ONLINE HOTEL BOOKING:  YOU PAYS YOUR MONEY YOU TAKES YOUR CHANCES

We drove over to Denver last week to visit our new granddaughter, along with my daughter, and son-in-law, who live in the Denver area.  It’s about a 4-hour drive from Grand Junction to Denver, nearly 5 hours if you stop for lunch, which we usually do.  We left on Tuesday morning, and the traffic was light.  We stopped at our usual burger joint in Glenwood Springs – we got there around 11:30am – we each had a burger and fries.  As we were leaving, around 12:15 or so, a HUGE group of local high school kids arrived for their lunch.  So glad we missed THAT rush!  We might never have eaten! 

I drove the whole way from GJ to Denver, which is kind of unusual for me, as we usually change drivers when we reach the rest stop at Vail Pass, but this year, that rest stop is closed, as they are re-doing it.  Almost everything at that storied location has been demolished.  I would imagine that construction will last through the fall months and may not even be finished then.  A big project!  If you need to pee or something, you need to stop before that rest stop, or keep going on to Silverthorne, and stop somewhere along the way.  Just FYI, the viewpoint that overlooks Lake Dillon is also closed, as it’s stacked with construction equipment and materials.

We arrived in the Denver Metro area about mid-afternoon.  In fact, just in time to check into our um … hotel …? Needless to say, after that long drive, I was dead tired.

It’s been my habit for a few years now, to plan my travels well in advance.  This helps me to get lower prices on rooms, flights, and any other travel-related expenses.  Usually, this works well for me.  I do a lot of travel booking on Travelocity, just because I’m familiar and comfortable with their platform.  When I had a home-based travel agency, a dozen years or so ago, the company I worked with used a version of Travelocity as their host agency, and I just got used to it over the years.  Now, I’m re-thinking my use of that platform after this following adventure. 

I may have mentioned this in one of my previous posts, but as a retired person, I’m a very price-conscious traveler.  So, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I have spent many a night in crummy, 2-star motels. (with my husband!) I can usually tolerate it, and some are better or worse than others. 

So, in mid-August, my husband and I booked our rooms in the Denver area.  We booked our stay at HomeTown Studios in the Glendale/Cherry Creek area.  We usually book further in advance, but in this case, we only booked about a week in advance.  The pictures looked fine.  Not fancy by any means, but certainly ok.  My daughter and granddaughter live in Aurora, so from this motel, we could feasibly drive straight out Alameda from the hotel to their place.  Also, it’s located close to a place my husband has spent a lot of time dining at when we were living and working in Denver, and that is, The Bull & Bush Brewery.  So, we thought we knew the neighborhood.  It wouldn’t be the same as staying in a 3 or 4-star place near The Cherry Creek Mall, or even out by the airport, but for the few nights we would be there, it would probably be ok. We thought.

As soon as we arrived, we could see that the hotel was not in good shape.  A few cars were parked in the parking lot, which was pitted with large potholes we had to drive around to get to the office. My husband went into the office and got the key to our room:  a third-floor walkup.  No elevator.  My husband is 78 years old and has bad knees, so this didn’t bode well.  On my way up the two flights of stairs to our room, the smell of marijuana permeated the atmosphere.  When I arrived at the door to our room, I discovered the source of the smell.  Two guys a few doors down, standing in the doorway of their room, smoking a doob.  The hotel is supposedly “nonsmoking”, but I guess pot doesn’t count.

There was a piece of scotch tape still taped to the outside of the door, I would presume it was from a “3-day pay or quit notice.”  Turns out, this is a hotel you can live in.  And the primary residents are not guests, but full-time residents.  If I had to guess, some of them – if not all of them – have vouchers from the city, county, or state, that they can use to pay for their rooms.  Most of the residents appeared to be just in from the street. There were homeless looking people milling around in the parking lot.

The inside of the room was a mess.  The beds were made, but that’s about all I can say about it.  There were dust bunnies lurking in the corners, and behind the curtained window.  Someone – I don’t know who – had opened a couple bags of snacks and one half-eaten bag was spilling out it’s contents onto the table.  The television was on when we arrived.  It stayed on permanently, I would imagine, since the remote that went with it didn’t have any batteries, and in fact, the battery compartment was missing its cover. 

The room contained a full mini kitchen, including a hot plate and a beat up, dented refrigerator.  An old ironing board stood sentinel in the corner of the small bathroom.  There were no glasses, disposable or otherwise, that could be used to get a drink out of the tap.  We were in there for about 20 minutes while I attempted to convince my husband that this place simply wasn’t even safe, and we’d have to leave.  My husband, also being a price-sensitive individual, insisted that everything would be fine.  We could handle it.  HE could stay there.  I’m like, “No! This place is beyond my ability to tolerate. Even I have my limits.” 

It was right about then that the fire alarm went off.  I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from at first.  It seemed like it was coming from the hotel, but there was also an industrial type of building right next door, from where the sound may have been coming.  People started exiting their rooms and standing in the parking lot, looking upwards, to see if they could figure out what was going on.  After a few minutes, I heard sirens, but they didn’t come to the hotel or to the industrial building as far as I could tell.  The only thing I kept thinking was, even if it’s a false alarm, that’s no consolation, as that means the alarm could go off at any time, including in the middle of the night.  I told my husband, “OK, that’s it.  You can stay if you want to, but I’m leaving!” 

I hadn’t made any move to even unpack my bag, so I just picked it up and walked out.  Yes, my husband followed me, after he was reminded that the next day was my birthday, and I had no intentions of spending it anywhere near that place!  He insisted we stop at the office and return the keys and formally let the person at the desk there know we were leaving and find out what we could do to get our money back.  The desk attendant said we would have to go through Travelocity to get our money back. 

After some driving around wondering what to do, and feeling like a couple of homeless people ourselves – we decided to drive out towards East Colfax, towards Aurora and DIA.  John figured that we could get a cup of coffee at The Tattered Cover and use their wifi to search out a new hotel.  We did do this, and he did find one, and purchased it again through Travelocity, thinking that at LEAST if they could see that we had booked another hotel at the same time, they would know what happened when we tried to get our money back.  And he would explain it to them of course. 

We ended up spending about 45 minutes to an hour sitting in the coffee shop at Tattered Cover on Colfax.  As an aside to this story, I would add that I wasn’t that thrilled with The Tattered Cover, a store I used to LOVE back in the day.  I really liked it the best when it was in Cherry Creek North, and it had a restaurant on the 4th floor called “The Fourth Story.”  This restaurant had great city views from its expansive windows, and the food was good too.  The store was always busy – a happenin’ kind of a place if you like books. (I do!)

I think the last time I was there was 4 years ago, to attend a reading and book signing by my son-in-law, David Grinspoon, who had just written his book, Chasing New Horizons:  Inside the Epic first mission to Pluto, with co-author Alan Stern. 

The Tattered Cover was still a good place 4 years ago, and maybe it’s just the rather sour mood I was in, but it seemed a little rough around the edges this time. As I sat at my table drinking a glass of iced tea while my husband fiddled with his phone, I noticed that about half the shelves were empty.  I wandered over to where the magazine rack used to be, and it was filled with things like calendars.  A few magazines were still in the racks on the east wall, but it wasn’t by any means a full rack.  I didn’t look that closely, but I wondered if they were even current publications.  I still don’t know because nothing caught my eye enough to check out further. I returned to my seat in the coffee shop area and stared at the wall.  There were some large photographs for sale by a local photographer.  They were OK, but I was more interested in the reflections from the windows.  There were racks of greeting cards nearby that were filled with cards created by another local photographer.  Pictures of flowers and other simple nature scenes.  They were priced at something like $5.99.  I occasionally must remind myself that just because a photographer has their work for sale somewhere, it doesn’t mean anyone’s buying it.   

Window Reflections at Tattered Cover, Denver

Finally, our new room was booked, and we headed over to the Comfort Suites in Aurora, near the Anschutz Medical Center, which is very near the intersection of Colfax and I-225.  We ended up paying another $400 to stay in this 2.5-star place for 3 nights, but it was well worth it to be out of that previous death trap.  I was thrilled to see that actual travelers stayed in this hotel and not homeless people and drug addicts. It is the kind of place that you stay when you’re out of town on business, or as is often the case with this particular hotel, you have a loved one in the hospital.  Travelers who are there because they have a loved one in the nearby hospital really don’t need any more stress. 

The room was good, if a little cool when we arrived, but you can adjust the temperature with the thermostat on the wall.  The TV wasn’t working too well when we tried to turn it on, so we called maintenance, and a guy came out right away and fixed it for us.  Apparently, the wires behind the TV were frayed.  He got a new set of wires and installed them.  It took no more than 10 minutes for the whole thing and the TV worked great afterwards.  I couldn’t help wondering how the wires got frayed – could it have anything to do with mice chewing them?  OK well, some things I don’t really want to know, but the room seemed clean and in good repair otherwise.  We had no rodents visit while we were there that I was aware of.  The bed was comfortable.

The hotel offers a free breakfast buffet every morning, so that saves money on restaurant meals.  We had biscuits and gravy every morning, but hey! it was quite good.   Our room was on the second floor, but there was an elevator, so that worked out.

When we returned from our trip, my husband did in fact contact Travelocity to see if we could obtain a refund on the first hotel.  In a word?  The answer was NO.  They have an automated system that you can use to write to them asking for a refund and explaining why you would like one.  Your letter cannot exceed 500 characters.  My husband refined his letter several times to make the character limit, which necessitated not telling the whole story.  It turns out that the hotel only allows refunds for cancellations that occur OVER 48 hours before the reservation. There are no exceptions made for any reason, whether you think the room was satisfactory or not.  Additionally, the person who answered the phone when Travelocity called them, stated unequivocally that in fact, we had stayed there the entire three nights.  This is a bald-faced LIE because my husband returned the room key after we were only there for about 30 to 45 minutes and told the person at the front desk that we were leaving and asked about getting a refund.  That person told my husband to contact Travelocity.

The only other things I could add about this whole hotel fiasco, is that I learned a few things: 

  1.  There are other and possibly better ways to book a hotel than going through Travelocity. Some other options include booking,com, kayak.com, priceline.com, trivago,com, and Tripadvisor.com. 
  2. I like TripAdvisor right now, because of the extensive reviews.  However, to be fair, I must report that both Travelocity and TripAdvisor are owned by Expedia.  Nevertheless, I wish I would have seen and read the reviews for HomeTown Studios on TripAdvisor before I booked the room.  They contain the following headlines: 
    1. DANGEROUS – THE POLICE TOLD ME NOT TO STAY HERE
    1. DO NOT STAY AT THIS PLACE!
    1. AVOID
    1. 0/0 recommend
    1. DREADFUL AND POSSIBLY DANGEROUS HOTEL – DO NOT STAY HERE! 
  3.  It seems like I take pictures of everything, but I didn’t take any pictures of this place.  I should have, but I was just kind of freaked out.  If you want to see what it looks like, follow this link:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g33445-d84891-Reviews-HomeTowne_Studios_Denver_Glendale_Cherry_Creek-Glendale_Colorado.html#/media/84891/?albumid=101&type=2&category=101
  4. Remember what a powerful tool your cell phone camera can be.  I love my pretty pictures, but sometimes you gotta take pictures of the not-so-pretty as well.  Those pictures may come in handy. The photos taken by actual guests do not compare with the photos taken for marketing purposes. 
  5. If you are a hotel owner who wishes to rent rooms out by the week to homeless people, I applaud you.  I’m seriously glad that someone is offering this service.  However, while offering your rooms to average business and leisure travelers as well, you are putting half your clients at risk, not to mention there is no transparency about what’s really going on.  Yes, the rooms are cheap.  A good price is hard to pass up.  Especially for some of the people who wrote the reviews listed above, at least one of which was a single mom with kids in tow.  Of course, she’s looking for a good price, but she has safety concerns as well, as we all do. 
  6. BTW, we paid $92 a night for this room.  Cheap, yes.  But I’ve paid less at other places and had a MUCH better experience.  As an example, at Comfort Suites, where we ended up, the room rate was $99 a night plus tax and included a hot breakfast buffet. The room and hotel were clean and modern. The hotel and its surroundings were safe. The shower had great water pressure!
  7. I do believe that Expedia/Travelocity has an ethical responsibility to do vetting of the properties they offer on their sites.  HomeTown Suites is a scam for any business/leisure traveler who books it.  It’s dirty, dangerous, offers no amenities (including glasses!), and even LIES about what it offers, who’s staying there, what happens to those guests, and what their mix of clientele is. Then, hides behind their 48-hour cancellation policy to keep money that they didn’t earn.  Several people on TripAdvisor mentioned that they tried to get a refund and were told they couldn’t because of the 48-hour cancellation policy.  Since you must see this place to believe it, there may be many other people who just walked away and took their lumps without leaving a review.  It’s shameful.   
  8. Bottom Line:  If you want to be a shelter for homeless people or a place for drug addicts to recover, or a place for women and kids to be safe from abusers, do that.  If you want to run a business that caters to business and leisure travelers, do that.  The two don’t mix.  Choose one. 

Just as an FYI for my readers: 

Expedia owns the following businesses:  Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Venere.com, TripAdvisor.com, Cruisecritic.com, Bookingbuddy.com, SmarterTravel.com, SeatGuru.com, AirfareWatchdog.com, and IndependentTraveler.com.   This may be only a partial listing, and yes.  They’ve pretty much got a lock on all the travel booking sites.  I’m surprised the government hasn’t tried to break them up as a monopoly. 

Most recently I’ve been booking through the actual websites for the airline carriers, hotels, and other travel industry providers I’m interested in, although a lot of the smaller ones don’t offer their own booking engines, and when you try to book online, their sites transfer you to booking.com or some such place. If you have a monopoly on travel booking, you should at least consider the traveling public who you are marketing to, although Expedia/ Travelocity make more money off the travel industry providers than they’ll ever make off me.   

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: