You get what you pay for, but in New York City you get even less. Four years after leaving the Big Apple for sunny Los Angeles, I re-learned this lesson after booking a budget hotel room on the Upper West Side with appalling results.
The $145 room – well below normal prices for a Manhattan hotel – had a shared bathroom and lacked amenities. But for one night it would be fine, I reasoned. I had used the same booking site in the past and gained great deals on beautiful hotel rooms. I trusted they would never work with sub-par hotels (Mistake No. 1).
We arrived a few minutes before check-in and noticed that, after each party checked in, an attendant walked them to their room. When it was our turn, a young woman led us through a maze of connected buildings so disorienting that I joked about getting lost. So this is why we were walked to our room, I thought. (Mistake No. 2).
The woman stopped in a narrow hallway and turned the key. No modern card swipes at this hotel. She opened the door and motioned for us to step inside.
I was stunned. The blue carpet was so ancient it was beyond cleaning. The pillows were flat as pancakes. The mysterious smell made me breathe shallowly. A single window blurred by years of muck looked onto an alley. The bed – oh how I was ready for a nap until I saw the bed!
“Do you still want the room?”
I looked at my friend, looked at the woman, and paused. I turned down the sheets and squinted to see possible tiny red spots, a sign of bed bugs. The thin yellowed sheets showed through to the mattress. I did not see any spots, but the light was too dim to erase all doubts.
“We heard there were bed bugs,” I said to the woman.
She shook her head. “The things people write online,” she said. “Disgruntled employees.”
“So the room is okay?”
No, it was not okay, But I was so ashamed that I had gotten myself into this situation, that I had believed I could get such an amazing deal, that I was too cheap to pony up for a better room in the first place, that I looked at the woman and nodded. (Mistake No. 3)
She closed the door behind her.
“Do you want to stay here?” I asked my dismayed friend.
“Do you want to stay here?”
We both agreed we could suffer a night in the dingy hotel room, but that we really, really wanted a nicer hotel room. We gathered our bags and marched back to the lobby.
“We changed our minds,” I said. “The room is not acceptable. I’m sorry.”
The hotel staff was ticked off. The manager refused to give us a canceled receipt because it was the booking site that was charging us, he said. Arguing was no use. We walked out.
I immediately called the booking site and asked them to refund the $145 charge because the room did not match the online description, to put it mildly. The customer service agent offered me a 10% refund. I politely pushed back. She offered me a $50 credit. No thanks. Manager, please. The manager refused to help a loyal customer and, after more than an hour on hold, my cell phone battery died. The next day I called my credit card company to contest the charge.
Whether or not I end up paying for the hotel room, I’ve learned three lessons. I was greedy, thinking I could find a better price for a hotel room than the millions of other tourists who visit New York City. I made assumptions that got me into trouble and did not recognize them until it was too late. And to top it off, I kept quiet when I should have spoken my mind.
As karmic payback, I booked a ridiculously expensive hotel, slept extremely well, and made free Starbucks coffee the next morning in my room.