Rant that I Hope will Generate Change

So, I don’t usually use rideblog as a forum for this sort of thing, but given its popularity, and the nature of this rant, I think it’s time.

This summer, I am going to Copenhagen. It is a beautiful city, where people love to bike around. I intend to do just that, with my students.

But through an inadvertent mistake, which I will fully admit to, we ended up double-booked at two hostels in Copenhagen. Big deal, right? Just cancel one of the reservations. But it would seem that, despite my never having encountered this issue in nearly twenty years of booking hotels, when you book a “reservation” at these places, you are in fact booking a fully-paid, non-refundable stay the instant you give them your credit card number. Had I read the fine print, I would have realized that these places operated differently than every other hotel in the universe. But I didn’t. So okay, I’ll call the company I used to make the bookings, and we’ll get this sorted out, right?

Wrong. I made the bookings through Booking.com. As soon as I realized the bookings had actually gone through, I called them and asked them to contact the two hostels we booked and try to cancel the reservation. But the hostels are in Copenhagen, so they would have to call back while I was asleep. I got up the next morning to find that of course, it hadn’t been done. So I made them call again. We had missed the reservation manager at one hostel by five minutes. So we called the other hostel. “You had to call us within 24 hours,” they said.

By now, I was angry with Booking.com. Not only did their site allow these hostels to run their bookings in a way that I’ve never, ever encountered in years of booking hotels, but then their customer service wasn’t on the ball enough to get this done in a few hours, rather than a few days. And what wimpy customer service! I’m sorry, but if I had the power of Booking.com to drive customers to a hotel, I would find a way to make it very clear that these hotels should be making my customers happy, you know?

But okay, deep breath. Our next stop was a trip to a place called Aarhus. It was very expensive there. If we made it a day trip, we could extend our stay in Copenhagen for another couple days. So all I needed was for the dates to get switched on one of the reservations, and we’d be okay. Out a few bucks, but okay. I called the second hostel, Hotel Nebo. They said to send an email, and they would consider it.

Now remember, all I’m asking for is that they switch the dates of our reservation forward three days. And I’m asking this SEVEN MONTHS in advance, when they have the rooms available to do it.

The answer was “no.” When I called to find out why on earth they couldn’t do it, the woman at the Hotel Nebo’s customer service desk, Karina, said again and again: “it’s just the rules of how you booked it.” But she fully admitted that they do sometimes make adjustments, if they hear within 24 hours. So this is THEIR OWN system. They could make the change if they wanted to.

What the heck? I mean, seriously. What possible reason, besides utter stupid bull-headedness, could someone possibly have for not moving a room reservation seven months  in advance? That’s not going to cost them anything.

I have emailed the bookings manager at the other hostel, which is Danhostel Copenhagen City, and will call him on Monday. They also have a broader management board that I can contact, if necessary. In the meantime, I’m posting reviews of this practice everywhere I can think of. This, Europe, is why we don’t want to give you our money! Can you imagine a hotel in the US doing this? I mean seriously.

Hotel Nebo, the whole point of customer service is to provide service to YOUR CUSTOMERS, not to enforce “rules” you arbitrarily created that make it impossible for you to be flexible and help a customer out.

I will write about them again when I’ve been there. I would not expect that review to be positive, either.

I have also contacted the travel guru at the Seattle Times, who has offered to help me if the other hostel is also unwilling to assist us. I am so furious! I’m not letting this one go.

Update: I contacted my credit card company, who are going to dispute the charge for me (and remove it from my account) on the basis that the “24 hour” change policy was not published, so therefore there was no way for me to know that if I had contacted them within 24 hours, I could have received a refund. Also, I called simply to change my reservation, to try to resolve this in a way that would cost them nothing, and they refused to help me, which isn’t right either. And they had nothing nice to say about a hotel that creates “non-refundable, non-changeable” reservations seven months in advance. Sigh.

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15 Responses to Rant that I Hope will Generate Change

  1. Tom Reingold says:

    Tell your credit card to refuse payment and give you a refund. It’s easy for them, and it’s what they’re good for. Done.

  2. rideblog says:

    They said they couldn’t refuse payment, as the payment was already booked and was legally tendered.

    Actually, I’m going to try them again. This does seem possible, given that we haven’t actually received the service yet. Let’s see how Capital One does on this one…

  3. Tom Reingold says:

    That’s nonsense. The bank can revoke payment in a dispute. They just don’t want to bother. Make them do their job and then get a new bank.

  4. disabledcyclist says:

    Wow….I have no personal experiences to lend me any thoughts,but my friend,I’m pissed off with you about it,believe me,it makes me want to remain stateside…

    The DC

  5. rideblog says:

    Tom, they started the dispute for me. Apparently, I spoke to the wrong department before. So hopefully, this will get resolved quickly.

  6. rideblog says:

    DC, I’ve never had any trouble like this before. Think it might be a Danish hotel thing. Sigh.

  7. Stefan Ertmann says:

    I’m a Copenhagen native, and while I love my city to death, this, along with the horrid weather and armslength approch to strangers, is where I sometimes dream myself to another place.

    Customer service is nonexistent in Denmark. Its something about the egalitarian mindset of Scandinavians I think. Denmark is designed to work like a well oiled machine, and it does 99% of the time, so when something goes wrong, there is this tendency to blame it on whoever put gravel in the machinery – which is usually the customer. Its not about the money, its about admitting a flaw in your particular gear of the machinery.

    Might sound a tad Orwellian, which it really isn’t, we’re quite a friendly bunch beneath our stoic shell, but it is annoying as hell. The trick is to be persistant, very persistant, and they’ll usualy tire of you at some point.

    Wrote this a couple of years back: http://wikitravel.org/en/Denmark#Customer_Service

  8. John h says:

    Wow, sounds like a nightmare. Hope the actual trip is more enjoyable and cant wait to hear/see all about it. Good luck.

  9. rideblog says:

    Stefen, that’s actually really useful, and sounds exactly like what I suspected was happening. It was along the lines of “Yes, this is customer service, but we only have that number here to please you crazy foreigners who expect that sort of thing.” :)

    I’ve heard only wonderful things about trips to Copenhagen from other perspectives, so I’m not expecting this to be the norm.

  10. rideblog says:

    I has been pretty rough, John, though my school is being very supportive. I’m hoping to be able to write a bit about it, especially the bike tour we’re booking, after the fact!

  11. disabledcyclist says:

    Well I hope you get it sorted,my friend. The only overseas experience I’ve had was while in the Army,and that was a desert country,LOL,but that’s another story entirely :p

    The DC

  12. rideblog says:

    Thanks, DC. I’m pretty good at sorting things. Very action-oriented. And stubborn. And persistent. :)

  13. adventure! says:

    (Late to the party again!) Sorry to hear about this nonsense. In five years of working at a hostel (in the US though) I have never heard of a policy so inflexible as that, especially with such a lead time. At our hostel we would cancel or reschedule reservations for anyone in a dorm or private room up to 24-48 hours before the reservation started! No matter how the reservation was made. (Group reservations could need up to a week advance notice for cancellation, however.)

    I have a theory on this inflexibility, in addition to the one Stefan shared: the booking engine that you booked through gets such a discounted deal because of who they are, which causes the hostel to not want to refund. It doesn’t excuse the poor customer service though, but it can explain why the hostel didn’t want to work with you. (I like your theory, Stefan. Maybe that explains Mr. Copenhagenize. ;-) )

    Booking engines are a weird thing. There are some really good ones and some really bad ones. The problem with the internet is that anyone with the time and energy can make a great-looking website, so much so that you think the booking engine is legit. But I’ve seen otherwise. There’s a hostel-booking website that I dealt with (and I won’t name it) that our hostel was having trouble with. We emailed and emailed their “customer service” and got no response. Called their number several times and nada. Finally I got someone on the phone and they answered “Hello?” I had to say “Is this (hostel booking engine X)?” to make sure that it was them. I have the feeling that they were running this big time operation out of their bedroom or something.

  14. rideblog says:

    Shawn, you’re right in saying that it was partially the booking agent, and partially the irrational inflexibility of the hostel. Booking.com has recently added the ability for a hotel to do a “non-refundable,” extra-cheap option. This option didn’t exist the previous times I used the service (which is huge: it’s run by Priceline). So it’s partially my fault for not realizing I was BUYING the hostel. But their inability to change dates is just them being stupid.

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