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They didn’t leave the light on for me

Ellie Pope is offered a free room-night certificate as compensation for a bad stay at a Motel 6. But when she tries to redeem it, she’s told it’s no good. How do you get the hotel to keep its promise?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services


I’m having a problem with a hotel voucher that has turned out to be useless, and was hoping you could help me. Last summer, I took my daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter to San Antonio to visit SeaWorld. We stayed at the Motel 6 on Market Square, where I had been a guest more than a dozen times in the past.

Unfortunately, my granddaughter found a makeshift crack pipe that a previous guest had fashioned by breaking the energy-efficient CFR light bulb provided in the room. It was hidden in the light fixture so, understandably, the housekeeping staff overlooked it. Fortunately, my grandchild was not cut or injured by this glass shard.

The office staff and the national customer service people were extremely conciliatory about the incident. The local Motel 6 staff in San Antonio mailed a free room certificate as compensation for our discomfort.

A few months later, we planned a short trip to a town near my home in Dallas to visit relatives. Ordinarily we would have made this a day trip but decided to stay in Tyler, Texas, to use our free room voucher. The staff at the Tyler, Texas Motel 6 refused to honor the certificate because the San Antonio hotel did not correctly fill it out. I had no choice but to pay for the room.

After making calls to Motel 6 corporate and checking with the San Antonio office that issued the voucher, we were sent a letter from a supervisor that basically told us to get lost. I am stunned that a company as big as Motel 6 with its “we’ll-leave-the-light-on” philosophy would treat customers like this. Can you help?
— Ellie Pope, Lancaster, Texas

A: If Motel 6 wanted to compensate you with a free room night, it should have sent vouchers you could use. It appears the ones you received were not valid, and the property in Tyler was well within its rights to refuse them.

But I’m not sure a hotel should be giving you a free night because of something a previous guest left in the room. Should the cleaning staff have found the crack pipe? Absolutely. But they didn’t put it there. If you’re staying at the kind of hotel where there’s drug paraphernalia to be found then an apology and an offer to move you to another room would have probably been sufficient.

Based on your previous experience at that property, I take it this wasn’t the kind of hotel where there’s drug paraphernalia to be found, which accounts for your shock and the management’s reaction, which was to offer room vouchers.

It’s always a good idea to look over the vouchers before accepting them and to ask about the terms. Can they be used at any hotel in the chain, or just at the one issuing it? When do the certificates expire? Also, is everything filled out correctly (vouchers often need to be validated with a signature, for example)?

Your certificates were missing key information, including an expiration date.

You could have also phoned the Motel 6 in Tyler to find out if the vouchers would be accepted. That way, you might have either been able to fix the problem or make other plans before you were faced with an unexpected hotel bill.

I contacted Motel 6 on your behalf. It apologized for the experience in Austin and the difficulties with redeeming the voucher. It sent you five validated vouchers, each good for a room night at any Motel 6.

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 Network. E-mail him at .