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

visa, paperwork, document, travel, expiration, date, passport, renewal, immigration

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.”

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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.

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.

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. (A good place to start is the “Find an ASTA Travel Agent” feature at the American Society of Travel Agents site, http://www.asta.org/travelagent.cfm).

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.

This article was originally published April 15, 2015.