It looked perfect on the website: a sunny room with a king-size bed and a balcony overlooking the beach.
But when you arrived and opened the curtains, you found a lovely view of a … carpark.
What do you do?
If your hotel room doesn’t match the description provided on the web, that’s a breach of your consumer rights and you may be entitled to a refund or compensation.
It doesn’t matter whether you booked through a booking site or direct, your rights are the same.
Here are some handy hints if it happens to you.
1. Identify the problem
The first thing you need to do is identify which parts of your room don’t match the description or photos provided online.
According to the consumer advocacy group CHOICE, if there’s a difference in the location, view, amenities or price advertised, you have the right to complain.
But unfortunately, in most cases you’ll only realise these differences once you arrive.
“We booked a hotel in Istanbul that looked charming (and it was) but it was in the middle of a slum,” Dianne S told us on ABC News on Messenger.
“The brochure suggested there was a pool, but it was actually a small wall fountain.”
Once you’ve identified the issues, you’ll then need to decide whether you want to complain.
While some people prefer to keep quiet and just never book with the hotel again, others see value in speaking up.
Nicky Breen from CHOICE said regardless of whether you’re in Australia or overseas, your consumer guarantees are protected. But it can be difficult to enforce those rights.
“At a small bed and breakfast in Hawaii, you may have a very difference experience there than say the Hilton in Hawaii, which is a huge multinational with headquarters in various parts of the world,” she said.
2. Work out who you need to speak to
This part is easy.
If you booked directly through the hotel, you will need to complain to the hotel.
But if you booked through an online booking site, such as Expedia or Booking.com, you’ll need to take it up with them.
3. Is it a major or a minor problem?
After identifying the issues, you’ll need to consider whether they’re “major” or “minor” failures, as this will determine what you’re entitled to.
The difference between a major and minor failure is whether or not it can be easily and promptly fixed.
For example, if you booked a two-bedroom room but were given a one-bedroom room and the rest of the hotel was booked out, that would likely be a major failure.
But if the hotel had simply forgotten to put a cot in your room for your baby, that would be a minor failure that staff would be able to fix quickly.
According to Ms Breen, the test for a major failure is:
- It would have stopped you booking the room if you’d known about it in the first place
- It doesn’t meet the specific purposes you asked for and can’t be fixed within a reasonable amount of time
- It creates an unsafe situation
4. Decide how you want it to be fixed
If there’s been a major failure, you’re entitled to cancel the booking and ask for a refund, or keep the booking and negotiate a reduced price.
But if the failure is minor, the hotel has the right to decide how to proceed.
In most cases, they’ll offer you a refund or a replacement.
“Say you’ve booked a room with a kitchenette and the toaster doesn’t work. The hotel may offer you a replacement toaster or say they can move you into a room with a functional toaster,” Ms Breen said.
“That would be a minor failure. You’d be very hard pushed to argue that you should be given a refund in those circumstances.”
But if you’re still unhappy, you can try taking it further.
“If there’s a disagreement, the best thing you can do is lay out your consumer guarantees and demonstrate why the problem constitutes a major failure,” Ms Breen said.
“It’s also worth bearing in mind that the staff member you’re dealing with may not be aware of what the business’s obligations are under consumer law.
“So it’s always worth asking to speak to someone who maybe a bit more senior or at least is aware of how the consumer law works and what the business’s obligations are.”
Handy hint: It may be helpful to keep notes throughout the process detailing who you spoke to and when.
5. Escalate the complaint if needed
If the hotel or booking site refuses to respect your rights, you can contact the consumer affairs body in your state or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Earlier this month, a tribunal in Canberra found holiday booking provider Wotif had made misleading and deceptive promises to customers, after an ACT man complained.
Hugh Selby had booked an apartment with beach views in Hawaii, only to arrive and find it was a “dilapidated” basement with views of an outdoor kitchenette.
Ms Breen said it was great to see he stood up for his rights and won his case, but the process was time consuming.
“What we would like to see are companies doing the right thing and respecting people’s consumer guarantees, because nobody wants to get dragged through a court process,” she said.
“What should have happened is they should have just refunded his money in the first place, and they didn’t.”