Thanks Orbitz for screwing up a trip to New Orleans. What is the point of using a hotel booking company, if that hotel booking company can’t be depended on to book a hotel?
Here’s what happened. I booked a night at Hotel Saint Helene on Chartres St because I liked the look of the street, the newly renovated hotel and its rooms. I spent a lot of time reading reviews and comparing the merits of that hotel with others. I review hotels as part of my job, and I’m picky. This was the one that I liked, but I had my two runners-up. Book direct and it’ll cost you $199 for a queen, $259 for a balcony suite. Orbitz offered a great cut-price rate ($85 for a junior suite) so I booked through them 48 hours ahead of my stay. It actually wasn’t quite as good a deal once they’d added on their $11.44 booking fee (‘in exchange for the services we provide in facilitating your transaction with the hotel supplier’) but hey. The main thing was being able to relax safe in the knowledge that I was in the hotel I wanted to be in, and the booking was secure.
Except when we got to the hotel after a 7-hour drive and dragging the cases from the car, I was told the hotel was full and we’d been put in another one. According to the receptionist at the St Helene, Orbitz doesn’t have access to their up to date reservations and therefore there is nothing to prevent the company from selling rooms the hotel does not have. Apparently Orbitz had taken my money for a room without checking one was available and charged a fee for the privilege. They had also, in the confirmation email, been very clear about the $96.64 I would be charged if I cancelled at any point.
I didn’t like the other hotel, its location or the room which was like a cell. And most of all I didn’t like Orbitz making an arbitrary decision for me about where I spent my money. Imagine if this approach to service was taken in restaurants: “Your choice of rare beef on a bed of rocket wasn’t available. You’re getting duck.’ Or online shopping: ‘Your choice of a black cocktail dress in size 10 wasn’t available. You’re getting a smock’.
Aside from coordinating the whole availability / booking thing which, after all, is their raison d’etre, here’s a couple of things Orbitz could have done:
1. They could have contacted me by email on the day the booking was made. After all, I made the booking online and Orbitz took my email details – surely that wasn’t just for their benefit? surely not to just to try and sell me stuff in the future? They could have used this prompt email to offer an apology, and the choice of an alternative – perchance with an upgrade for the inconvenience – at one of a choice of alternative, comparable, and crucially, available hotels.
2. They could have offered me the choice of a full refund. I might have preferred to visit Hotel St Helene on a different night than have my money used elsewhere.
3. They could have called me. Oh wait, they did! One voicemail two days after I made my reservation to say my hotel was fully booked and they were putting me at the sister hotel which I didn’t hear because I was already on my way.
4. This is more something they might have not done, which is to send me this:
Yes, well this is my feedback. And I really would question ‘your feedback helps us provide fellow travelers with a positive travel experience’. That can’t always be the case, and it would be better if feedback was used to help service companies provide them.