First of all let me say that my husband and I are elderly and on a fixed income. We love to travel. We have the time but not necessarily the money to travel as much as we’d like. Consequently, we try to utilize hotel promos, BRG’s etc. to travel. Many of these promos have a number of loopholes but we try to remain within the bounds of the Terms & Conditions.
When Choice re-introduced the free night BRG about 8 months ago the T& C’s were REALLY lose. It was really pretty easy to get a free night – in fact when it first came out it was really easy to get several free nights. There were no restrictions on “same household” – at the beginning you just couldn’t have consecutive nights in the same name. Also, they did not have the 30 day rule (only 1 free night per 30 days) so as long as you switched hotels you could get several free nights per month. Almost immediately they started to tighten up the T&C’s. This is understandable since you don’t stay in business giving away free hotel nights.
Knowing that this promo could not survive in its original form for very long I booked a number of stays several months out. I booked the first night and my husband booked the second. We were following the T&C’s as they existed at that time.
Now, nobody is forcing Choice hotels to run this promo. They say they are so confident that there are no lower rates out there that they will give you a free night if you find a lower rate. Well sorry Choice Hotels, I found many sites that have lower rates.
In all fairness to Choice most of these free night stays were quite pleasant. In fact, until my most recent experience I was planning on returning to some of these properties as a paying guest (who knew that the Comfort Inn and Suites Oceanfront in Daytona Beach could be so nice for only about $60 a night?).
I booked the Dove Creek Lodge in Key Largo for 3 separate stays in September, October and November. I booked them about 7 or 8 months ago when the T & C’s were “loose”.
Our first stay, in September was uneventful. The Dove Creek Lodge is basically a glorified Motel 6. I booked a 1 bedroom king suite and it was “OK”. Furnishings were “interesting” – they tied 2 twin beds together and called it a king. It’s an old motel that they tried to upgrade a bit and then tried to label it “boutique”. Unlike the hotel picture, the grounds aren’t all that great. The pool is small and looked dirty. The shower at the pool ran continuously; wasting water and making noise. There is no beach as such. There is a small area where they dumped some sand. After the sand ends there are some mangrove trees and rocks. That’s the extent of the “beach”. You sure could not swim in the rocky murky water here. Never would I pay the $259.00 a night best available rate for this room but heck, free is free.
My recent stay in October was unfortunately “eventful”. We live over 200 miles from the hotel so it’s about a 4 hour drive each way and with gas at $4.00 a gallon not exactly cheap. Granted, the room was “free” but round trip on gas was about $85.00 just for gas.
I am elderly and have mobility issues. I have horrible back problems and cannot stand for more than 15 minutes without excruciating sciatica nerve back pain. This trip I again booked a 1 bedroom suite, one of the reasons I booked the suite was because it has a sofa sleeper that I can sit on when my back pain kicks in.
Two days before check in my husband called to confirm the room. We were told we were all set and there was no mention of any issues or problems with our reservation.
After a four hour drive we get to the hotel and are shown to our room. Instead of the ocean view suite with a porch that I booked it is a plain standard room. This is not the room I booked and in fact runs $90.00 cheaper than the suite I booked on the Choice Hotels web site. The room I booked went for $259.00 – the room they were giving me went for $169.00. The only seating in that room for me and my husband (78 years old and quite frail) are two very high “director like” chairs. In a million years I could never climb into those chairs and neither could my husband. In 40 years of traveling I have never seen “director” high chairs as seating in a hotel room.
I said to the check in gal, Debbie that this is a mistake; I booked a 1 bedroom suite with a couch. She insisted that no, I booked a regular room. I pulled out a print out of my reservation that clearly says a one bedroom ocean view suite with a sofa bed and she says it doesn’t matter what’s on my reservation, they don’t have the suite. It’s rather ironic that Choice makes a huge big deal out of the fact that the room types have to match exactly in deciding if they will grant your BRG claim but apparently it’s perfectly OK for them to give you a completely different downgraded room type when you get there.
Now, I don’t think I’m being paranoid but I don’t think this ever would have happened if we were “paying” guests. I explained to Debbie that the standard room is a physical impossibility for me but she said that’s all they have.
I spent the next two hours trying to resolve this – some of it talking to Choice customer relations and some to the hotel directly – nothing was working. There was a big fishing tournament on for that weekend so getting alternate accommodations was close to impossible. Husband and I were pretty much resigned to driving another 4 hours home when some guest “miraculously” cancelled. They said if we waited another half hour they could put us in a suite.
We got to the suite and there were several issues but we were so happy we didn’t have to drive another 4 hours to get home we kept mum. (Door to screen porch did not lock – security issue – someone could easily have entered our room. Only one light bulb out of 4 working in the bathroom – very dark. Bathroom sink leaking – slippery and dangerous. Sound proofing awful – heard every sound above us.)
We essentially wasted the first day of our vacation dealing with this. The second day we were so stressed out we weren’t up to much of anything and wasted that day (when you get old you can’t handle stress very well).
Last morning had an issue with breakfast. Stayed here in September and breakfast was not bad – not great but not bad. This particular morning all they had was orange juice, coffee, fruit and breads – pretty meager. They said because of the tournament that was all they were offering. At around 7:30 hubby made two trips to breakfast buffet using trays we took from home (he brought back to our room so I would not have to walk to lobby). First trip hubby got OJ, water and coffee. Second trip he got a couple of bagels, utensils and napkins. The front desk manager, Jamie just yelled at my husband to make sure we call them to return the plates (like I really want to keep their cheap1970’s style plates). At around 9:00 am, still hungry, hubby returned for more bagels and found the whole buffet closed up (Hubby did by the way return our used plates.). It was supposed to go till 9:30. Jamie said my husband was already there twice and everyone else was done so they closed it (Apparently they keep track of which guests attended breakfast and also how many times you went up to the buffet.). Well, between the check in issues and everything else my husband got fed up and told Jamie that he has had better service at a Motel 6 (which was unfortunately true).
We checked out, moved on to another hotel in Miami (not Choice but a good deal with Reserve Travel).
Got home two days later. We had our last BRG trip booked for November at the Dove Creek, again with a Choice BRG. To make sure we had the suite we booked we called the hotel to confirm. Debbie answered and said I’m sorry to have to tell you this but because of the issue with breakfast (my husband complained that the buffet closed early) Jamie talked to the owners of the hotel and they said we were unwelcomed guests, they were refusing us service and they would not honor our next BRG reservation.
Hubby tells me what Debbie said and I am flabbergasted! We are being denied the two free nights because hubby complained about the breakfast being closed a half hour early ???
Called Choice hotels thinking they would honor the BRG but 3 hours later boy was I wrong. Probably talked to every clerk and supervisor in Customer Relations and the BRG group. Got the run around and finger pointing from everyone I talked to. Got typical stereotyped scripts from all that I talked to – basically not my yob and I can’t do anything about it. Customer relations kept quoting the current BRG T & C’s and tried to accuse me of bypassing them (I repeatedly told them those were not the T& C’s in place when I booked this trip 7 or 8 months ago but it fell on deaf ears.).
Customer Relations was particularly obnoxious. They just kept saying if the hotel refused service to a guest that is their right and they will support the hotel. I kept pointing out that I think the hotel was using that as an excuse to not honor the BRG but they just kept giving me the same line. Since I was supposed to have two free nights which are now being denied I asked Choice if they would foot the bill at another property (I was willing to trade the $259.00 a night suite at Dove Creek for a $59.00 a night room at Comfort Inn in Daytona but they refused – both BRG manager and Customer Relations manager).
On my last conversation with Choice Customer relations I stressed how can the hotel refuse service because my husband complained about the early closing of the breakfast buffet? The person apparently slipped up and said “well, that’s not what the hotel says”. I questioned further and found out the hotel claimed there were items missing from the room. I had no idea what “items” they could be referring to. The only thing I can think of is the wicker basket with a hairdryer under the sink. Since the sink was leaking I moved this item to the closet so it would not get wet and ruined. I did this as a courtesy to the hotel. The item was moved, not missing. The customer service person could not confirm what items were allegedly “missing”.
I’m grateful for the free nights I got with this BRG promotion but that in no way justifies this last experience. Just because the night was free does not give the hotel the right to downgrade the room type, treat us like second class citizens and cause us significant stress.
Oh and by the way the final icing on the cake is the following – the hotel has a 30 day cancellation policy – it is too late to cancel my upcoming reservation and theoretically they can charge about $300 per booking (1 for me and 1 for my hubby). Choice BRG clearly says that any change to the reservation could negate the $0 rate so they can charge the regular rate per booking so we could theoretically owe them about $600 for this reservation that they are refusing to honor – It doesn’t get any better than this!