Becoming Book Smart
By Jill Schachner Chanen
May 1, 2004, 09:21 pm CDT
When it comes to travel, Jeannine Cordero’s personal motto might as well be “Caveat emptor.”
It seems that no matter how much advance preparation she makes or how much money she is willing to spend, Cordero never knows what sort of accommodations she will find at her destination.
Take a recent family vacation to Banff, Alberta, Canada, as an example. Cordero thought she had covered all her bases before embarking on the trip, but when she and her family arrived at a much-ballyhooed resort, nothing met with their expectations.
The second bedroom in the apartment they rented was not set up with the twin beds she had requested for her young children. The apartment also lacked a VCR, despite the resort’s claims that each unit contained one. When Cordero asked for a VCR for the room, she learned that the resort only had two, which were available on a first-come, first-served basis. To cap things off, when Cordero and her family tried to order room service for breakfast the first morning—another amenity the resort claimed to offer—she learned that room service was offered only for dinner.
“My frustration is that you try to set up everything in advance, but the trips become a comedy of errors,” says Cordero, who says she encounters these types of problems on her monthly travels for both business and pleasure.
But for Cordero, these comedies of errors are no laughing matter. More times than she would like to remember, she has found herself paying top dollar for rooms that overlook garbage bins, are uncomfortably small or are lacking promised amenities.
Cordero is not afraid to complain but says more often than not she’s told that the hotel is full and no other rooms are available. “You can try to do your homework to learn about the hotel,” she says, “But oftentimes it fails and you get the room adjacent to the parking lot.”
Life Audit travel expert Laura Powell says Cordero can take some affirmative steps to get the kind of accommodations she expects.
To start, Powell advises Cordero to skirt central reservation centers whenever possible. Employees of reservation centers for hotels and resorts usually do not know specific information about properties and rooms.
Instead, Powell suggests calling the destination directly to learn which rooms have more space, better views or the features she wants—and which ones are too close to annoyances like garbage bins, elevators and vending machines. She wants Cordero to ask front desk employees to recommend specific rooms that will meet her expectations and then book that exact room.
Hotels will accommodate such requests because they have more updated reservation information. As a bonus, Cordero may find better rates by calling the hotel directly rather than going through central reservation systems or hotel Web sites.
BE FRUGAL, BUT NOT TOO FRUGAL
How Cordero books her hotel rooms also can make a difference in the quality of the room she receives. Like other travelers without an unlimited expense account, Cordero often scours the Internet for good deals on accommodations. But Powell warns that travelers who book through discount travel sites get what they pay for. “You get great rates but the worst rooms. Hotels will not negotiate with you if you’ve paid the lowest price.”
Cordero also should enroll in hotel preferred-guest programs, which ask travelers about their room preferences and then use the information to make room assignments. The information also is exchanged chainwide, Powell says.
“It is part of being a frequent traveler. If you are known as a repeat visitor to a chain,” she says, “it will give you a leg up on the nice room over the one next to the ice machine.”
Cordero also should not hesitate to complain if the room she receives is not acceptable, Powell says. “A lot of people just accept what they get. You do not want to complain for the sake of complaining. But do not take the problem lying down if there is a serious problem.”
Powell says Cordero should inspect the room when the porter opens the door for her and immediately request to be moved. If, as Cordero has encountered in the past, she is told that the hotel is full, Powell advises her to ask the hotel to make other options available to her, including a room upgrade or a transfer to another hotel.
Unsolved problems should be documented in a letter to a hotel general manager. Powell says hotels take complaints seriously and will keep travelers’ concerns on record so that future stays will be more to her satisfaction.
“If you are really particular about something, you need to ask for it,” Powell says. “A hotel cannot read your mind.”
Nationally recognized travel expert Laura Powell has written about travel for more than 15 years and created the TravelGuide TV show for CNN. When not on the go, Powell can be seen providing expert commentary on travel for ABC’s World News programs, Today and Fox News.
Jeannine M. Cordero
POSITION Solo practitioner in Chicago
TRAVEL GOAL Making sure the hotel rooms she pays for meet her expectations.
Life Audit HOT TIP: GET THE LOCK ON LUGGAGE
Tired of not being able to lock your luggage anymore because of new security measures? Now you can: The Transportation Security Administration has approved a combination luggage lock. Manufactured by Travel Sentry, the combination locks allow travelers to set their own code, but also allow TSA security officials to unlock the baggage with a universal code available only to screeners. Check out www.travelsentry.org for more information about the locks and a list of stores where they can be purchased. Also this year, travel expert Laura Powell says, several major luggage manufacturers will be unveiling hard-sided luggage with the locks built into the suitcase.