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Am I Becoming a High Maintenance Traveler?

by on February 21, 2011 · 10 comments

in Travel Industry, Trip Reports

I’d like to think I’m a savvy traveler – I’m not easily stressed and I can usually handle whatever is thrown at me, whether it’s a pesky cancelled flight or a rogue gate agent who doesn’t know the rules of the game. My frequent travel entitles me to top status on Delta and with Hyatt and Starwood and some others like Hertz, all who treat me very well on a consistent basis. In fact, I think I’ve been treated so well, I’m starting to think it’s warping my sense of reality. This past weekend I had a couple small travel snafus and I’m trying to figure out if they were really service failures or simply me expecting too much out of travel.

It all happened this past weekend when I had to be in Atlantic City Saturday night. Not in the mood for public transit, I used 500 Hertz points for a full-size weekend day rental (saving me $70) and used a corporate rate to stay at The Chelsea hotel – a renovated boutique hotel. Naturally, as a points addict, I tried staying at the Sheraton or Marriott, but they all had two night minimums and 24 hours is the absolute maximum time I can stand Atlantic City (and to be honest, I’d be happy if I never went again).

The first incident happened when I picked up my rental car from the Manhattan Morton Street Hertz Local Edition. The friendly agent gave me my keys and I realized it was a Corolla – which is not a full-size car. When I asked her for a full-size, she simply replied, “Sorry, we don’t have any.” I asked for any other type of car since I’m 6’7″ and I really don’t fit well in compact cars, but she refused saying they were low on inventory.

I don’t doubt that they were low on cars considering it was a holiday weekend, but there are a bunch of Hertz locations in NYC and they could have gotten a full-size from another branch, or even called me before I arrived and told me to simply go to a different location. However, I was running late and traipsing around Manhattan wasn’t an option. Seeing no other choice, I asked for a voucher and without hesitation she gave me one for $25. Honestly, I would have much rather just had what I ordered, but I took it and went on my way – cramped in my lipstick red Corolla.

After an uneventful drive through New Jersey, I got to the Chelsea Hotel with little time to spare. At check-in, I was told they were all out of premium rooms with king-size beds (what I reserved), so they’d give me two queen beds in the older tower – as if that was an equal exchange. I pushed back asking for what I reserved, but the front desk agent snidely replied, “We are busy tonight and since you are checking in at 7pm, we’ve already given out all of our premier king beds, so sorry, but that’s all we have.” Not satisfied with that answer, I asked for a room upgrade and he went to ask his manager. No dice. I then asked for free drinks or money off my room rate (if I was staying at a chain hotel I would have angled for points) and he went back again to ask his manager. This time he offered me $25 at the bar. Not having time to play this game, I took it and went to my room. Coincidentally, as I was going through my ordeal, a couple of harried guests approached the front desk – apparently they had been given keys to a room that was already occupied. That’s only ever happened to me once (at the Sheraton Phoenix when it first opened), but shouted of poor management of the hotel.

As an aside, the hotel was pretty dingy and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. When we got to the elevator, the door only opened 1/4 of the way so we had to push it open in order to use it. When we got to our floor, not all of the rooms were numbered, so we had to try a couple doors until we got the right one. The room was fine, but definitely old school – loud heater unit and tiny shower with weak water pressure. The highlight of the hotel was the diner/bar in the lobby, which actually had decent drinks and food.

But back to the point of this post, in the end I got $50 off my travels, but I think I was more than $50 worth of annoyed. But what do you think? Am I being high maintenance or should I have fought harder to get what I actually reserved? As a small business owner, I can’t imagine not providing my clients with exactly what they paid for. If it just wasn’t possible, my instinct is to be proactive about reaccomodation. I don’t think it should be any different for travel providers, though is my sense of entitlement skewed because I’m normally pampered and upgraded instead of ignored and downgraded?

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  • Michael

    Kudos to you for not using your web status as a pressure point to these harmuculas who failed to serve you promptly, but you were, IMHO completely wronged. If you went to Morton’s and ordered a steak and they brought you a piece of chicken with the retort, “we are out of steak,” would you have eaten it? I wonder what would have happened if you a) told them who you were: b) fired up yer browser and scanned for other last minute car and hotel options and simply left? I regard you, by the way, as a voice for all of us who are treated like this regularly so next time I’d speak up even more!

  • Chris

    Becoming ;-)?

  • D

    I am totally with you on this. I started traveling widely as a child, and am the daughter of a now retired travel agent. I took lessons from my parents that I have carried with me into adult life with regards to effectively and respectfully asking for what I ordered and agreed to pay for. S*it happens a lot it seems, when it comes to many of the elements that come into play when we travel, be it for work or pleasure. While I have come to expect this, to a degree, it does not mean that I am willing to let providers of those services/goods roll all over me. I do regularly have to ask for some form of “make good”, and most of the time, it is fair compensation. But wouldn’t it be much nicer if we never (or rarely) had to ask?!

  • rich (arizona)

    “apparently they had been given keys to a room that was already occupied. That’s only ever happened to me once (at the Sheraton Phoenix when it first opened), but shouted of poor management of the hotel.”

    Any chance you could elaborate as to how the hotel responded in that situation?

    Last year I checked into a hotel late and when I tried entering the room the door wouldn’t open (the occupant had the inner latch closed, thankfully).

    When I went downstairs the girl seemed a bit dumbfounded and asked stupid questions like who was in the room (was it my job to find out?). Later after I thought about it I realized it could have been a very dangerous situation since to the person in the room I would be been an intruder and if they had a weapon or something I could have been serious hurt.

    Only when I sent in a letter did I get anything in return and that was for a free night stay in the future. Not something I’m interested in.

  • http://www.aaronklein.com Aaron Klein

    I don’t see those two anecdotes as high maintenance at all. In both circumstances, you booked one thing and received another. I’d find that pretty unacceptable.

    What I haven’t see you exhibit – and what annoys me about some other frequent travelers – is the belief that elite status entitles a traveler to experience zero inconveniences at all.

    Traveling is generally a series of inconveniences, and elite status is simply a way to mitigate those when you do it a lot. :)

  • nsk

    You wrote that you’re: “not easily stressed and I can usually handle whatever is thrown at me.” I wonder if you come across as having a standoffish attitude.

    I think a LOT of how counter people (rental car, hotel, airline) choose to treat the customer is based on the customer himself. That is, these counter people generally have a lot of latitude, and they can choose to grant benefits to people who are nice to them.

    For example, your HLE story. I can relate to that: I reserved a full-size at an HLE in downtown SF a couple months ago. The customers in front of me were a couple 20somethings from Spain who spoke little English. They had apparently reserved a hand-control car because they thought hand controls meant manual transmission. The guy at the counter was dumbfounded, but I stepped in to translate. We finally resolved the issue and the two left in a regular car. When it was my turn, I smiled at the counter guy and told him I could understand his frustration because I too had worked in rental cars. The guy gave me $50 off the rental – not a voucher, a $50 discount.

    At a Westin near SF, a bellboy never showed up to pick up our bags. Without asking, the woman at the front desk – who we had smiled at and made pleasant small talk with during our 3-day stay – immediately gave me 2000 SPG points for the inconvenience.

    A smile goes a long way.

  • The Points Guy

    Rich- I emailed the GM after the incident and someone from his office called me letting me know he’d be in touch. In the end, he never called but I do remember getting some points- I think around 10,000 (plus I had gotten a ton of points from other people’s stays I had paid for) so I remember being satisfied in the end. The thing that killed me about that incident, was when I returned to the counter to get a new key, the agent rolled her eyes at me and assured me she in fact had given me the correct key. Nothing angers me more when people make a mistake AND try to blame you for it.

    nsf- I definitely agree that being nice goes a long way. In fact I’ve written a bunch of posts about how simply having a positive attitude has scored me vouchers, upgrades and more.

    That being said, being super nice all the time doesn’t always work. When lazy employees refuse to provide you service, you need to know when to stand up for yourself. I never condone yelling or aggressive behavior, but being assertive and asking for what you want is key.

  • http://bimmerinfo.com Ray

    You are probably high maintenance, but so what. If your travel as much as you do I think as you said you become accustomed to a certain level of service when traveling.

    I think you know as well as I know that you would of pushed for much more. The problem, as you stated is you were pressed for time and not in the mood. I’m sure you can easily follow-up and get an additional $50 combined benefits. Here’s the part that I don’t get about the car rental company or the hotel. They both should of called you in advance, especially the hotel. It sounds like Hertz had cars, since you said “low inventory”. This would really upset me, and if I was 6’7″ I would be floored, especially with a Corolla of all cars. Now, what’s worse is the hotel did not call you to see if you were 100% sure coming. I’ve had avg hotels call me to insure I was still coming. I’ve actually had a hotel call me multiple times when I didn’t answer, and they called back about 30 minutes later. It’s similar to when airlines overbook their flights, but slightly different. Since you had paid for this hotel, and you normally must cancel by 4pm, you were already on the hook for the room. The front desk clerk or clerks should of held that room at least until 9pm or 10pm and sold everything but that room. As an aside, looking back you probably should of called to let them know you would be checking it, but it would be a late check-in. I’m on your side, but it always seems you have to do everything it takes these days to insure you don’t get screwed.

    So in conclusion, I would still work on getting extra discounts.
    I know one time the per diem rate changed during the time I booked the hotel and when I checked in. The amount was literally no more than $1.50 or so. The hotel did not make the change, and ultimately without even asking I was given a free stay at any Hilton hotel. I guess what I’m saying is, some companies want your business, while others don’t care. Of course in your situation I’d blame it on the persons involved and not the companies.

    Good Luck, go get more money from these folks.

  • Stephanie

    In these two cases, I absolutely do not think you are being high maintenance. I mean really, all you’re asking for is to get what you reserved and paid for. I studied hotel management in school and currently work in the hospitality industry–I understand service and it sounds like it fell quite short for you. It’s really about management because proper training starts from at the top. I will say though, when things like this happen it makes you REALLY appreciate the people and organizations that go the extra mile for their guests.

    Happy travels~

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