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Unexpected trouble with prepaid hotel booking: short-term vision wins versus reputation loss?

Travelling to attend academic conferences is normal part of the academic life. Usually, such travel goes without trouble. Sometimes it may go wrong. It happened to me this time, in attending the EuHEA conference in Maastricht. A prepaid booking made in March 2018 was not found at the hotel, at arrival on the 11th July. The more surprising part was not the existence of a problem (mistakes can occur) but the way it was handled by the hotel. I was given contradictory explanations and the manager, whom I never seen in the Hotel, did not care in finding a solution to solve a problem to a guest. Especially when it was clear that the guest had no part in creating the problem.

The hotel in question is the Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg and the problem was they did not locate my booking, despite the fact I presented a valid prepaid Voucher. The feeling that I get in the end is that between the moment of making the booking and the date of my stay, the manager discovered that it would be more profitable not to honour the voucher and receive another guest paying more. It happens that my stay coincided with the Andre Rieu Concerts in Maastricht, which drives demand (and prices) of hotels up in and around Maastricht. I understand the economics of the problem, namely the short-term incentives of the manager to increase the revenues of the Hotel. Nothing during the negotiations with the Hotel Fletcher Valkenburg disproved my hypothesis that the hotel did not want to solve a problem it created, hurting a guest, in order to host a more profitable one. I found some people that cared about the situation, but had no power to solve the problem. I describe the full case below, in my letter to the Fletcher Hotels customer service. It looks like a case in which short-run profits dominated business decisions, with long-term costs being much less salient (prepaid bookings provide “insurance” to both the hotel and guest, provided it is credible that the hotel will honour it).

I do not mind staying 3 nights in 3 different hotels at distinct locations, but not unexpectedly, at hotel discretion, without warning, and not while I am travelling to work.

I welcome any suggestion of entities to which I should direct my complaint, either in the Netherlands or at an European level, either consumer protection or hotel associations. And make available the story so that others may not suffer the same problems at any of the Fletcher Hotels. I am sure that many people have pleasant stays with them. But they can and should do better.


Complaint to the Hotel Fletcher Valkenburg

Dear Sir/Madam

On the 11thJuly 2018, I arrived at the Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg at about 19h10. I was greeted by Chiara, who was at duty at the reception desk and performing other duties in the hotel at the same time (she took more than 5 minutes to note that she was requested at the reception desk). When I presented my Voucher, prepaid booking, with serial number 18/01/07189, dated 22/03/2018, Loc: 221-1136704-H1, supplied by HotelBeds, mediated by the travel agency COSMOS upon request of Nova School of Business and Economics (Portugal). I was informed by Chiara that the booking was not in the system, that the hotel had 3 rooms available but they were not ready for use (were not clean), and the personnel that cleans the rooms leaves at 15h00 and there was no way to get them ready.

I expressed my total surprise, reinforced by the fact that a colleague of mine arrived with me, with a separate voucher, with the single difference of a digit in the serial number (naturally), and nothing was wrong with that booking. Another colleague had arrived the day before, with a similar voucher, and had no problem whatsoever.

I asked to speak with the manager, who as not in the premises, so a phone call was arranged by Chiara. The manager, Mrs. Marielle Reihs, stated again the same position: that no reservation was in the system on my behalf. I sent immediately by email to her, at 19h41, a copy of the Voucher, which she acknowledged to receive at that time. She expressed the view that it was a problem of HotelBeds, that did not do the reservation. Confronted with the information that another reservation made at the same time with the same details had no problem, the reaction was that had to be clarified by HotelBeds.

I was offered a solution for one night, to move to another Fletcher Hotel, located 500m away, down the road, and to come back the following day. I contacted immediately the travel agency in Portugal (at 19h20), to help sort out the problem. The representative of the agency contacted the Hotel Fletcher Vulkenburg but no different answer or solution was provided.

At that time of the day, no other solution seemed feasible, and giving one night for the manager to sort the issue out looked reasonable. Thus, I accepted that change, asked Chiara to phone to the other hotel and write down in a piece a paper that I was being transferred, which she did,and walked down to the Fletcher Hotel de Berghoeve. I arrived there at 20h02, and I was greeted by Sophie, who was very helpful. She provided me with a nice room, and although the kitchen had closed 20h00, she was able to get me a hot meal. I also mentioned I needed to leave early, as I wanted to sort out my situation at the Hotel Fletcher Valkenburg next morning in time to arrive at 8h30 at the MECC in Maastricht for a conference I was attending (and which motivated my trip). I appreciate the care Sophie took in helping me, providing a breakfast bag before the hour of official opening.

On the 12thJuly 2018, I arrived at 07h45 at the Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg once again. This time, another person was at the reception desk (and helping with breakfast at the same time). I was told that I could stay one night (from 12thto 13thJuly) in the Hotel Fletcher Valkenburg, but had to look for another place on the following night (from 13thto 14thJuly) as the hotel was full. I asked again to contact the manager of the hotel. I was told it was not possible, that the hotel manager would be only available after 11h00. I contacted again a person in the travel agency in Lisbon, who was not yet at work but took my call and concern anyway. The person at the reception desk told me that I could not make check-in that early, and since I would arrive after dinner, due to my professional commitments in Maastricht, upon arrival at the hotel I should call a phone number that would be posted in the window to be provided access to the key to my room. As at this time I was already late, I asked one of my colleagues to keep my luggage in the respective room. I then left for my business, arriving late, meaning that this problem was already taking a toll in my professional activity. I was promised by the person at the reception desk that I would be contacted during the day with a solution. During the day, I exchanged several emails with the travel agency representatives and with the staff at Nova School of Business and Economics that settled the booking. I followed their efforts to find a solution, with no helpful decision coming from the Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg. From those contacts, it transpired that HotelBeds declined responsibility, and that the issue was created by Hotel Fletcher Valkenburg. I had no contact whatsoever from the Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg.

I arrived at the hotel door by 22h45, and at 22h53 I phoned and received the instructions to obtain the room key.

On the morning of 13thJuly, I again asked the reception of the Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg whether, or not, I would stay there the night from 13thJuly to 14thJuly. I was told by the person at the reception desk (who also was managing breakfast) that she had no such information. She phoned the manager, Mrs Reihs, who informed her that I would not stay there, and that they offer me to relocate to a hotel located 24.5 km away, Kasteel Erenstein. That option would increase my travel time to the MECC conference centre in Maastricht to more than one hour, which was truly inconvenient as my business there would start at 08h30 and I would return only after dinner. This was just not acceptable. Then, I was informed they could not do anything else. As the person at the reception desk was trying to be helpful but had no real decision power, and the manager was not receptive to finding another solution, I decided to leave the problem in the hands of the travel agency and left.

I find inadmissible that a hotel decides to not honour an early pre-paid booking. I understand perfectly that other customers would be more profitable, as my stay coincided with the Andre Rieu concerts in Maastricht. But early bookings and prepayment are made to provide certainty to both sides, and unilateral and unannounced cancelation by the hotel is completely unethical and destroys any confidence in the hotel system. Mistakes can occur, but in no moment did Mrs. Marielle Reihs recognized that not accepting a valid voucher was a problem for her to solve. I find unacceptable and found no reason why a chain like the Fletcher Hotels would not be able to honour the voucher (I would be surprised that Mrs Reihs did not check her decisions with more senior managers in the group).

Obviously, I will not stay again in any of the Fletcher Hotels as I can not trust anymore that any reservation will be actually honoured and accommodation provided, even if prepaid.

Given the obvious inconvenience to my business activity during these days, I demand compensation on top and above return of the value of the night not used in your hotels. Failure to provide such compensation will confirm that management of Hotel Fletcher Valkenburg (local and central) indeed acted in bad faith in relation to this prepaid booking made in standard ways. Again, an equal booking faced no issue whatsoever, discarding a “system problem”. A final word to the people at the reception desk at Fletcher Hotel de Burghoeve (on the 11th July) and Fletcher Hotel Valkenburg (on the 13th July), who tried to help the most they could.


Pedro Pita Barros

15th July 2018