TIA: Customer Service Worse than LatAm

I recently stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in Bucks County outside Philadelphia, Pa. The experience was so bad it warrants distinction here, not in the sense of just shaming a bad business. But in the context of someone how is used to Latin American customer service, this was WORSE. This is America.

I booked and prepaid three nights on hotels.com. Our flight was delayed by 12 hours. Instead of arriving in the middle of the night, we arrived the next day. At the front desk, they told me the reservation was cancelled and I’d have to pay again. They told me to get a refund from hotels.com. I paid $350 for two nights and planned to get my refund later.

The hotel experience over two days wasn’t awful, but we were never there. Only complaint was the hot tub wasn’t hot on the one morning we went.

Back in St. Louis, I requested my refund from hotels.com. They contacted the hotel. The hotel denied the refund. Hotels.com told me they need approval from the hotel, and that I should have informed hotels.com (while sleeping in the airport) that we would be arriving a day late. Because we didn’t show on the expected date of arrival, the hotel cancelled the reservation and kept the nonrefundable payment.

I got the hotel manager on the phone. She tried to dress it up in fine print, but essentially refused to refund the $530 I paid for three nights. A flat-out refusal. In the terms of their contract with hotels.com, they can cancel on the first day of a reservation if the customer doesn’t show and keep the money, no questions asked. And that’s what they did.

Hotels.com is powerless. I think this manager is in part trying to teach me a lesson about third-party bookers. I now understand that many people have already learned this lesson and don’t use third-party bookers, but this was my lesson. I won’t use hotels.com again. Correction: I won’t book through hotels.com again.

But I won’t stay at Sheraton hotels either. They weren’t the cheapest hotel in town. I chose them expecting a nicer place with good service. In American business, you get this idea of brands being a dependable product and service. But in the case of Sheraton, I learned that service is only as good as the local manager. There is no recourse above her. She is the highest authority, and she wants to keep the money.

In Peru, this is known as “viveza.” In all of Latin America, people believe good businessmen are the most ruthless “aprovechadores” in the game. In Gringolandia we generally don’t believe that. We subscribe to the notion that good business delivers the best value and service to customers, and that’s how you get ahead.

But obviously not all Americans subscribe to that. Not the Sheraton Hotel in Langhorne, Pa.


  1. A suggestion: depending on how much more time you want to spend on this, submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, essentially describing what you said here. We tried this with a different company, under a contract, and a totally different business situation. We heard from the company, and got successful results (also threatened this company with taking our situation to the local big city news media). Good luck! I feel your pain.


      1. Good luck. We found this took a number of phone calls, a lot of time, and more stress. But in the end, we got out of the contract and a successful conclusion.


  2. I got similary stung recently using booking.com, it’s a good but expensive lesson to learn, don’t use third party booking sites – except for airbnb which is a pretty good site for this kind of thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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