A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday.
"I'm sorry, we don't appear to have your booking." Quite possibly the last words you want to hear when you're checking into a hotel and precisely what my wife and I were told a couple of weeks ago. The Great Auckland Power Cut Of 2018 was into its third day and, growing ever more frazzled, we decided to ditch our dark, cold home and get a hotel for the night. Rushing to the inner-city hotel as best we could through the early evening traffic, we'd have about half an hour to dump our bags before a brisk walk to Spark Arena to see Nile Rodgers and Lionel Richie in concert.
Standing at the counter of the hotel, the man at reception was staring at his computer screen, tapping the keyboard and looking altogether confused. How hard can it be to check two people in who have a reservation and booking number? Well, when the booking number is not for the hotel but for a private Airbnb residence, evidently quite hard.
That's right, the hotel room we'd secured from the website lastminute.com and paid $230 for was in actual fact an Airbnb apartment within the hotel. Checking back over our booking, nothing on the website mentioned Airbnb at all. Nothing said "private apartment" or "private room" and there was every indication this was a hotel room in, funnily enough, a hotel.
Realising the poor man at reception was blameless in our predicament, we looked again over the details of our booking for any clues. Eventually we found two. Curiously, there was a sentence we'd missed saying no one would be at reception. Seems odd for a hotel.
Secondly — and even harder to notice as to why it was strange — was the section titled About the Hotel. The sentence read: "For special requests or questions about the property, please call the hotel directly at Tel: +64 21_______". Yes indeed, it was a personal mobile number as opposed to the hotel's reception desk.
Ringing the number, a friendly chap confirmed that yes, we had booked an Airbnb room and yes, he'd be right down to see us. Which is where the story takes another unexpected turn, in that our room had somehow been double-booked, apparently due to crossed wires with lastminute.com, wotif.com and expedia.com all being part of the same company.
The man who owned the hotel room then kindly offered us his two-bedroom apartment in the neighbouring building, though he'd be sleeping in one of the rooms. We were in a rush to see Nile and Lionel (what a double bill!) so initially said yes and took our bags up to his pad, but walking to the concert we changed our minds. We'd paid $230 for a hotel room, not an Airbnb and not an apartment to share. It was important to us that we got our money back, but even more important that online accommodation booking websites like lastminute.com received a strong message that customers must never be misled over what they are paying for.
So after three hours of singing and dancing to Good Times, Le Freak, Upside Down, All Night Long, Easy and Brick House (again, what a double bill!), we quietly gathered our bags, sent a text to the apartment owner explaining our decision to leave and went and slept at my wife's parents' place.
All told, we had one frustrating phone conversation with lastminute.com (while walking to the concert) and one very positive conversation with them the next day when they agreed to give us a full refund. Credit where it's due, the customer services rep on the phone also made a commitment that lastminute.com would ensure their website makes it clear if they're advertising hotel rooms that are not owned nor run by the hotel. Airbnb is great, but if it's not what you paid for, it's not on.
Likewise, websites comparing hotel prices and offering late deals are terrific, but only if you get what you think you've bought.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two and writes the music and travel blog RoxboroghReport.com