Saturday, September 23, 2006

A cautionary traveler's tale.

Every December, I go to the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. It is an incredible event where you get to see the best concerts, workshops, and seminars that you could ever hope for. You also get to buy stuff from all types of cool exhibits and hang out with all your old friends that have been scattered across the band world. In short, it's band geek heaven.

It is also an interesting case study in how the Chicago tourist industry handles a few thousand musicians who slam the city for three days in the middle of winter. At the 2004 Midwest Clinic, I shared a hotel room with my good friend and colleague, Terdell Mealing. Terdell, being infinitely more responsible than I, booked the room in August. In December, we arrived at said hotel ready to check in and head back to see some concerts. There was just one problem: Our room didn't exist.

The booking in August existed. Our names on the reservation existed. The charge on Terdell's credit card existed. Our room, however, did not. It was explained to us that the hotel was overbooked and there was not a two bed room available. This gave us two options: Sleep in one bed or get a single with a roll away. Despite Terdell's animal magnatism, my faithfulness to Karen and the fact that I am not gay helped compel us to go with the roll away. We were also given some gift certificates at a restaraunt.

Upon arriving at our new room, we made some startling and disturbing discoveries. The single was actually not a regular room. I'm not sure what it was, but the best way to describe it would be a larger version of the snack and laundry area of a motel. The rollaway looked about as invited and comfortable as a cart at Sam's Club. The gift certificates were for a restaurant inside the hotel.

Terdell and I went back downstairs to explain our dissatisfaction. We were told that there was nothing that the hotel could do.

"The least you could do is give us a discount or put us up somewhere else," Terdell calmly responded.

"I'm sorry, we can't do that," the lady behind the desk replied.

"So let me get this straight," I said, seething. "You were able to charge his card in August, but you are not able to give us any sort of refund now even though there is no room."

"Correct," she replied. "It's because you put it on a credit card."

Oh. Well that explains it. I guess when drug dealers carry large amounts of money around in briefcases, it's as much for the hassle free service as it is the untracability.

Terdell insisted (politely) that they would have to do better. The receptionist left the desk and came back with about the most insulting offer I have ever seen. It was a coupon for the PRIVILEDGE of upgrading to EXECUTIVE class. This included a free bath robe (which I guess Terdell and I could share) and the option of paying $10.99 for internet access. But the best part: It would only be redeemable on our NEXT visit.

"Ma'me, at this point there is not going to be a next time," I replied to the offer. By this point, Marie Elliott, who was also staying at the hotel (and apparently keeps large amounts of cash on hand or got lucky) got to witness a moment I had dreamed of for years. I finally got to paraphrase my favorite Seinfeld line ever in a usable context.

"You see, here's the problem," I began. "When Terdell paid with his card in August, he made a reservation. Now a reservation implies that something will be there, in this case being a room, when we arrive. I mean, anyone can just taaaaake a reservation." (and yes, I did the whole pulling reservation out of the air motion) "It's keeping the reservation. That's the important part. That's what we're missing here."

It was awesome, but I wasn't done...and I went in for the kill.

"Furthermore, we paid for something that we are not getting."

"But sir," she replied "you are getting a room. We are providing you with what you paid for."

"No," Terdell replied in his soft yet firm tone. "We paid for a double, and you are giving us a single with a roll away."

After a pregnant pause and another trip to the back, the receptionist came back and said "Okay, we have a room."


Yep. There was one there. This doesn't change the fact that the hotel had overbooked. They just hadn't filled up yet and were hoping that we would be the poor saps to help make up the difference. 

If you ever get in this situation, don't back down. They either need to give you the moon or give you what you paid for. Unless you're at a fast food place. They can spit in your food. I guess they could have spit in our hotel room, but I was too busy sleeping in my own full sized bed to notice.