Should you get a full refund if the power goes out?
There was a winter storm with ice on the road, and after a treacherous drive from the Kingston ferry, which was shut down after we disembarked because of wind, we arrived in Poulsbo. We checked into the hotel at 5:30 p.m. or so. At 6:45 p.m., the lights went out.
We thought that the power would come back on soon, but seeing that the power was off as far as we could see, we hunkered down. No one from the hotel came to our room to give us any information. The phones were out.
We had no heat, no hot water, no electricity and no hot breakfast as promised. When we checked out, an employee told us that he had no power to adjust our bill, but when the manager came in, and the power returned they would take care of it.
That didn't happen. A manager offered a 25 percent discount off the room, and then raised it to 50 percent. We refused. We have tried to call Holiday Inn corporate, but were placed on "hold" for 75 minutes before being hung up on.
We paid $107 for a room without electricity, hot water or heat. Can you help us?
Jeri Kellerman, Saddleback Valley, Calif.
Answer: Holiday Inn should have apologized to you for the power outage and explained its refund policy when it offered a 25 percent refund (and later, a 50 percent refund). But did it owe you a full refund for one night's stay?
I put that question to readers of my blog when your case first came to my attention. Some felt that the hotel wasn't responsible for what appeared to be a regional power outage.
Others indicated that a hotel like the Holiday Inn should have had a backup generator and was contractually obligated to provide services such as heat, electricity, hot water and breakfast.
Holiday Inn doesn't mention anything about refunds in the event of a service failure on its website.
Here's how I see it: Holiday Inn owed you something for failing to provide you with the service you expected. And the correct amount, again, in my estimation, is somewhere between the 50 percent refund it offered you and the full refund you were requesting.
Holiday Inn's real failure was putting you on "hold" for more than an hour and then hanging up on you. That's why I always recommend writing to the hotel instead of phoning. When you send an email to Holiday Inn on the corporate level, you're creating a paper trail that you can easily forward to a supervisor, or to a consumer advocate.
Holiday Inn corporate was made aware of your grievance, and it sent you a check for the remaining 50 percent of your room.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.
© 2011, Christopher Elliott, distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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