Yes, I am back with my ‘That type of hotel’ series and this time, I share my experience with budget hotels in almighty USA. Having a place to lay your head is an important part of travelling, something I make sure I take care of when I go on a trip that is not sponsored. When I go on such unsponsored trips, I book an affordable hotel in a location that would allow me to experience the most out of the city. The hotel must be close to the places I want to visit, and yes it must not be worth more than $200 a night, depending on how long I am staying! When I went to the USA in June for the BET Awards, my first stop was Los Angeles so as usual, I went online to look for an affordable accommodation for the 5-day period I was going to be in L.A. Since most of my activities were around the BET Awards, I used the ‘Staples Centre’ as the location for finding my hotel. Using Expedia, the results I got for hotels near the Staples Centre and within my budget included ‘Los Angeles Vacation Rooms’. A funny name I know, but couldn’t resist that fact that it carried the name of the city I was visiting. I scanned through the offerings of the hotel and quickly booked it. Usually when I book on Expedia, I only look at the vital information listed above and do not go through the fine details. This time, more than ever, I would pay dearly for it. One such mistake I did was not to look at the time for check-in (I always don’t), however after my booking was confirmed, I got an email with all the details. Check in was from 4PM and I was arriving in L.A around 12noon. When I arrived at the airport, I got into a taxi and headed towards the hotel. It was a bit of a long drive but the driver, who had visited Ghana on two occasions, shared his experience with Ghana and other parts of Africa with me, making it a smooth ride. But when we finally arrived, I found out the Los Angeles Vacation Rooms was not anything like I imagined it to be. It was not a hotel, although listed as such on Expedia. It was more of an apartment. There was no front desk, nobody to speak to, and no means of getting inside the apartments. Fortunately I had bought myself a SIM card with call time and data when I arrived at the airport. So I called the hotel number listed on my bookings, with hopes of explaining that I had arrived early and would like an early check-in. After a few attempts I finally got hold of a rep but sadly there was nothing to be done about my situation. He said check in could only be at 4pm, and that by 3.30pm, I would receive an email or text message with the password to the main door, as well as my room. So if I had not gotten myself a SIM card there was no way I could check my mail for these passwords, this is surely not a place for anyone travelling from far away to stay. Just after getting off the phone, I saw a woman open the door and come out; she was busily taking out trash. I tried to find out if I could bring in my bags at least while I waited for check in, but she could speak very little English, and she gave the impression that she was too busy cleaning up ahead of the checking in time. The driver offered to continue staying with me till it was time for checking in. I stayed in the car with him, listened to some music and had more conversations about his love for Africa. At around 3.30pm I checked my mail to see if I had been sent my password details. Yes, it was in and so all I had to do now was wait till it was 4pm so I could key in the password. When it was time, I paid the driver with some extra tip for keeping me company, and then headed inside. I made my way to my room and the surprises continued. When my booking said “Room type: Double Room, Shared Bathroom”, I thought I had a space that came with two rooms and one bathroom… laugh out loud!!! Well instead, I had a small room with a double bed. The bathroom was outside of my room, which I had to share with every other guest on my floor. As I stayed in my room taking in all the disappointments, I had a knock on my door. When I opened up, it was ‘the manager’ of the apartment who had come to tell me not to smoke marijuana in my room. He said, “ If you wanna smoke weed, do it outside because some of the other guests complain. Personally I love it too but if you have to smoke, do it outside.” At this point, I knew I was at the wrong place. However, I soon found out marijuana was legal in Los Angeles, and that the manager’s caution was nothing untoward. Soon I had shower, my first after many hours of travelling from Accra to Amsterdam to Los Angeles. Since the cleaner had just cleaned up, I was of the impression that sharing a bathroom with everyone else wasn’t that bad after all. That opinion however changed when at night I was going to take a leak only to find out someone had vomited into the sink. I turned on the tap to wash most of it away but woke up in the morning to find more mess when I went to brush my teeth. After day one, I knew I didn’t want to stay at the ‘hotel’ anymore. So after two days, my friend who was coming to Los Angeles to attend the BET Experience Concert asked that I check out so we could get a better hotel. It was a good idea, just what I needed. But since I had been billed already for 5 days, now I had to find a way to get some of my money back before leaving. I contacted Expedia to tell them I was moving out earlier than planned and so they should assist me to get some refund although the hotel’s policy stated that my money was not refundable after booking. In the afternoon of the next day, I moved out of the apartment not knowing whether my request for a refund had been accepted, as Expedia explained that attempts to call the facility had not been successful. I later got an email to explain that my request wasn’t approved. If I knew that would be the response, I would have given out my room to some of the students who were sharing a room on my floor for free, instead of throwing the money away to the stupid hotel, who probably checked in new people after I left. Anyway I moved to the Crown Plaza hotel close to the airport, which became my home until the BET Award Weekend was over and I had to leave for New York. On Sunday, the day of the BET Awards I went again on Expedia around 10.30pm (GMT) to book a hotel since I would leave for New York very early in the morning. Again, I wanted to stay in a place in New York where I could see most of the city and its iconic landmarks. Since I like citizenM hotels, I searched for the New York hotel but sadly they were fully booked. However, Expedia recommended The Howard Johnson North Bergen as a similar hotel to consider, based my search for citizenM. I checked out the offerings and the map to see if it wasn’t far from the places I wanted to visit. It was not too far and the price was within my budget so I went ahead to book. When I got an email that my booking had been confirmed, I then realized that the hotel was in New Jersey and not New York, although these states are a bit close together. So I immediately went on the website to cancel the reservation because I wanted to be in New York and not New Jersey. When I clicked the cancel option, I got the messages saying “The Howard Johnson North Bergen cancellation fee is: $102.52”. Not sure what that meant, I immediately replied Expedia’s email to draw their attention to it. And to request for cancellation (I have done something similar in the past where they were quick to respond and take action.) I couldn’t wait for Expedia’s response, since I had to rush to the BET Awards moments after sending the email. So when I got back I checked my mail to see if there was any update but there was nothing. So I went back to the Expedia website to cancel the reservation, but now there was no such option showing up. I immediately called Expedia on phone and after going through annoying automatic responses, for well over a minute, I was connected to an agent. I explained the situation to him and asked him to cancel my reservation. After letting me hold for a bit, he came back to say that hotel policy was that if I make cancellation after 12 or 24 hours, then I would have to pay for the first night. I explained that even minutes after reservation, I wanted to cancel it but I was told that I would have to pay $102.32. To cut it short I just asked him to go ahead and cancel the reservation, so I pay for just the first night. I then went ahead to book a new hotel, Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn, New York, before I went to bed. In the morning, I woke up tired and went straight to the airport. When I arrived in New York I got into an Uber and went straight to my hotel. Although I had erroneously booked a two-bed room, everything else was cool with the hotel. Well apart from always spending too much time waiting for lift to arrive. When check-in time was due for The Howard Johnson North Bergen hotel, I got an email from Expedia to ask ‘How was your check-in’. This got me so angry, and I replied them to show my dissatisfaction. Yes, they had not cancelled my booking as I requested on phone the previous. I then went on Twitter to blast them and soon they took the conversation into my DM, giving me assurance that they would rectify they issue. Well, at the end of it all, I paid $205 for a hotel I never stayed in. I felt and I still feel that Expedia should be responsible for the cost of the second night, since it was due to their ineptitude that I had to pay for two nights. At least I could have used $100 to buy a gift for family. Anyway, my experiences with hotels in the US were not all bad. In Virginia, I stayed in an Aloft Hotel and I loved it. (Yes that too was booked via Expedia, as well as the last hotel in New Jersey, Hilton Newark, before coming back home to Ghana). The Aloft Hotels remind me of citizenM hotels, they have a similar concept. You can read why I love it here. So there you have it, another experience with ‘that type of hotel’…where will the adventure take me next? ]]>
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