If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Maria Telegdy’s photos from her recent stay at a Relax Inn, which she says is used as Section 8 housing, would make for a disturbing novel. Since we don’t have space for a novel here, we’ll just have to summarize her case and share the images with you.
Telegdy’s case demonstrates the need to keep calm, even when you know that you’re being ripped off. And it’s yet another cautionary tale about nonrefundable, opaque hotel rates.
Telegdy used Hotwire’s “HotRate Deal” feature to book a seven-night trip. The HotRate Deals require prepayment and don’t reveal your actual hotel until after you complete the booking. Hotwire describes HotRate deals as “amazing deals that, once purchased, cannot be canceled, exchanged, refunded or changed.”
Selecting a two-star hotel
Telegdy chose a two-star hotel in the general neighborhood she wished to stay. She notes that the description of the unknown hotel said “Quality Inn or similar.” She then received notification that she would be staying at the Relax Inn of Augusta, Georgia.
When she arrived, Telegdy was less than impressed with its location in a seedy area with an adjacent adult bookstore.
After some initial confusion during check-in, Telegedy says that the desk clerk explained that her room had been given away to a “long-term renter.” She then assumed that the hotel was being used as Section 8 temporary housing. This is the Federal government-sponsored housing program that provides vouchers to participants that they can use at housing facilities, including some motels, which will accept the voucher as payment.
A Section 8 hotel?
Telegdy told us that she is familiar with this voucher program.
“In September, Hotwire sent me to a hotel in Phoenix. That hotel accepted Section 8 vouchers. I didn’t mind,” she recalled. “That hotel maintained itself better and had a separate wing for regular travelers. Things were quite different at this Relax Inn.”
A “deplorable” hotel
Eventually, a manager arrived and confirmed that they did have a room for her. But when she checked in, she found it “deplorable” with “smashed bugs on dirty walls, peeling wallpaper, filthy vents and a disabled smoke detector.” (See images, above.)
Telegdy suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which can make it difficult to breathe. So when she smelled cigarette smoke coming from outside her room she knew that she would be unable to complete her stay.
Telegdy told me that she slept with a scarf over her nose and mouth to avoid the smoke for the one night that she was forced to stay there. The next morning she informed the front desk staff that she would not be staying the additional six nights. Luckily, she had the forethought to take some pictures of her room before she left.
Asking Hotwire for a refund
When Telegdy arrived home, she called Hotwire to request a refund for the six nights that she did not stay. Hotwire referred her back to the nonrefundable terms of the HotRate Deals and rejected her request.
Telegdy then began her writing and calling campaign to Hotwire. Unfortunately, she used tactics that are rarely successful. She admits that she was so incensed that she lost her temper and cursed at the customer service agent.
Her letters also reflected her anger and included many extraneous details; including the belief that some of the guests at this hotel were “Section 8 residents.” She also threatened Hotwire that she would never be using them again. This type of threat almost always backfires for the consumer, with the company losing interest in helping a lost customer.
An unsatisfactory resolution
When Telegdy’s complaint letters only resulted in Hotwire offering her a $25 travel voucher, she turned to our advocacy team for help.
That $25 voucher just added insult to injury. As I look at it, this won’t cost them anything especially if I am never using them again. I have traveled the world and not even in the backwoods of Africa have I slept in a place as bad as this hotel. Can you help me?
I wrote a short, polite letter to Hotwire and included the photographs of the room.
These photographs show exposed lightbulbs, dirty walls and vents, falling draperies and the disabled smoke detector. I did not ask Hotwire about Telegdy’s assertions that the hotel is being used for temporary Section 8 housing because ultimately it does not matter. Every guest is entitled to a safe and clean living environment regardless of how they are making payment for their stay. One look at Telegdy’s photos makes it clear that this facility is not providing a clean or safe environment.
A working smoke detector must be present in every hotel room under Georgia Title 25 Code Section 25-2-40. This information alone should have qualified Telegdy for a refund.
The good news
Hotwire agreed and completely refunded Telegdy for her stay.
Our Hotwire executive contact thanked me for the photos and agreed that this hotel must make changes. However, she also pointed out that Telegdy should have called Hotwire as soon as she discovered the hotel was unacceptable. Making that call would have given Hotwire a chance to rectify the situation immediately.
When troubles arise with a company, remember to be polite, concise and fact-based in your letter of complaint. Keep in mind that you want to convince the company that it wants to help you.