tl;dr: Inadvertent double booking due to intermediaries (and missing that there were two bookings) resulted in attempts to overcharge us by £1350 (~$2250) for a five-night stay.
- On August 30, 2013, I booked a room for Loncon3 through Starwood’s reservation system for the Aloft London Excel (a Starwood hotel) at £279/night (not at the much lower convention rate). I book through Starwood so seldom that I’ve never bothered with the paperwork to change my surname with them; it’s still my pre-married name of Saoirse. I didn’t add a second guest name to this booking.
On January 2, 2014, because my Aloft room wasn’t at the £120 convention rate, I booked one at the Premier Inn to hold something at the convention rate.
On January 2, 2014, I contacted Loncon3 staff to see about moving my Aloft reservation into the convention’s Aloft block so I could be at the hotel directly attached to the convention center (less walking).
I don’t need an accessible room. I just need less total walking during the day and the ability to easily duck out for a nap during the con to recharge. Staying at the Aloft would be of significant benefit to me.
Rick Moen and I will share, so we’d prefer a queen or (haha) a king if available.
Membership number: 172
Existing booking # 2…7 (Premier Inn London Docklands Excel)
This will free up a disabled room.
FYI, I already have an existing Aloft reservation, 7…0, which could just be moved into block if that’s easier.
- Loncon3 staff respond:
Thanks. We’ve received your lottery request and will send an update once we have more info.
- I respond back:
Well, either way I have an Aloft reservation, since I made one before the contract was finalised.
Ideally, I’d like it moved into block without having to go through the lottery.
- They respond:
The room blocks have no financial impact on the convention, unlike in the U.S. Since you already have a reservation in the Aloft, I suggest you just keep that one and cancel the Premier.
- I respond:
I was hoping for the con room rate though. £279 a night is the rate I’m holding.
So it may not have a financial impact for you, but it does for me (and thus my holding two reservations at present).
- On January 3, I cancel the reservation at the Premier Inn.
On January 4, Rick and I depart for Chile; we didn’t return to the US for 22 days. For most of that time, we’re in some of the remotest places on earth with zero Internet.
On January 17, an email is sent reminding of the lottery closing, but I have no ability to receive or respond to that email.
On January 24, with no further input from me except for what happened above, I receive a confirmation from Infotel, the booking service used by Loncon3 for convention-rate hotel bookings, for the dates of my existing Aloft booking, guaranteed to the same credit card, with a room rate of £120 per night. The second guest in the room is listed as “Rick Moen.” This is how you can tell I didn’t make the booking. No cover note or anything, so all the information I have is in that email. Because we’re still traveling, I only give the email a cursory glance.
Note: at this point, I’d assumed Infotel had taken over my existing Aloft booking. Also important: I was never, not once, given a cancellation or no-show penalty for this reservation. For my prior Infotel booking, the no-show or late cancellation penalty was a one-night stay. Except for ultra luxury or boutique hotels, this is pretty standard.
Also: the URL given to manage my booking began: http://localhost:50861/ —invalid for anyone except Infotel.
Whenever I logged into either Infotel or Starwood Preferred Guest, I saw a single booking. For that reason, I believed there was a single reservation. Oops. There’s a reason for this: my Starwood number wasn’t added to the Infotel booking because my surname on that booking (Saoirse Moen) is different from the surname (Saoirse) attached to my Starwood account.
After Rick and I sort out our plans (a couple of weeks before the convention), I make a ToDo list. One of those items was to shorten our hotel stay by one night. I fail to get this done.
We check in on August 13th, remembering to shorten our stay to the 18th. I add Rick’s name to the booking sheet using his legal name. We use Rick’s credit card to check in.
On August 14th, at 3:37 am local time, I get an email that says the Aloft tried to charge £600 to the card I used to hold the booking. I found this curious given that we’d just checked in. Stupidly, I assumed they tried to authorize to my card rather than the one they’d swiped when we checked in. (This has happened before on other occasions when there wasn’t any problem, so I didn’t think anything of it except that it was odd.)
Despite having two bookings with the same starting part of the surname, we were not advised of that. Naturally, they check us into the booking that’s £279 per night with no included breakfast rather than the booking that’s £120 per night with included breakfast for two.
The other odd thing: Why £600? Why not £720, which was the full six nights of the booking? Why not £120 for the cancellation fee?
On August 14th in the afternoon, Rick gets a voice mail in the room to “Rick Moen”—asking him if he was also intending to shorten his stay to the 18th. We’re both puzzled by the use of his nickname.
I had breakfast with Peggy Rae and John Sapienza one morning, and they said their hotel room came with breakfast. Ours hadn’t, I said, but I didn’t think to check and see if something was wrong.
We start the checkout process on the 18th, then discover the £279 rate, then I pull up the email reservation. It’s only at this point that I realize there must have been two reservations all along, and we checked into the wrong one. When we get to the third or fourth person who finally cares to try to do something about the issue (srsly), it takes them the better part of an hour to fix the reservation. Basically, they deleted the breakfast line items and credited us with £750, which isn’t exactly the right solution (and made both of us nitpicky types unhappy with the solution), but it’s functional.
They also tell us that they can’t change the number of days on the £120/night stay, so we’ve essentially got the room through to the 19th—except that we’re leaving for Cardiff. We get hotel keys for our room and put our luggage back there, then head off to the convention.
First, no one at the hotel really seemed to care about the business of running the hotel. They all seemed like they were phoning it in. There were things like: being open until 11pm for dinner, but telling people they couldn’t take any more diners at 9:30 pm. Having to wait 20 minutes, on average, for gluten-free bread every morning because it took that long to find some waitstaff to get it for me.
Additionally, despite asking for a hamburger with no bun and sautéed potatoes instead of chips, I was brought out a hamburger on a regular bun with chips. I didn’t explicitly say “gluten free,” but that shouldn’t matter.
After going several rounds with the night manager, who made it sound like he was doing me a big fucking favor, he confirmed that chips aren’t gluten free (fried in the same fryer with gluten-coated items). On a different occasion, when I specified I needed gluten free more clearly, I was still brought black pudding (not gluten free, generally) and another non-gluten free item.
I loved the look of the hotel, but the entire experience left a bad taste. I was really glad to move on to Cardiff—and to a different hotel.
The Hotel’s Honesty
The woman checking us in wasn’t particularly experienced, so I don’t think it was dishonesty on her part that checked us into the wrong reservation.
However, the hotel knew all along that there were two reservations. Remember that message for Rick Moen? If we were checked into the reservation with no second party, where I’d handwritten in Rick’s legal name, then why call and ask for him in the name of “Rick Moen” if they didn’t have the other reservation right in front of them?
So—they knew, they knew to our detriment, and they did nothing about it. For that reason, I consider the hotel essentially dishonest, especially after attempting to charge so much for the “no show” penalty.
Lessons for Convention Runners
There really should be a way for the mobility impaired to get hotel rooms close to the convention facilities at convention rates without having to compete with the able-bodied, especially when rooms sell out very quickly for things like Worldcon.
There needs to be a way for that to happen without using up a lot of people points.
Clearer communication about what was done (i.e.., was an existing reservation modified, or was a new reservation created) would be stellar.
Very few things use up people points like attempts to overcharge by £1350.