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An overpowering smell of stale urine greeted Chris Emery when he checked into a chain hotel in southwestern Virginia. But he was so tired after an all-day drive that he did what most travelers would do: Instead of rejecting his hotel room, he opened a window, hoping the smell was just temporary. It wasn’t.
“I went to the front desk and let the clerk know about the problem,” says Emery, who publishes an outdoor travel site. “Instead of immediately offering us a new room, the employee reached behind the counter and put cans of room deodorizer and Febreze on the counter. I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to say.”
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That triggered a debate in Emery’s family that is happening more often lately. The pandemic hit the lodging industry hard, leaving many hotels in desperate need of a renovation. But when do you say “no” to a hotel room? What do you do afterward? And, is there a way to avoid a hotel with a room that you would reject?
“As we slowly start to travel again, we’re less likely to overlook hotel room inadequacies than we might have been previously,” says Carla Bevins, who teaches business communications at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.
When to turn down your room
So when should you reject your room? For Emery, a combination of foul-smelling quarters and a dismissive hotel clerk made the decision easy. He packed up his family and drove to a relative’s house.
Dangerous or inaccessible facilities. If you’re traveling abroad, you might encounter a hotel that isn’t as accessible as one you might find in the States. That happened to Mark Beales, a retired mortgage banker from Mill Creek, Washington, on a recent visit to Florence, Italy. “The room had a double bed in a very small room which required you to climb a steep set of stairs after entering the room,” he recalls. He asked for another room without stairs. The hotel obliged.
Unsanitary conditions. If the hotel room isn’t livable, find another one. Stefan Loble had to do that when he tried to check into a room at an airport hotel in Los Angeles recently. “The sheets were wet,” recalls Loble, who runs a clothing manufacturing business in New York. “Like, really wet. I could tell as soon as I laid down on top of the bed on the comforter.” Loble phoned the front desk, and it delivered a key to a new room.
Loud neighbors. That’s what happened to Mitch Krayton when he visited Las Vegas recently. “The people next door were loud,” remembers Krayton, who owns a travel agency in Denver. “They were arguing and playing music without regard to anyone else.” He called security, and the music stopped for a minute, but then continued. Krayton asked to be moved to another room.
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What to do after you reject a room
Don’t just walk away from the hotel. If the room is unusable, let the hotel know and give it a chance to fix the problem. When Mike Sweat, a retired geologist from Lansing, Michigan, checked into a chain hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he found a hairball on the floor.
“We saw it when we shut the drapes,” he recalls. “There was also hair in the shower.”
Sweat called the front desk, which promptly dispatched a cleaning crew. It also comped 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. Remember Loble’s ill-fated hotel room in LA? The second room wasn’t much better, he told me.
“When I went into that room, it was two seconds before I knew the room was also a no-go,” he remembers. “It completely smelled like cigarette smoke.”
The hotel delivered a key to yet another room, and this time, he was satisfied. The whole episode took about 20 minutes from start to finish, and Loble says the hotel could have done better.
“I thought all of the changes would have presented a great opportunity to give me a nicer room,” he says. “They didn’t.”
What if you have to check out?
If the hotel can’t make things right and leaving is the only alternative, what’s the best way to do it? I’ve had thousands of cases where people have checked out early, and I can tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way.
The right way? Politely inform a manager are dissatisfied 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 walk you to another property and cover your first night’s lodging. And the wrong way is to scream, threaten and storm off.
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“A courteous, nonthreatening in-person conversation with a manager is often the best path to a resolution,” says Bevins, the business communication expert.
One more thing: Don’t forget to document the problems. Take pictures and videos, and document the names of those you spoke with at the hotel about your room issues. Save any follow-up emails between you and the hotel that document your dissatisfaction. Ultimately, you may have to take this up with your credit card issuer, which will ask for written proof.
I feel fortunate that I’ve never had to leave a hotel. But I’ve asked for a new room on many occasions, including last year at a large resort in Orlando, Florida. They’d given me a room next to the elevator, and I couldn’t sleep. That falls into the “loud neighbors” category, I suppose.
I hope I never have to check out of a hotel because of a substandard room. But when I do, I won’t hesitate – and neither should you.
How to avoid having to turn down a room
Careful research. If a hotel gives you a smoke-filled room, you can bet it’s not the first time. You can find a list of offenders online (they’re the ones with one-star reviews).
Expert help. A qualified and competent travel adviser will never book you in a hotel with a bad reputation. And if you end up with a problem, like noisy neighbors, a call to your travel agent can find a way to fix it without you having to engage in a lengthy negotiation. Find a great agent at the American Society of Travel Advisors site.
A reasonable budget. Shopping for the lowest price can get you into trouble. Sure, you can find a lower rate – but you get what you pay for.