This won’t come as a surprise, but the majority of the travel I do is for business. For those of you who do the same, you probably share my theory that when you travel so much for work, hitting the road for pleasure sometimes feels like, well, too much work. I can pack for a business trip in five minutes, but ask me to pack for a vacation and it’s a whole different ball game. When I plan business trips I do minimal research. But a personal trip involves so much more investment—that’s not only because I want to enjoy every aspect of the trip; it’s also because I’m spending my own money.
Recently, I had a travel experience that for me really illustrated those differences— and I want to share it here.
My family and I traveled together to attend my sister-in-law’s baby shower. Given the circumstances, we were asking for trouble: Our flight out to New York City was on Friday evening; we were departing from a regional airport; we had four different flight confirmation numbers; there were horrible storm cells on the East Coast; and, on top of everything, it was Friday the 13th.
The flight was delayed, blah blah blah, we boarded and sat on the plane for two hours, blah blah blah, then they canceled it. The gate area was bedlam: People lined up for re-booking, while others tried to re-book on their mobile phones. My brother at one point said, “Steph, don’t forget about canceling the hotel for tonight.” I waved him off—the hotel would be easy. I needed all hands on deck to mount an offensive on Southwest Airlines to guarantee the four of us could re-book on the next morning’s first flight. I dispatched my brother to stand in line. My mom and sister-in-law tried the website and I sat down to make the call.
I got through over the phone in about five seconds. The Southwest Airlines representative was friendly and helpful. She re-booked all four of us in no time flat. One call: done.
Flush from my victory conquering the airline, I called the hotel directly. Ten minutes later I was sitting in a pile of papers on the floor of the still-hectic gate area, swearing to never stay in a hotel again as long as I lived.
From the hotel’s direct line, I chose “1” for reservations. I could have kicked myself for making that rookie mistake. Of course that option wasn’t going to the hotel’s front desk! It went to a regional reservations center. Between the reservation agent’s accent and the chaos around me in the gate area, it took forever for me to understand that she couldn’t help me because I had made the hotel booking on Hotels.com. She told me to call the hotel number again and wait for the front desk. One call down, I hung up, called the hotel back and got the front desk. But once that person learned I had made the booking on Hotels.com she clammed right up. She could cancel the reservation for that night, she said, but she could not waive the cost for the missed night. I would have to call Hotels.com myself. So I did. The Hotels.com reservation agent told me that she could not waive the fee, and that I would have to call the hotel to ask about that.
At this point I was ready to give up my career in the hotel industry and get a nice job as a kindergarten teacher because five-year-olds would have made more sense.
After four separate calls, I had zero resolution to my problem. Yes, my room was canceled, but I was still paying for it, and I certainly did not want to do that. I gave up that night when the front-desk agent at the hotel gave me a rather impolite lecture on how OTAs work and told me her manager on duty couldn’t waive my fee and I would have to call back again the next day for another manager.
Mind you, throughout all this I was nice. Was there fine print over at Hotels.com that explained all of my liabilities? Probably. But at this point I was playing the role of an "Everyday Hotel Guest," not a hotel editor who should know better. As an Everyday Hotel Guest, I was mad that I had made four calls and received no resolution. I was annoyed that the hotel was trying to lecture me on how OTAs and hotels share payment. I didn’t care who paid whom—I was an Everyday Hotel Guest who would not be staying in a hotel room because of extenuating circumstances and I wanted someone at that hotel to help me, not pass the blame.
When I arrived at the hotel the next morning and asked to speak to the manager-on-duty about my issue, I got another lesson on how OTAs work. Eventually the manager resolved the issue, but she didn’t do it kindly.
I solved my airline problem in less than five minutes. Solving my hotel problem took four calls, an in-person groveling session, a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth and seven years of experience writing about the hotel industry.
Something’s wrong with that picture.