An overpowering smell of stale urine greeted Chris Emery when he checked into a hotel chain in southwestern Virginia. But he was so tired after a day on the road that he did what most travelers would do: Instead of rejecting his hotel room, he opened a window, hoping the smell was only temporary. This was not the case.
“I went to reception and informed the clerk of the problem,” says Emery, who posts a outdoor travel website. “Instead of immediately offering us a new room, the employee reached behind the counter and put boxes of air freshener and Febreze on the counter. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.”
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This sparked a debate in Emery’s family that is happening more often lately. The pandemic has hit the accommodation industry hard, leaving many hotels in desperate need of refurbishment. But when do you say “no” to a hotel room? What do you do afterwards? And, is there a way to avoid a hotel with a room you would reject?
“As we slowly begin to travel again, we are less likely to overlook the inadequacies of hotel rooms than before,” says Carla Bevins, who teaches corporate communications at Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.
When to lower your room
So when should you reject your bedroom? For Emery, a combination of smelly neighborhoods and a dismissive hotel clerk made the decision easier. He packed up with his family and went to a relative’s house.
Dangerous or inaccessible installations. If you are traveling overseas, you might come across a hotel that is not as accessible as you might find in the United States. That’s what happened to Mark Beales, a retired mortgage banker from Mill Creek, Washington, during a recent visit to Florence, Italy. “The bedroom had a double bed in a very small room that required you to climb a steep flight of stairs after entering the bedroom,” he recalls. He asked for another room without stairs. The hotel obliged.
Unsanitary conditions. If the hotel room is not habitable, find another one. Stefan Loble must have done this when he recently tried to check into a hotel room at the Los Angeles airport. “The sheets were wet,” recalls Loblé, who runs a clothing manufacturing company At New York. “Like, really wet. I could tell as soon as I lay on top of the bed on the duvet.” Loble phoned reception and they handed over the key to a new room.
Noisy neighbors. That’s what happened to Mitch Krayton during his recent visit to Las Vegas. “People next door were loud,” recalls Krayton, owner of a travel agency in denver. “They were arguing and playing music without caring about anyone else.” He called security and the music stopped for a minute, then continued. Krayton asked to be moved to another room.
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What to do after rejecting a room
Don’t just walk away from the hotel. If the room is unusable, let the hotel know and give them a chance to resolve the issue. When Mike Sweat, a retired geologist from Lansing, Michigan, checked into a hotel chain in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he found a ball of hair on the floor.
“We saw it when we closed the curtains,” he recalls. “There was also hair in the shower.”
Sweat called reception, who quickly dispatched a cleaning crew. He also composed one of his nights as an apology.
“I was very pleased with the response,” he says.
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Hotels don’t always get it right the first time. Do you remember Loble’s ill-fated hotel room in Los Angeles? The second bedroom wasn’t much better, he told me.
“When I walked into that room, it took two seconds before I knew the room was off limits as well,” he recalled. “It completely smelled of cigarette smoke.”
The hotel delivered a key for another room, and this time he was satisfied. The entire episode was about 20 minutes from start to finish, and Loble says the hotel could have done better.
“I thought all the changes would have been a great opportunity to get me a nicer room,” he says. “They did not do it.”
What if you had to check?
If the hotel cannot work things out and leaving is the only alternative, what is the best way to do this? I’ve had thousands of cases where people left early, and I can tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way.
The right way? Politely inform a manager that you are unhappy with the hotel’s resolution and that you are checking out early. A competent manager will apologize and offer another room. If there are no more rooms, the hotel should offer to escort you to another property and pay for your first night’s accommodation. And the wrong way is to shout, threaten and storm off.
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“A courteous, non-threatening face-to-face conversation with a manager is often the best route to resolution,” says Bevins, the corporate communications expert.
One more thing: don’t forget to document the problems. Take photos and videos, and document the names of people you spoke to at the hotel about your room issues. Keep all follow-up emails between you and the hotel that document your dissatisfaction. Ultimately, you may need to discuss this with your credit card issuer, who will ask for written proof.
I feel lucky to have never had to leave a hotel. But I have requested a new room several times, including last year at a large resort in Orlando, Florida. They gave me a room next to the elevator and I couldn’t sleep. This falls into the “noisy neighbors” category, I guess.
I hope I never have to leave a hotel because of a substandard room. But when I do, I won’t hesitate – and neither will you.
How to avoid having to refuse a room
Careful research. If a hotel gives you a smoky room, you can bet it’s not the first time. You can find a list of offenders online (these are the ones with one star reviews).
Expert help. A qualified and knowledgeable travel consultant will never book you into a hotel with a bad reputation. And if you do find yourself with a problem, like noisy neighbors, a call to your travel agent can find a way to resolve it without you having to engage in lengthy negotiation. Find a good agent at American Society of Travel Advisors website.
A reasonable budget. Buying at the lowest price can land you in trouble. Sure, you can find a lower rate, but you get what you pay for.