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What's in a Hotel Guarantee?

hotel room bed fruit lamp What Else Do I Get?
So if all goes well, I get a room, sometimes. What else do I get? Well, nothing. The hotel may advertise free Internet, complimentary breakfast, extensive cable TV choices, nice views, a hotel restaurant and more, but the fact is that if for any reason these are not available, well, they're not available. Your contract "guarantees" you a room -- unless, as above, they have overbooked or some other "unforeseen circumstance" occurs, and then they'll "attempt" to get you a room. And the rules vary considerably from hotel to hotel; in fact, there really are no rules save for whatever the specific hotel chooses to extend and enforce itself.

At a bed and breakfast or locally owned hotel, your options could be even worse, as these lodging establishments typically have far fewer resources than the big national chains do. However, smaller outfits also tend to have fewer computer booking glitches, and are often more inclined toward personalized customer service.

This is especially true at B&B's, where you are almost always working directly with the owner, who also happens to live in the building. And whereas major chains know the next customer will eventually come along, smaller businesses tend to thrive on customer referrals, so they have some motivation to make everything work out well.

International Hotels
While U.S. hotel chains are pretty much a cookie cutter experience, for better or worse, when traveling internationally you may see much greater variation in the quality of your accommodations. When traveling solo in Morocco a few years ago, I stayed with extremely gracious and accommodating hosts. While traveling in northern Spain with friends earlier in the same trip, however, the proprietor of a fairly high-profile hotel refused to honor our phone reservation because she didn't like the way one member of our group parked our rental car in front of the hotel. And on a trip to Venezuela a few years back, we arrived to find that not only was our room not ready, but the hotel itself wasn't ready. In fact, it was still under construction, right down to the plumbing.

At major "first world" hotels abroad, however, your rights are very much similar to those you have stateside -- a key and a bed to lay your head are all you are really guaranteed. All of this does change at upscale hotels, where your money talks a little louder, but your reservation and expectations are still honored at the hotel's pleasure in most cases.

None of this is shocking to anyone who has traveled much; the deck is always tipped just enough to matter in favor of the service provider (the airline contracts of carriage are a perfect example). So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few ideas.

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Book Directly with the Hotel
I use the popular booking engines for routine reservations all the time, but if I anticipate any problems -- for example, if I'm traveling over the holidays when the hotel is likely to be full -- I always book directly with the hotel. Sometimes I'll use the hotel's Web site, but if I know the place is packed, I'll book by phone. That way your reservation goes directly into the hotel system, and your credit card is run by the same people who have the power to save a room for you.

Call Ahead
No matter where you booked your reservation, a quick call directly to the hotel a day before your arrival to confirm your reservation should reveal or eliminate any potential problems. Get a name when you call, and if there are problems at check-in, mention who you talked to and what they told you. This is also a good time to ask about Internet access, breakfast, whether the restaurant will be open, whether room service is available if you will need it, etc. If you make it clear which amenities are most important to you, you will be more likely to be put in a room where these amenities are actually available and functioning.

Have Your Contract/Guarantee In Hand
When you are standing at the front desk with nothing but your credit card and your ID, many untrained and part-time folks working the front desk are simply looking to get you out from in front of them. If they try to hand you a list of phone numbers to call, but your contract says they are obligated to find you a room -- or if they tell you how to get there, but your contract says they are obligated to provide transportation -- you'll want proof. Without this proof, you will get whatever level of service that particular hotel employee feels like giving, which can sometimes be little more than a shoulder shrug and a grunt.

hotel room woman suitcaseCheck Out Your Room
I have stayed in a couple of lemon hotel rooms in which I chose to remain solely because I had already unpacked, and the hassle of repacking and moving to another room was too much trouble. If you have specific expectations about the quality of your room, you are going to have to enforce them yourself. Before you unpack all your stuff, check to see if everything in your room is in order -- that the television works, the shower sprays clear water, Internet access is functioning, etc.

If anything is amiss, ask for a different room. If you are already in the room, you might even ask that staff come to your room to exchange keys and help you move; all the elevator transfers are a time-consuming hassle, and you deserve some help with it.

Ask for the Manager
A hotel manager often knows better than front desk staff that his or her real job is to keep you happy. There is no guarantee that the manager will come through, but in my experience bringing any problems to the attention of a supervisor usually inspires staff actually to "attempt to accommodate guests."

Tell Your Story
You don't have to be a travel writer to have your say these days, and a little revenge can leave a satisfying aftertaste -- post a short review of your hotel on a site like TripAdvisor.com, or share your experience via social media (on sites like Twitter or Facebook). Recent studies say that consumers trust each other more than they do companies and professional reviewers, and you can help others avoid your plight. And don't doubt that the hotels and other travel providers themselves will read the reviews; many scan their clippings religiously, and they might just shape up when faced with the facts when posted on a site read by millions. The power of the press is available to all of us today -- use it!

Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.

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