The Westin Diplomat, Hollywood, Florida.
The Department of Transportation has been fining airlines and travel agencies left and right for failing to disclose fees and thus obscuring the bottom line when advertising and selling airfares. So why are hotels getting away with the same thing?
One reason might be that hotels are (with a few possible exceptions) stationary, and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. The DOT has sharpened its bite quite a bit in recent years, but some other agencies seem to be in the barking stage on this issue.
Last November the Federal Trade Commission warned what it described as “22 hotel operators” that their online reservation systems “may violate the law” by hiding resort fees and other mandatory charges. The warning letter went on to “strongly encourage” them to review their websites. Otherwise, “the FTC may take action.”
Woof, woof. One might hope for firmer language.
The myriad imperfections of TripAdvisor do not go unremarked.
It seems that hardly a week can pass without another scandal about fake reviews. The British Advertising Standards Authority smacked TripAdvisor around last year for its advertising claims. Arthur Frommer hates on it quite regularly. And it doesn’t help, in my view, that it continues to publish dubious lists of the world’s best whatevers.
But none of that matters nearly as much as what TripAdvisor has done for travelers, a boon so big and so meaningful that I think it’s fair to call it historic. TripAdvisor has exposed the bad guys of the hospitality business, the frauds and cheats, the kind of people who have been preying on travelers not for decades or centuries but for millennia. I’m talking about the vicious, greedy restaurateurs and hoteliers who have plagued travelers without regard for their reputations because reputations didn’t matter when there was always a fresh horde of tourists to steal from.
The last story I saw in the New York Times about affordable hotel rooms had nightly rates over $300, which is not affordable for me. New York is expensive. I get it. But if you can’t come up with a real bargain, don’t pretend you have.
I also recall a Times story about dingy dive hotels that cost more than $100 a night, an article that functioned more as a series of horror stories than as any kind of useful travel advice.
But today’s Times had a much more helpful piece, a Frugal Traveler column titled “7 Manhattan Hotel Rooms for $150, More or Less.” Some of the establishments seem to be more like bed-and-breakfasts than hotels but they all sounded like sensible choices.
The column also mentioned using Priceline and Hotwire to get hotel discounts, noting that the savings are most substantial on weekends. I heartily endorse that strategy and would add that it can be much cheaper to stay just outside the city, along a subway or commuter train line that can whisk you into town fairly quickly. We’ve stayed in Jersey City (with a gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline) and in Stamford, Conn., at very reasonable rates.
My husband and I were staying at a very nice hotel in Boston last year (thank you, Priceline) when the power went out late at night.
The emergency lights came on and the phones were working, so we called the front desk. No worries, the desk clerk said, it was a scheduled test of the emergency generator. We should have been told about it at check-in but somebody forgot.
Reassured? Not entirely.