This is a saga about a horrendous experience I had last week—an experience from which I was certain I would fail to emerge with body and mind intact. It was an adventure so stressful that in looking back, I would strongly urge everyone reading this to avoid repeating my ill-advised expedition.
It all started with a planned Labor Day weekend in Biloxi and the decision to book two hotel rooms for my wife Betty, me, a daughter and three grandchildren.
Because we wanted two adjoining rooms, I thought it best to call the hotel directly. Instead, the toll-free number I dialed somehow turned out to be that of Hotels.com. Thus began the Nightmare on College Street.
My therapist has since suggested that I advise you that whatever your future travel plans may be, at all costs avoid any dealings with Hotels.com.
Only my experience in trying to extract public records from the Jindal administration over the past two years prepared me for what I was about to endure.
The level of ignorance, ineptitude, disdain for the public and sheer arrogance encountered in my dealings with Hotels.com was almost comparable to that of the Division of Administration and the Department of Education. For the rigorous training those two agencies put me through in preparation for Hotels.com, I am grateful. Without the mental toughness forced upon me by the Jindal administration, I might have given up in my quest for justice for the little man.
Upon receiving an automated answer after dialing the toll-free number, I pressed “1” for English and “1” again for reservations. After a brief wait, a male, heavily-accented voice came on the line. I would learn later that he was in Hotel.com’s call center in the Philippines. So, already I am agitated at the propensity of American businesses to suck up our hard-earned dollars while taking jobs out of the country and hiring cheap help in Third World countries.
That aside, I explained that I wanted two non-smoking rooms with two beds in each room, a request he seemed to understand readily enough. The price he quoted me was precisely twice the rate for a single room—$299.50 for two non-smoking rooms at $149.75 each. I gave him my credit card information, email address and telephone number and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Too smoothly, it turned out.
It’s times like that one should never let his guard down. Little did I know that I was being lured into a mental maze that would leave me foaming at the mouth and ready to take a ride on the Disoriented Express and to be checked into the Hotel Silly instead of the Comfort Inn in Biloxi.
He gave me a confirmation number and we ended the call.
A few minutes later I received an email confirmation and that’s when the fun began.
It was confirmation for one room at $149.75. Well, at least they got the rate correct but the deal was for two adjoining rooms at a combined cost of $299.50.
I called the toll-free number again, dialed “1″ for English and “1″ again for reservations and got a very nice lady named Amanda. She was in Missouri, not the Philippines and I soon learned that (a) it was hot where she was because the air conditioning was out and (b) her computer was down—probably because someone was working on the air conditioning, she reasoned. I failed to make the connection.
I was on the line for a little more than an hour with Amanda and I became increasingly familiar with two of her favorite terms: “I’m sorry about this” and “hold on just a minute.” If I heard those two phrases once, I must’ve heard them 20 times…each.
Somehow, the confirmation email for my second room, at $149.75 did manage to come through despite her computer problems. But then she insisted on transferring me to customer service, along with her recommendation to complain long and loud about the SNAFU. Her, I appreciated because I was certainly prepared to do just that.
But when I got customer service, after another 20-minute hold time, they informed me that they were indeed sorry for the inconvenience but their computers were down and they were unable to help me and could I call back tomorrow?
Friday afternoon I called and pressed “1” again for English and “1” a second time for reservations and asked to be put through to customer service. I have reason to believe the reservations representative moonlights for the Transportation Security Administration (you know, the sadists who work at the airports) because I had to answer an entire battery of questions I believe were designed to trick me and to deny access to customer service.
But I fooled them and got through and after going through the ordeal of explaining my experience from the very first call to make reservations to the computer malfunction call to this call, I gave the guy my two confirmation numbers (two being necessitated because of the original mistake of making a reservation for just one room).
This guy was so sympathetic and understanding that after another series of “I apologize” and “Hold on just a minute,” he came back on the line to assure me he was going to try and get me a partial refund (which, by the way, was precisely what I demanded). “Please hold while I get authorization for that,” he said.
After hearing nothing but silence on the line for about 10 minutes, I finally realized he wasn’t coming back. So I did the obvious thing, glutton for punishment that I am: I called back and dialed “1” for English and “1” for reservations, asked for customer service, answered the same security questions and this time was told that I would receive a 25 percent refund. “On each room?” I asked. By now I was ready to up the ante to 50 percent on each room.
“Hold on, I’ll check,” he said.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking but this time I was not disconnected and he finally returned to say yes, I would get a 25 percent refund on each room. “Great,” I said. “Now I want you to send me written confirmation of that to my email address.”
“What is that name and email address, sir?”
“You already have my name and email address on my original reservation confirmations,” I said.
“But I need it for your refund confirmation,” he said.
I gave it to him and he processed the refund on the first confirmation and whether you choose to believe this absurdity or not, he actually asked for my name and email address again.
“Why do you need that again?” I asked.
“For the second confirmation.” Sounding by this time more like Porky Pig than myself, I managed to give him the information—for what I swear must have been at least the 10th time in this surreal series of telephone chats.
So, I was elated a few minutes later when an email popped up on my screen from Hotels.com. Elated, that is, until I read that the refund was for only one reservation—the original one.
I started to call back but after the mercury shattered the bulb in my home blood pressure kit (and I didn’t even have the Velcro® cuff on my arm), I decided to wait until Saturday morning before we left for Biloxi to see if it might come in overnight. Of course, it didn’t.
Finally, upon our return home Sunday night, I called Hotels.com once more and pounded “1” for English and drove a metal spike through “1” for reservations and once again went through the entire lengthy explanation which by now was taking longer to recite than it took me to read Moby Dick in college (to this day, the only thing I remember from that god-awful book is the opening line: “They call me Ishmael.”).
Believe it or not, I finally got the second email confirmation of the $37.44 refund for the second room. Now, I’ll just have to check my credit card invoice when it comes in to see if the refunds actually went through. To tell you the truth, I’m not holding my breath.
As a postscript to this saga, when we checked into the Comfort Inn in Biloxi, the reservations were waiting for me—adjoining rooms. As a wave of relief swept over me, I explained to the lady behind the counter what I had encountered with Hotels.com.
She just shook her head, handed me a hotel business card and said, “I hate dealing with those people. They’re all a pain. You should’ve just called us direct.”
I gave her my best Bob Newhart deadpan stare and politely referred her to the third paragraph of this rant.