

I contacted Hotels.com on your behalf. In response, the hotel refunded the $129 for your missed hotel stay.

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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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