Guest Turns To Guerrilla Tactics When Hotel Denies Him A Refund

A reader from Montana got a new drivers license. They were given a paper printout as a temporary license, and the state takes a couple of weeks to send out plastic ones. His passport is out of his hands, getting renewed in the long priority queue at the State Department. Fortunately you can fly domestically without ID and without too much difficulty.

Away from home, he turned up at the hotel he’d booked using the American Airlines Rocketmiles site on a prepaid rate for the Loyalty Points. But they would not check him in.

  • He offered his expired drivers license, his expired passport and his temporary license.
  • And he offered a credit card.

The hotel said that without unexpired ID they would not give him the room he’d paid in advance for. They wouldn’t budge. They also wouldn’t authorize a refund.

Still needing a place to stay, he redeemed IHG One Rewards points for a Staybridge Suites. And since he had a lot of free time the next day he,

  • Followed up with the hotel that denied his check-in, again asking for a refund. This was denied.

  • So he went to Walmart and “purchased a large poster board and a Sharpie Marker.” And he wrote on the board a question: whether this hotel had bed bugs?

  • He went and stood on the sidewalk off the side of the six lane highway where the hotel was located.

I did this at 2:45pm, just before regular check in time. On a very busy summer travel day.

Not even 60 seconds passed and motorists started to slow down, some honking, looking at said poster, pulling into offending hotel’s parking lot. Some even came to a full stop, asking questions like, “does that hotel actually have bed bugs.”

Within about 15 minutes, No Refund Lady came outside, approached me.

Her “Can I ask you a question”

Me “You just did”

Her “Can I ask you another one”

Me “Sure”

Her “Is your name ”… And she proceeded to walk away.

He reports that three police cars showed up. But after an hour they left. He stuck around for an hour after that. And an officer returned, handing him a check refunding his stay.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That’s why I love to check in and use my phone as a door key, bypassing all the BS. Amirite

  2. Christian- The police are not handing out checks. They offered a solution to the hotel of refunding the money and facilitated the transaction so that the parties would not interact, most likely

  3. Ridiculous. Even the TSA would have accepted his temp license, along with an expired ID.
    This is why you check in online.

  4. About 10 years ago, Cruise America was jerking me around. I needed a refund when an RV broke down in the middle of nowhere Ohio and their emergency roadside assistance wouldn’t pick up. So I googled the CEO’s name. Found his personal cell phone # in a car collectors forum post. Called him with the story. Got my refund in 3 days.

  5. Not that I will ever darken the door of an IHG hotel again, I wish I’d thought of a trick like that when the Holiday Inn Kensington Station in London refused to budge on my bill after 2 nights with no heat, stopped up sink and a phone with buttons pried off of it. Good for him!

  6. Similar story: Purchased a dishwasher from Home Depot to be delivered day before Thanksgiving with a slew of family coming for T’Day the next day. Folks came to install the machine and advised machine would nor fit…it was too tall. They left the new machine in the middle of the kitchen. The old one was left apart. As they left, I reached down and lowered the levelers and insta-fixed the height issue. I chased the truck leaving down the block as they laughed at me watching in the mirror.

    However, I AM a guy with a very special skill set and called the carrier company’s President at home, on his cell. I also called his son and wife. The company’s President could not have been more helpful and fired the crew. I had never heard of the company and it turned out to be a fortune 500 company with hundreds of locations. They installed the machine that night AND sent me a gift card for the entire purchase price. Awesome customer service after a horrible circumstance with that crew. When a company Prez gets involved, watch for good things!! Needless to say Thanksgiving was a blast!

  7. Awesome! File this one for future use. The ID requirement is idiotic anyway – just authorize a sufficient deposit if there are concerns about the customer.

  8. Hey, GARY LEFF, don’t you follow-up on your articles just to see what people have posted about it’s contents as I’m now doing about your “hotel bedbugs” article as I, too, would like the name of that “hotel” just to make damn sure that I NEVER STAY THERE as I travel a lot and just wouldn’t stay such a poorly run, rude staffed DUMP like the one in your story unless this whole thing was made up by you!
    Thanks, Bob S.

  9. An expired passport is an acceptable form of identification anywhere. Even a bank will let you use an expired passport as ID.
    Glad you got your money back.

  10. The part of the story that casts a little doubt is usually one needs to send in their old passport along with the renewal application. Few people have two passports because of an Israeli stamp.

  11. @Derek

    Giving the author the benefit of doubt, that he meant “an expired passport” versus “the expired passport.” It could be an even earlier passport that was returned when he got his now-being renewed passport. I have a nifty collection of invalidated passports sent with my renewed passports.

  12. *Derek: You’re generally correct, but it does depend upon whether or not you use a Visa/Passport Service. My vague recollection from my last renewal was that you sent them the paperwork, new photo and old passport, and then they stood in line at the closest Passport Bureau. Once everything was cleared and your new Passport was on order, you would often get the old one back from them earlier than you would get the new Passport. PS: This is pricey, I did it when I worked for a Multi-National, but now that I’m retired I’ll be the guy in line 🙂

  13. I had booked a room in San Diego in January and arrived in the summer to check in. My two handicapped sons did not have an I.D. yet. They wouldn’t let me check in. They said they had been having problems with prostitution. I never could figure out what that had to do with me and my sons. Another hotel called around and found us a place to stay. Thank goodness we weren’t charged.

  14. Another similar story … was moving to another city with the family in pre-internet 1990. Sold the house several months before moving, so plenty of time to close before closing on the new house. With 2 weeks to go, no word on the paperwork so called and, after a few escalations, finally got someone who confessed it was sitting in someone’s to-do pile. She said it would be expedited and we’d have it within the week. A week later and still no papers, so we call the supervisor back. She says still in progress and will send as soon as they were done.

    So now we’re one week from closing and just about out of time. So the next day (Saturday), desperate to try anything, we decided to try and find someone at the top hoping he/she could make it happen. We called customer service to see if we could pry a name from the agent. After multiple calls, each time getting a different agent, we finally got one who gave up the name of the VP of the mortgage division but, since it was the weekend, he wouldn’t be back in the office until Monday. Figuring it would be near impossible to get through to him, we decided to try and find his home number. The home office was in St Louis so we guessed that’s where he lived so we went to our nearby public library hoping they had a St Louis white pages. They did, so we looked him up (fortunately his name was not very common and there was only 3 numbers to choose from), wrote down the numbers, then went home to see if we had a little luck still in the bank.

    It’s now early evening and I dial the first number. A man answers and I ask for His Name. He answers speaking, so now I ask if he is a VP at the The Company. He says yes! So after apologizing profusely (my wife does also since she is on the other phone), we explain our situation. He listens to our plea, then apologizes for what we have been though. He then says (in a very stern voice) “I’ll handle this, you will get a call first thing Monday with the action we will take”. After more apologies from us, he asks how we got his name and number. I wasn’t going to rat out the agent so just said I’d rather not say. We thanked him again, added one more apology and hung up.

    Monday morning 8:00am we get a call from the supervisor (from her voice we knew she just got reamed out by someone above her pay grade … I would love to have listened in on that call). She says our paperwork is in progress and will be sent FedEx that day. She then asks how we got the VP’s name and number. I just said thank you and will contact her if I don’t get the FedEx the next day. Got the package the next day, everything approved and in order.

  15. With all the problems that we have with hotels and airlines, perhaps Walmart can make pre-printed signs for use in hotel approaches and airports.

  16. I left something in my room in St Thomas, VI. I called immediately, it was found. Saw a FB post of a friend who was staying at the same hotel the next day. Contacted her, they gave her an old item that wasn’t mine. My item was suddenly given to someone else. They gave me the runaround.i even asked for the GM to no avail. I made a post on TripAdvisor. Dishonest staff- don’t stay here. Within 15 minutes the GM called me. Within an hour a new item was at my door in California. TA policy wouldn’t let me remove post for 3 days.

  17. The hotel staff in the United States have become the equivalent of used car salesman and flight attendants, they are some of the most recalcitrants in the country. The animals are running the asylum. Some of the behavior to Guests I have witnessed and experienced this past 12 months is sickening. The way these people treat customers, the very people paying their salaries, is sickening. But with the United States the way it is, what are we to expect. Hotel staff are a metaphor for the 21st century United States. Rude, crass, recalcitrant, violent and bogan.

  18. Had similar situation with my bank. I have found that phone calls and e-mails are useless. However, people panic when they receive a written letter.
    Therefore, I wrote to each “external” BOD member using the address of their business. Also dropped the name of the person who was giving me the runaround with her glib responses. To add salt to the wound, I included an attachment from the bank’s web page stating how they would “go the extra mile for customer support” and the bank had “fantastic customer service”.
    For something that dragged on for 90 days, the issue was suddenly resolved in less than 9 days.

  19. I’m glad to hear that “Paper Boarding Pass” got some resolution by contacting the BODs individually. I wish I’d thought of that after my rotten experience with IHG as I noted above. That will now be added to my arsenal of “how to get things done”. I always try to work by solving locally. However, when all else fails, “Never let a corporal do what a general can do better”.

  20. A few years ago I renewed my passport (prior to expiration). The old passport was mailed to me along with the new passport. The expired passport was “hole punched”.

  21. Wait a minute. The answer to a hotel’s awful practice is to make up a LIE—or to imply something that has evidentiary basis—about the hotel? And chalk that abuse up to exercising your first amendment rights?

    A case where two wrongs do not make a right. But apparently folks are OK with that. No wonder our country is such a mess.

  22. The ID Nazis in the US are the worst.

    Your state driver’s license expiration date is the date you no longer have that state’s authorization to drive on that state’s public roads. It in no way reflects whether your picture (good yesterday, expired today) or your other vital records (good yesterday, expired today) are valid for an identification document (ID).

    The same is true of a passport, except that instead of a state and public roads it’s the US Department of State and the right to travel under that aegis. Your picture and your vitals are just as valid the day before the expiration of your privilege to travel as it is the day after.

    The guy (aka “our hero”) did well to get his refund, but there are better ways to make the hotel pay for being jackholes. He got a refund… nothing more… nothing less. A small-claims suit for $2K would have cost the hotel more and made them cough up more…. and maybe initiated a change in how they handle this going forward.

  23. “Don’t try this at home.” The bedbugs sign is civilly actionable as libel because it is false, and possibly criminally actionable as extortion since the (successful) purpose of false statement was to obtain money. All he had to do was dispute the charge on his credit card and post truthful negative information on social media and review sites, which would have been legal.

  24. @ MIKE – Good luck with that one…

    Within the past two years was traveling in Virginia on business. Used Agoda to book a pre-paid room. Arrive at the hotel and was told room was not available. Would not issue a refund. Called Agoda to request a refund. Agoda says the issue is between myself and the hotel, not Agoda, and would not issue a refund. Contacted my credit card company to dispute the charge. Ended up losing the dispute as the CC issuer said the issue was between myself and the hotel and could not issue a refund, as much as they wished to help.

    I’ve long given up on using those third party websites, unless sitting in the lobby and will check-in in under one minute. Just not worth the risk for any meager savings.

  25. @ Ehud Gavron

    Damn right. My license expired during the “pandemic” and I haven’t renewed it as I don’t drive anymore but carry it for “ID”. Banks and stores love asking for it for innocuous transactions and most gloss over the “expiration date” but sometimes you get into their web where the love to exert the little “authority” can wield.

    Went to my bank recently to physically pay my mortgage, twice a year it adjusts in rapid succession for tax escrow and interest rates, it always messes up my auto payment. If you short pay it by a penny, it doesn’t post and triggers all sorts of fees and interest for months afterwards.

    This year I wanted to get it right and cut them a check for the correct amount on the spot. Bank Manager would not discuss my account balance due to my expired license despite a bunch of other ID, although he called it up easily with my SSN and statement I brought in. He cited the “Patriot Act” required him to do do. Douche bag…

    Glad the OP did what he did.

  26. If I create a sign that says, “Does this hotel have bedbugs?” that is a question. The hotel can’t sue you for asking the question in public if you do not express an opinion as to the answer.

  27. My senior citizen ID for local transit (which I have used as a “government issued ID”) expired & I had to order a new one. Not sure why these expire since I am not getting younger.

  28. @derek
    when you renew through the new online renewal option that they started last year, you don’t send your old passport in…so that would be a likely explanation.

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