By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 7/11/2007 4:02:31 PM ET 2007-07-11T20:02:31
THE TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Linda Cohn’s room at the Embassy Suites Deerfield Beach Resort is waterlogged in the wake of a hurricane. She checks into another hotel with the understanding that she’ll get her loyalty points — which she used to pay for her visit — credited back to her account. Nine months later, she still has nothing. What gives?

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Q: We booked a room at the Embassy Suites Deerfield Beach Resort in Deerfield Beach, Fla., using our Hilton HHonors® points to pay for the stay. When we arrived, we were shown a series of rooms that were unacceptable. The first room was infested with ants. The second and third rooms had waterlogged carpeting; damp curtains and wet plaster peeling from the ceiling.

I want to be clear that our dissatisfaction was not a question of disappointing ambience. These rooms were plainly unsafe. But the staff at the hotel was aggressively indifferent to our concerns.

We canceled our reservation and arranged for two rooms at a Hilton property in Boca Raton, Fla. Then we called Hilton’s guest assistance number (Hilton owns Embassy Suites) to complain. An inspector visited the Embassy Suites property and verified that portions of that hotel were unsuitable for guests and should never have been offered.

A manager from the hotel called us later and told us she wanted to “make it right.” We agreed that returning 180,000 HHonors® points to our account — the amount spent on the Boca Raton stay — would be satisfactory.

It’s been nearly nine months, and we’ve phoned, e-mailed and sent registered letters to Hilton. But our points still haven’t been credited. Can you help us? — Linda Cohn, Houston

A: You’re right, the Embassy Suites property in Deerfield Beach shouldn’t have offered you those rooms. And after the inspector verified they were unacceptable, your HHonors® points should have been credited to your account immediately.

The attitude of the staff that you observed, plus the delay in compensating you for the inconvenience of having to move to another hotel, just made a bad situation worse.

But I’m surprised by your story, because I’ve stayed at Embassy Suites properties in several cities, and the service has always been excellent. What was happening in Deerfield Beach?

A lot, it turns out. The hotel was just recovering from a hurricane, and when you checked in, they were busy replacing the roof. Several rooms had, as a hotel manager delicately puts it, “water intrusion.” That might also explain the ant infestation in one of the rooms.

Should the hotel have remained open at a time like that? Well, that’s debatable. On the one hand, some of the rooms were probably usable, and why deprive the owner of revenue at a time when the money is most needed? On the other hand, you’re bound to end up with disappointed guests like you.

When you’re offered a room that’s unacceptable, first ask the front-desk clerk for a different room. If you don’t get anywhere, speak with a manager. And if that doesn’t work, appeal your case to the hotel’s parent company.

Although you did that, your timing was slightly off. I would have phoned Hilton from the lobby of the Embassy Suites — not waited until you checked into your next hotel. Nothing motivates a hotel to make things right like a disappointed customer loitering in the lobby.

It shouldn’t have taken nine months to credit your HHonors® points back. The normal response time is six to eight weeks, although Hilton could have probably done it in far less time. Why the delay? Maybe the folks at the Embassy Suites were so busy fixing up their hotel that they let some of their customer service issues slide.

Shortly after I contacted the hotel on your behalf, you received a personal apology from the hotel’s general manager, Mike Long. Not only did he credit your miles back to your account, but he also included a voucher for a free night’s stay at the property.

This time, you might want to visit after hurricane season.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations,” on the Fine Living TV Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs. org.

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