By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 3/8/2007 10:48:27 AM ET 2007-03-08T15:48:27

Q: I recently stayed at a Hampton Inn in Canton, Miss., with my husband and 2-year-old son. When we got to our room, it was a mess.

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The bathroom hadn’t been cleaned. There was a hairpin on the floor, a rubber band and clothes pin on the counter, and worst of all, we found a pill on the floor. I immediately called the front desk and asked that housekeeping do a thorough cleaning. I didn’t want my toddler to find something else on the floor — maybe another pill — and try to eat it.

We left the room and came back that night only to find that none of the items had been picked up. I ended up cleaning up the room myself, and found a pencil eraser and loose change under the beds.

When we checked out, I noticed a sign on the door that said that Hampton has a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. I sent Hampton e-mail after I returned, and then followed up a few days later with another e-mail and a call. So far I haven’t gotten a response. What can I do?
— Stacie Heflin, Prairieville, La.

A: Your room should have been cleaned before you checked in. When the hotel failed to dispatch a housekeeping crew, forcing you to become your own cleaning lady, it should have invoked its own satisfaction guarantee by not charging you for your room.

Instead, Hampton not only made you pay for your night, but also didn’t respond to your e-mails complaining about your substandard stay. As an occasional guest at a Hampton property, I can tell you that this isn’t normal. The housekeeping staff services the rooms before guests check in, and the hotel responds promptly to customer-service inquiries.

So what happened? I spoke with a Hampton representative, and on the days you sent a message to the hotel, its company-wide e-mail system was not working. Remarkably, on the day you called the hotel, its phones were also on the blink. As a result, no one knew of your dissatisfaction until you contacted me.

Hampton offers a pretty unique no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee of “friendly service, clean rooms, comfortable surroundings, every time.” But the best time to make a claim isn’t after you’ve checked out of your hotel. You should have spoken with a manager before leaving the property — not waited until you were home.

Once I brought your situation to Hampton’s attention, it responded immediately by refunding your night in Canton. “We deeply regret that Ms. Heflin and her family experienced the deficiencies she described,” Monica Gaston, Hampton’s director of brand communications, wrote to me in an e-mail. “We have shared the guest feedback with the hotel in question and steps are being taken to ensure that these types of issues do not occur again in the future.”

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at chris@elliott.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, http://www.csr.elliott.org

© 2006 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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