Friday, June 13, 2014

How (Not) To Be a Horrible Hotel Guest



Allow me to set the scene:  It is the summer of 2012.  A rental car pulls up to a beautiful, large log cabin, surrounded by pines and a thin sheet of fog that drifts off the cooling waters of Loch Ness.  The 'parking lot' of this bed and breakfast cabin is a large rectangle, cut into the front lawn, covered in a layer of sweet-smelling wood chips. A tired couple emerges from the vehicle, stiff from a long drive from Stirling and a little stressed after getting lost along the banks of Loch Ness, with its twisting roads and wooded avenues.

They drag their heavy suitcases (because they don't know how to pack light) into the cabin's main entrance, and ring the little bell resting on the front desk.  A young girl emerges from a back room, and smiles in welcome.  The couple hands over their reservation confirmation, made online through a booking website.

road to Loch Ness, winding road Scotland
The twisting, winding, narrow road to Loch Ness in Scotland.

"That will be 73 pounds," the girl says with a pleasant Scottish lilt.

"Wait, wait," the woman traveler says, holding up a hand.  "We already paid online... that's the right price, but we already paid."  She keeps her voice polite, sure that the girl has just misread the information on the screen.

The young girl frowns.  "I have your reservation right here, but it says you haven't paid in full yet."

"No, I did," the wife insists.  "I booked online and the website took my credit card payment at the time of booking.  I've seen the charge on my credit card statement already, since I booked so long ago." The woman's tone is not rude, but firm and full of conviction. In fact, she's got a chart in her travel documents listing the trip's costs thus far, and this evening's accommodations are on it, listed as fully paid. She's ready to whip it out, not that it will prove anything to the desk clerk, who is unsure of what to do.

The young girl's smile wavers as she clicks on the computer a bit more.  "One moment," she smiles thinly, and disappears back into the posterior room.

The husband turns to his wife, and mutters, "Are you sure? I doubt their records would be wrong."  He hates conflict, and he can see that this encounter might escalate into something uncomfortable.

"There was a charge on my credit card - I saw it! It was for this place.  We've paid - the website took the payment up front, online," the wife insists.  She has a bad feeling in her gut, like perhaps the booking website wasn't legitimate.  Just thinking about being the victim of a scam already has her blood starting to boil!

When the back door opens once more, a short, slightly round older woman with grey hair emerges.  "Hello, I'm Ethel, the owner," she nods, without a smile.  (The name has been changed, since I can't actually remember what she said her name was).  The couple nods back, also not smiling.  "What is the problem here?"

waters of Loch Ness, gloomy day at Loch Ness
A gloomy day on Loch Ness, Scotland - almost as gloomy as my story!

"We booked our room online, and the website took payment for the room already, but your system is saying we haven't paid yet," the wife explains, perhaps a bit shortly.  She is tired, sore, and now leery that either the website has stolen money from her card, or that this bed and breakfast establishment has no idea how to work a computer.

Once again, when Ethel checks, she confirms that the room was reserved, but not paid for.  She is as warm as a snowman on a frosty day.

"Well, what was the charge on my credit card?" the wife bursts out in frustration. At this point, Ethel is standing with her arms crossed, chin jutting out defensively, but offers no explanation.  She just wants these people to pay or, preferably, leave. The wife is certain someone is trying to steal from her: either the booking website or the lady standing in front of her.  The two women seem to be at an impasse.  Thank goodness for cool-headed husbands.

"We can check your credit card statement when we get back to Canada," the husband whispers into his wife's ear.  "If they did charge us, we can call them and file a complaint.  Let's just pay for the room and go relax."

Scotland bridge, old stone bridge Scotland
On the road to Loch Ness, before things got stressful-ish.

The wife nods, although she still isn't pleased.  The husband turns to gather the bags, and the wife smiles stiffly at the owner.  "We'll put the room on my card.  I'll check with my credit card company later," she says, implying that she still thinks something fishy is going on.

The transaction is awkward, to say the least.  Ethel wishes the guests a lovely stay, although it is clear from the look on her face that she'd prefer to turn them out and have them sleep in their tiny rental car.  She doesn't even give them the spiel that she usually presents to her guests about dining areas and times, and any other amenities the bed and breakfast provides.  She shuffles out from behind the desk and silently leads them to their room, speaking only to point out a sitting area with a TV in case they want to rest a bit before dinner.  The couple is silent, too: the husband embarrassed, the wife still mulling over why she has had to pay twice for the same room.

In the room, the couple unpacks and freshens up. The room is homey and comfortable, with a soft double bed and a worn but cozy tartan armchair in the corner.  They admire the beautiful view of Loch Ness from above, then realize they are hungry.  Not knowing the area at all, they have to return to the front desk to ask about nearby restaurants.

Loch Ness from above, Scotland Loch Ness
The beautiful view of Loch Ness from the bed and breakfast room window.

"Well, there's a diner down the road, but it closes by 7 p.m.," Ethel ponders.  "Otherwise, you'll have to drive for quite a ways."

The couple looks dismayed, since it is 8 p.m. and there seems to be no way to get sustenance.  "How far of a drive?" the wife queries, once again not looking happy. (Ethel probably thought that the sour shrew standing in front of her didn't even have the facial muscles to smile!)  And when she says how far, the wife frowns even more. She's already grumpy about the whole payment debacle, and now she's hungry, and she's one of the those people who get nasty when her blood sugar is too low.

"Well, we have some snacks from the car.  Why don't we just eat that?" the husband tries valiantly to keep things positive.  The wife sighs, and Ethel looks extremely hurt.

"The dining room here is open until 9 p.m." she says, and the couple looks surprised.  They thought this was a bed and breakfast, meaning only breakfast was served.

"That would be great!" the husband says cheerily. "We didn't know you had dinner here!  Otherwise we would have done that straight away."  Ethel still doesn't smile - it is obvious she thinks the couple is a pair of yuppees who are too good for anything.

The husband maintains his smile, but the wife scowls back. "She shouldn't act like we didn't want her food just because we didn't know she even had food in the first place!" the wife thinks.  "I bet she poisons our food, too."

*****

Ah, mis-communication is a wonderful thing... this is a true story, as close to word-for-word as I could make it.  Naturally, I am the nasty shrew-like woman with the credit card fetish, and my husband Joey the patient and smart one. (Please don't tell him I said that - I'll never hear the end of it!)  Our trip to Scotland was a dream adventure, to say the least: Loch Ness, Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow, and the list goes on.  This experience was the only negative blip, and it was entirely my fault.  Our stay at the bed and breakfast ended up being very pleasant, and our room had one amazing view of Loch Ness.  The owner did not poison our food, either.  In fact, she was one of the best cooks I've ever encountered.  Her butter chicken was superb! If you want to know the name of the place, just email me and I'll send you the details.

My husband - oh, how he keeps me sane!

Here's how this all went down and ended up.

I booked the bed and breakfast through a website called "Booking.com".  The website searches hotels for you, and comes up with lists based on location, price, ratings, etc.  It is a simple and easy website to navigate, and I really liked using it.

However... the website is set up so that you enter all your credit card information right there online. It advertises that there are no booking fees, and says that the hotel will charge your credit card once you confirm your booking.  The website sends you a confirmation email.  After I received the confirmation email, I noticed a charge from the hotel on my statement.  I thought it was a done deal and that we were paid in full.

Obviously, I did not look close enough.  The hotel charged me a reservation fee - not the total cost of the stay.  When you book online, for any newbies out there like I was, read the fine print and see if the hotel you are booking with has reservation fees or not, as not all do. I felt like a total dolt when I saw on my credit card statement, after we got home from our trip, that I'd only been charged a tiny amount and not the full amount like I'd been arguing.  (Although, to be fair, the owner could have explained the reservation fee dealio with me, and I also feel that Booking.com could have been clearer about it during the booking process.  But the onus is on me, ultimately, to read the fine print.)

A stupid mistake on my part, which made me look like a stuck-up harpy, but one I will never make again!  And hopefully with this story in mind and my advice, a mistake that you, dear reader, will never have to make in the first place.  Good luck and happy booking!

4 comments:

  1. Ha ha, we had the exact same thing happen to us in Italy... We stayed in this charming little place, and the owner an elderly sweet man called Gildo said we had not paid. Neither J or have enough Italian to figure it out in discussion so I ended up speaking to booking.com to figure it out..... I felt incredibly embarrassed when I realized we hadn't actually paid... It was strange though because the hotel we stayed in previously did take payment during the booking process so I guess all hotels have their own ways of doing it! Nice pictures of Scotland Marti! :)

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    1. Yes, I had booked all our hotels through the site and you'd never know if you were paid up or not til you got there. Now that I know better, it is easy to check on my credit card statement, but as a newbie to booking.com I was utterly lost! Glad to hear I am not the only one - that makes me feel better about my reaction!

      And it is super easy to take pretty pictures of Scotland - they kind of take care of themselves! ;)

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  2. Hello there! Thank you for visiting my blog. I had such a wonderful time on my alternative break. Mine was through a liberal ministry type group at my university. But was open to anyone. My husband and I went because we knew the student coordinator well. I've found these links that might help you plan similar trips. But you can always check with local universities, and other outreach groups in your area. Here are the links I found (there may be some specific to Canada if you google it!)

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/12/travel/vounteer-free-travel/
    http://www.gviusa.com/
    http://www.globalvolunteers.org/
    http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/

    Hope this helps you! I love your blog and plan to follow along as I am a fellow part-time traveler. My husband and I have been to Canada on three different occasions and I just love it there! Definitely wanting to go back as much as possible. Follow along on my blog too if you'd like to follow our adventures in part-time travel, thrifting and goal setting. :) -Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

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    1. Awesome - thanks so much for the detailed response and advice! We have a university and college nearby, so I'll be sure to check them both out! Have you been to Alberta (the Rockies, the prairies, etc.?) If not, come on up and let me know when you do! :)

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