I Booked A Hotel. I Showed Up. The Hotel Wasn’t There.

Aug 5, 2017

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One of the basic assumptions you make when you book a hotel is that the property will be there when you show up. That assumption was challenged for me a couple months ago when I went to check in to a hotel in New York I had booked using points via Chase’s Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center portal is great for booking free flights, hotels and more.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center portal is great for booking free flights, hotels and more.

I use the Travel Center all the time to redeem points for flights and hotels, and even used it to pay for an airport transfer in Marrakech last year. Over the years, I’ve earned and burned hundreds of thousands of Ultimate Rewards points without a problem. It’s been a terrific program that’s provided tremendous value and I was happy to get friends and family signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card in time for the 100,000-point bonus.

Hotel 17 on 17th Street in Manhattan.
Hotel 17 on 17th Street in Manhattan.

In February, Ultimate Rewards saved the day when plans to stay with a friend in New York fell through and I had to find a hotel. I took a chance on a highly rated but inexpensive place called Hotel 17, on 17th Street near Gramercy Park in Manhattan and was impressed by its charmingly small size, its location and its fantastic price. While not for everyone (guests share hallway bathrooms), I found it a great option for budget-minded travelers and was pleased to book a return visit in April.

Chase sent this confirmation/reminder e-mail six days before my arrival.
Chase sent this confirmation/reminder email six days before my arrival.

In March, I booked my four nights in April/May using my Ultimate Rewards points with no problem. Six days before my arrival, I received a reminder/confirmation email from Chase and I arrived into JFK as scheduled.

I got myself into the city and walked up the hotel’s front steps under its familiar canopy and found the door to be locked. I was a little confused but after knocking on the door, I was let in and I gave my name to the man at the front desk for check-in.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “We’re no longer operating as a hotel.”

It’s been a couple months and that still puts the same confused look on my face.

I told the man I had a reservation, showed him my confirmation and gave my name again (no idea why I thought that would help). Again, he said they were no longer operating as a hotel. I asked how long this had been the case.

“A few weeks,” he said. No one — not the hotel, not Chase, not Expedia (with whom Chase partners to book some hotels) — had contacted me to tell me my booking was worthless. Chase had deducted the points from my account back in March and here I was with no place to stay. I was not happy.

The desk man looked up some information while I used my mobile phone to call the Chase Travel Center customer support number on my reservation. I explained to the phone rep what had happened and it took my explaining it more than once for her to understand — she couldn’t believe it either. Nice as she was, she was unable to assist me with a rebooking or a refund but promised that the person she would transfer me to would. She apologized for what she said would be a 10-minute hold. I asked if they could just call me back when someone was able to help and was told they could not. I waited.

Hotel 31 on East 31st Street in Manhattan.
Hotel 31 on East 31st Street in Manhattan.

In the meantime, the man at the desk had found my Expedia reservation number (something that had not been provided to me) and asked if I would like to look for a room at Hotel 17’s sister property, Hotel 31. I accepted and he made some calls while I waited on hold. Eventually, he reported that he had been able to transfer my reservation to Hotel 31 and that I should get over there now before the room got taken by someone else. This delayed my afternoon plans, but I wanted to get this settled, so I made my way up to 31st Street. The desk man there had trouble accessing Expedia but eventually I got checked in and as I was handed my room key, the new phone agent from Chase picked up — after 40 minutes on hold.

Apparently, she had been apprised of my re-accommodation and assumed I was “settled in and cool.” I was not.

I asked her: Why did I get a confirmation five days ago for a hotel that closed two weeks ago?
“It’s an automated system,” she answered.

What if there had not been a sister hotel with a room available?”
“We would have accommodated you.” she answered.

Would they refund my points for bungling this situation?
“I can offer you 2,500 points for your inconvenience.” I declined.

I asked to speak to a supervisor but none was available. She said they could take my number and a supervisor would contact me in “seven to 21 days.” Seven to 21 days for an incident that I needed resolved that day.

Yes, I was able to get it solved to some degree, but what if I hadn’t? I happen to know New York pretty well and to be an able-bodied person who was traveling solo in the middle of the day in a big city. But what if I were in an unfamiliar place? What if I were disabled? Had an infant with me? And what if I just really needed or wanted to stay in the exact location I had booked? People book certain hotels for a reason, and especially when you pre-pay for them, it’s reasonable to expect the reservation to be honored.

And the wait time: What would the hold time have been if this were late at night? What if I hadn’t had a cell phone to use?

I was also just really disappointed in Chase. I earned many of the points in my account with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, a card I pay $450 a year to use. Mistakes happen, of course, but the way Chase handled this did not make me feel like a high-end customer.

Using social media to resolve an issue sometimes works. I also wanted to vent.
Using social media to resolve an issue sometimes works. I also wanted to vent.

Hoping for a better and quicker result, I took to Twitter.

Expedia responded quickly to another tweet.
Expedia responded quickly to another tweet.

Even though it was a Saturday, Expedia responded within an hour and after a private exchange with its reps, I was told that this was a Chase issue and it could not do anything.

Chase replied a couple days later via DM.
Chase replied a couple days later via DM.

Chase’s social media team replied Monday morning, asking to DM them with details. I did so and got an apology and a promise to escalate to its Travel Team.

The rest of my stay continued without incident. I enjoyed Hotel 31 as well as I had enjoyed my first time at Hotel 17 and checked out after four nights.

I was in the airport lounge waiting for my return flight when I received a call from a polite woman at Chase. She had looked into my issue and apologized for my experience. She said I would be receiving a full refund of my UR points as well as an additional 5,000 points for my inconvenience.

My points refund posted to my account as a cancellation. The bonus later posted as an adjustment.
My points refund posted to my account as a cancellation. The bonus later posted as an adjustment.

That I accepted.

Though it was five days after I nearly had a heart attack, Chase did make things right. (I’m glad I didn’t accept the initial offer of 2,500 points.)

The website for Hotel 17 tells travelers what I wish Chase had told me.
The website for Hotel 17 tells travelers what I wish Chase had told me.

As of this writing, there’s no notice of Hotel 17 being closed on TripAdvisor or Hotels.com — just a notice that the hotel is not available for the dates I’ve selected. A Google search for the property brings up ads from Expedia and others offering to book rooms there. The hotel website announces the closure.

Hotel 17 does not show up in the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Have you ever shown up to a hotel that was no longer open? Share your experience in the comments below!

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