By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 3/13/2008 9:59:05 AM ET 2008-03-13T13:59:05
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I’m having some difficulty in getting Choice Hotels to honor its “100 percent Satisfaction Guarantee” and was hoping you could help.

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My wife and I recently stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites in North Vancouver, BC, which belongs to the Choice Hotels chain. When we checked in, we were told that we had been given a “free upgrade,” which turned out to be a dowdy, dimly lit, two-room suite with one double bed and a shabby looking sofa bed with no linens. It was also dirty.

I returned to the office and told them we wanted the room we had reserved. We were moved to another room, but our problems were not over. We found that there was only lukewarm water that night and next morning, making for uncomfortable showers.

Additionally, the coffee machine in the breakfast area was not working, so no one could have hot coffee at breakfast. Finally, the ice machine for the motel was not working either. Each of these deficiencies was called to the attention of front desk personnel, but nothing more than an apology was offered.

I have stayed at many Choice Hotels over the years. This location fell far short of their usual standards and what I have come to expect. I contacted Choice Hotels and invoked their satisfaction guarantee, but the hotel refuses to honor it because it says I never brought these issues to its attention. Is there anything you can do? — Richard Simms, Denton, Texas

A: Choice Hotels should have either fixed the lukewarm shower, the non-functioning ice machine and the broken coffee maker, or refunded your room rate. At least that’s what a cursory review of your correspondence between you and the hotel suggests.

But a closer reading of the terms of the Choice guarantee shows the hotel may not owe you anything but an apology.

Check out the fine print of the “100 percent Satisfaction Guarantee” and you’ll see that there are some important exceptions. “If you are not satisfied with your accommodations or our service, please advise the front desk of a problem right away and give them an opportunity to correct the situation,” it says. “If the hotel staff is unable to satisfy you, they may give you up to one night’s free stay.”

Got that? You have to report a problem, and if the hotel can’t fix it you may be entitled to up to one night’s free stay.

That’s such a vaguely worded guarantee that you have to wonder why Choice Hotels even bothers.

But it gets worse. “Not all international hotels participate in this program,” it adds.

So the guarantee isn’t much of a guarantee to begin with, and your hotel, being an international property, didn’t have to honor it anyway.

You would have been better off asking to speak with a manager after getting your first “sorry.” A supervisor would have recognized that you weren’t having a pleasant stay and tried to make things right. It’s possible that the employees at the front desk just didn’t understand how inconvenienced you were.

I have to admit, if I were working the front desk and someone said his shower was running lukewarm, I’d probably apologize and notify the maintenance guys. But a series of complaints — the unclean “upgraded” room, the busted coffee maker and the tepid shower — might have risen to the level of a more significant issue.

I contacted Choice Hotels on your behalf and it refunded $93, the entire amount of your room rate.

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