This review was written solely for the purposes of helping other travelers make better informed decisions about where to stay, and more importantly, how to book. We got a real education about how Holiday Inn Express and IHG (the online booking company used by Holiday Inn Express) operate. By sharing that experience we hope it helps others avoid falling prey to fraudulent online booking practices. This was so blatant that we're pursuing the matter with the Better Business Bureau.
We booked a KING SUITE NONSMOKING on the Holiday Inn Express website for 2 nights last weekend, and we guaranteed the reservation with our Visa card (or so we thought). Note that we did not book the room through a third party website (out of concerns that something would go wrong and the reservation would not be honored)--we booked with the Holiday Inn Express website thinking that was a safe bet. When we arrived late Saturday evening, the woman behind the hotel counter told us she didn't know how we could have booked that particular room because it was not available. She first tried to blame TripAdvisor. When I produced the printed reservation confirmation from the Holiday Inn Express website, she tried to blame their own website and said they were not responsible for bookings made on the website--they have no control over what the website does.
So there we were hours from home, late at night, and pretty much at their mercy. We had taken the bait on the website, now came the time for the switch. They said all they had available was a handicapped King room, but that it was big enough to fit a roll-away bed. Then the lady behind the counter said they would cut us a break and not charge us for the roll away bed. Then she explained that there was no way for her to change the rate in the computer, and we would have to pay the higher, local rate for the King room (which was higher than the online rate for the King Suite that we had reserved). As I got more agitated, the other lady behind the counter "somehow" managed to figure out how to reduce the room rate. So rather than having to try to find a room late at night in an unfamiliar town, we gave in and decided to stay there. That's probably what most folks would do, and that's how they get this bait and switch scam to work.
When we got to the room, they had moved the furnishings together in order to make room for the roll-away bed, placing it right up against the AC unit. We rearranged the furniture enough to move the roll-away bed away so someone could actually sleep on it without getting blasted by the cold air all night. The room was located right at the elevator doors, so all night we listened to folks coming and going, the elevator doors, and the noisy ice machine right next to the elevator. Not a great way to start our Spring Break vacation.
When we got home, I happened to notice a guarantee in the email we were sent to confirm the reservation. I went to the IHG website that sent us the email and found the following "guarantee":
"A Guaranteed Room
Booking on IHG.com is the best way to guarantee your room. If for any reason your reservation cannot be honored, IHG will provide you with a room and transportation to another convenient and comparable hotel. And, we’ll pay for the full cost of the first night’s lodging price, plus tax."
So I called to find out if the guarantee was real, or just a marketing gimmick. It turns out it was just a marketing gimmick.
The first gal I talked to at IHG (Kate) was empathetic, and said the hotel would have 48 hours to contact us, and that we should be getting the first night refunded to our credit card since they failed to honor the reservation. She explained that it was the hotel's responsibility to keep the website informed as to the available room inventory. Well, 48 hours came and went, and when I called back, Verl at IHG had a much different story. He told me that because the hotel offered us a room that could "accommodate our party, at the hotel's discretion", the guarantee did not apply. He also said they hear this complaint a lot. He said it is not uncommon for the website to book a room that is not available. This is their standard operating practice. I couldn't believe my ears. If all that is true, then what is the point of booking a room online at all? All you would be booking is any room they happen to have available when you get there. I doubt that business model would fly very well or for very long, and I've not once had a similar issue in all the years we've been booking other hotels online.
So ask yourself, what kind of guarantee is that? Here's the gist of their guarantee: You can book any room you like on the Holiday Inn Express (IHG) website, and if it's available when you arrive at the hotel, it's yours. If not, the hotel can offer you whatever room they have left, and for any rate they like, and if you don't like it, tough. Find your own room somewhere else (and get no compensation). Or take what they offer for whatever rate they offer, and if you don't like it, tough (you get no compensation). In other words, it's no guarantee at all; It's just another bait and switch scam.
We may only spend between 1 and 3 grand a year on lodging as a family, but we're taking Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express off the menu permanently. I'll also update my corporate profile and drop this chain. There are so many other great hotels that don't seem to have this bait and switch policy.
To put things in perspective, at least we had a roof over our heads and didn't have to trek out at 9PM to try to find a room somewhere else. But if it was your family, and your vacation started out like this, what would you think? Would you knowingly put yourself in this situation? Well at least now you have the benefit of someone else's bad experience, so you can make a better informed decision. Happy travels!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- St. Augustine Hotel's Old City Charm Delights GuestsWith breathtaking beaches, thrilling attractions, historic sites, booming businesses and more, St. Augustine is an unforgettable place. You can easily experience all the "Ancient City" has to offer at the Holiday Inn Express® Hotel & Suites Saint Augustine North. Located off I-95, the hotel's guests in St. Augustine, FL are close to St. Augustine Airport and downtown.Whatever your definition of fun, you're sure to find it here in the nation's oldest city. The hotel's address in St. Augustine, FL is just six miles from the charming historic district. Beach lovers can delight in Anastasia State Park with gorgeous beaches and fishing. The hotel's location near Flagler College also gives guests the ability to tour this amazing hotel-turned-college. From Ripley's Believe It or Not! to the Fountain of Youth, our patrons can enjoy it all.Corporate guests appreciate our location off I-95 and six miles from St. Johns County Convention Center. The hotel's location near Flagler College, the Florida National Guard and many major companies makes business travel simple, too. The free high-speed, wireless Internet access , 24 hour Business Center and spacious meeting rooms also help you work with ease.You'll love unwinding in the heated, indoor pool, working out in the 24-hour Fitness Center and enjoying our shopping package with St. Augustine Premium Outlets. You'll also enjoy our complementary hot Breakfast Buffet every morning. Book now for modern fun and comfort in the "Ancient City." ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel And Suites Saint Augustine North
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Saint Augustine North St. Augustine, Florida