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Thread: The difficulty of being an informed consumer in the information age

  1. #1

    Default The difficulty of being an informed consumer in the information age

    So, my mother has had a lifelong dream of visiting the Niagara Falls and spending one night in a room with a great view of the Canadian falls. This year, things finally came together so that I could send her and my sister to Canada, and make her Niagara Falls dream come true.

    I have to admit was shocked by how difficult (= impossible) this turned out to be. Large parts of the hotel (and travel) industry outside Europe seems trapped in the 90s. It was nigh impossible to get a good idea, from official hotel websites, of how the rooms actually look; photos tend to be tiny, blurry, and poorly composed. Traveller photos are marginally better, and they typically do not give a good overview of premium rooms (where they do, it's difficult to find photos of any specific room category). Trying to get an idea of what the views are actually like is literally impossible, at least if you look at official websites: the room listings typically feature [comically poorly] photoshopped images with blatantly fake views pasted into the windows. Traveller photos and videos ameliorate this problem somewhat, but just barely.

    So anyway, after a lot of frustrating research, I determined that the high floor 2-room presidential suites at the Embassy Suites (Hilton) at Niagara Falls were likely to offer fantastic views of the horseshoe falls, and booked such a room. The website specified a particular floor number that falls into the high floor category, and the confirmation mail did the same. I spoke with their CS reps twice prior to their stay, about other issues, and they confirmed that the floor in question fell into the high floor category. Despite this, my mother was assigned a room on the 14th floor upon arrival, which is not in the same category, and from which the views are markedly different (despite this the hotel apparently charges exactly the same rate). My mum is elderly and she was exhausted from travelling, so she hesitantly accepted staff's confident assurance that she must have been mistaken about being promised a room on a particular floor because it was impossible that they would specify a floor number or category. The manager's reaction was similar (even after reviewing the confirmation mail ).

    This experience (as well as other aspects of the stay) has felt decidedly anachronistic. Over the past few years, I've grown accustomed to using clear, informative hotel websites, and dealing with somewhat honest hotels, so I find it a little difficult to accept a situation where it is impossible for me to make an informed choice about a hotel stay. It's obviously difficult for a hotel to guarantee a specific room, but they should be expected to be able to guarantee a room in a particular category or better. I can understand how situations like this may come about; the realities of the hospitality industry are famously ugly, and encourage the exploitation of judicious ambiguity, convenient "mistakes", etc. But I hadn't realized how fortunate I'd been until now.

    My mother was absolutely blown away by the Falls and the rest of her trip will, I think, be really fun. But the treatment by hotel staff spoiled the realization of her lifelong dream somewhat, and the entire experience has kinda disheartened my inner consumerist. The misleading info remains on the hotel's website, so I have, for the first time in my life, filed a complaint with the BBB (clearly I'm ready to become a grandfather). From now on, I think I'll just stick to smaller, more modern hotels. But,
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    <snip> But,
    But what?
    The Rules
    Copper- behave toward others to elicit treatment you would like (the manipulative rule)
    Gold- treat others how you would like them to treat you (the self regard rule)
    Platinum - treat others the way they would like to be treated (the PC rule)

  3. #3
    Stop making this a nationality thing. I checked their site, and it's definitely shitty, but that's because they have a shitty website, not because US law prohibits non-shitty websites for hotels.

    The BBB is useless. Did you use a credit card? If you're willing to keep dealing with the hotel to get restitution, call them again, and make sure you use the phrase "reverse the charges". If they don't play ball, get your CC to reverse the charges.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by EyeKhan View Post
    But what?
    I don't remember, but I think it was something very profound

    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    Stop making this a nationality thing. I checked their site, and it's definitely shitty, but that's because they have a shitty website, not because US law prohibits non-shitty websites for hotels.
    Thank you for refuting a claim I hadn't made, I guess

    After raising a stink on social media platforms (about the dodginess of assuring a room on a specific floor while simultaneously maintaining the position that you can't count on ending up on that floor or better), they escalated the issue, and I've been offered a full refund—which I'm happy to accept. Can't change what's already happened but my mum was thrilled by the boat ride etc at least, so this is a good outcome.
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  5. #5
    This is standard operating procedure for a lot of touristy places, especially around here, home of the mouse. Overbook everything and only give in when someone decides to raise holy hell.
    "In a field where an overlooked bug could cost millions, you want people who will speak their minds, even if they’re sometimes obnoxious about it."

  6. #6
    Sounded like this happened on the Canadian side (?) but Hilton usually has good customer service. I'm surprised Hilton didn't offer "concierge" services for an elderly international traveler (who'd likely have mobility and language issues) since they're usually good about catering to any special needs that way.

    Maybe it's a generational thing, but I'd never rely primarily on web sites or emails when making special trip plans. I'd have used the phone and spoken to the same person several times, establishing a rapport. That not only eases my concerns, but makes their accountability more personal. And I wouldn't use social media to 'raise a stink' if my expectations weren't met, let alone file a complaint with the BBB.....until I'd given my dedicated contact person a chance to make things right.

    Maybe too much importance was given to the high-level-hotel-room-view but glad your mom and sister are enjoying their trip to the Falls!

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Ominous Gamer View Post
    This is standard operating procedure for a lot of touristy places, especially around here, home of the mouse. Overbook everything and only give in when someone decides to raise holy hell.
    Indeed, and it is of course especially unfair to people who are less able to assert themselves. I would not have made a big deal about this if it hadn't been so deliberate and unfair.

    Quote Originally Posted by GGT View Post
    Sounded like this happened on the Canadian side (?) but Hilton usually has good customer service. I'm surprised Hilton didn't offer "concierge" services for an elderly international traveler (who'd likely have mobility and language issues) since they're usually good about catering to any special needs that way.

    Maybe it's a generational thing, but I'd never rely primarily on web sites or emails when making special trip plans. I'd have used the phone and spoken to the same person several times, establishing a rapport. That not only eases my concerns, but makes their accountability more personal. And I wouldn't use social media to 'raise a stink' if my expectations weren't met, let alone file a complaint with the BBB.....until I'd given my dedicated contact person a chance to make things right.

    Maybe too much importance was given to the high-level-hotel-room-view but glad your mom and sister are enjoying their trip to the Falls!
    Pfft, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize a lifelong dream, it's all right to be very particular after all, my mum envisioned staying up all night just looking out over the falls. In all seriousness, this was the only way to really ensure (ha!) they'd get a great view from their room; that (imagined) certainty comes at a high premium at times like these. All good hotels in the vicinity of the Canadian falls are--for obvious reasons--overpriced, but the majority are not only overpriced but also rubbish, and it's very difficult (if not impossible) to identify the lemons. Incidentally, Hilton charged the same sum for the low-floor suite as they would've for a high floor suite.

    What you point out re. booking things is not really a generational thing; if you really want to make sure of something, you have to speak with someone who has the authority to ensure your wishes are met, and who can also be held accountable if you're screwed over. It also helps you sort out misunderstandings and set realistic expectations. That's why I called Hilton prior to the trip, and, to my surprise, I found it was "impossible" to actually be put in touch with someone at the hotel who could do anything about, well, anything. I was trapped in call-center hell every time (with a new person, every time) until it became clear that the hotel had not honoured its commitment, and that it may have to refund us. Even after that, I was unable to make any headway until I publicly called them out for making commitments they later said they couldn't possibly be expected to keep; the hotel manager had no interest in resolving the matter.

    All in all, this has been an interesting experience, very different from the experience I usually have when I stay at boutique hotels or hotels run by smaller and more modern companies than the giants. They may not be as generous with compensation when/if they admit fault, but they are easier to get through to. I'll obviously stick to such hotels in the future, which will be easy because, for my part, I'm generally not interested in staying near such tourist attractions. I'll note one thing: on the few occasions that I've had any issues with a hotel booked through Hotels.com, it's been much easier to get the matter resolved by going through their CS, because they have much more clout than I do as a lowly tourist.

    The report to the BBB was mostly to encourage the company to alter the website if they truly believe it has mistakenly specified floor numbers (Hilton's position appears to be that they can't promise any particular room on any particular floor, and that it must be a mistake for the website to suggest otherwise). There is another agency that deals with issues of false advertising on the Canadian side, so, if the website isn't changed, or the company's policies clarified, that's the next step. I truly disapprove of lying to customers.
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  8. #8
    BBB is just a legal extortion ring. When they get a complaint, they just charge the company a fee to make it go away. It's also been losing power the past few decades, so fewer and fewer businesses are willing to pay the fee to scrub the complaints. Yelp is the same thing, and probably more effective.

    I am sorry about your experiences with this hotel - there are a lot of unscrupulous people who like to target foreigners and the elderly who are less likely to be aware of their rights and willing to put up a fight. Your mother was unfortunately a tempting target, being both of those things. The reality though is that the consumer has all the power here; aside from raising hell on social media or the two aforementioned extortion platforms, you can always reverse any charges if a company doesn't deliver what they promised. You should have 3-6 months after payment before it's not reversible, so just because you've already paid doesn't mean you're out of options. Most payment processors require you to try to settle with them directly first, and you should do this, but it's not policed and as long as you don't do it too frequently whoever your processor is will virtually always take your side. Occasionally some shady asshole will try to threaten consumers with some sort of "consequences" if they reverse payment, but the reality is they can't do shit about it, and that should be the cue to immediately stop talking to them and cancel payment.

  9. #9
    The travel industry is weird because there are lots of intermediaries (you booked with the hotel direct and not through Booking.com or somesuch, I assume) and not everything is as digitized as expected. Like you can book a seat on a particular plane, but not a particular room in a hotel. Like have you ever looked at the screen of a hotel front desk when checking-in? It's garbage technology; I'm sure there isn't even a way for anyone to book a particular room unless it's done by someone physically at the front desk.

    Besides this issue, I'm glad the trip overall was at least positive! Any idea why Niagara was the dream? You made the right choice going to the Canadian side. The American side has been ruined by left-wing policy.

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