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Hotel Questions and Answers

While on vacation, a bad hotel room can really ruin your experience, so it's important to know your rights before you check-in. While the answers to your questions may vary depending on the circumstances, below are some of the most common hotel questions and their answers.

What's the difference between a guaranteed reservation and a confirmed reservation?

A guaranteed reservation means you've paid for your reservation in advance, and the hotel must hold the room for you. A confirmed reservation means that you have not yet paid, but the hotel agrees to hold a room for you based on some condition. For example, in a typical confirmed reservation, the hotel may agree to "hold the room for you until 8 p.m." on a specific day. If you show up before 8 p.m., then the hotel must give you a room, but if you fail to meet a condition, then the hotel does not have to offer you a room.

I've prepaid for my room (a guaranteed reservation), can a hotel refuse to give me a room?

If you've prepaid for your room, it is guaranteed and the hotel must give you the room you paid for, even if you show up late. If the hotel does not have a room for you, then it has breached your contract and must provide you with a reasonable substitute. This means that they may end up having to send you to another hotel, even if it is more expensive, and pay for the transportation - even the phone call to let people know you've switched hotels.

I wanted a specific room, do I have a right to a particular room?

Typically, you do not have a right to a specific room unless you specified that room during your reservation (for example, the penthouse suite). Accordingly, if you really do want a particular room, then you need to make that extremely clear when you are booking your room. Be sure to get written confirmation that you booked that specific room. If the hotel fails to provide you with the specific room, then it has likely broken its contract with you and you may be able to recover some form of limited damages.

This room is not what I expected, is there anything I can do about it?

The hotel room you end up with may not look like the pleasant room that was pictured on their website or in their brochure. While a certain amount of exaggeration is allowed in advertising, though, intentionally deceiving customers is considered fraud.

If the room you got is substantially below what you expected based on an advertisement, then speak to the manager immediately. This also applies if the room has not been cleaned properly, or if the room is extremely noisy. You should request a better room, a discount or, if nothing else is sufficient, then a refund. You may be able to sue the hotel in small claims for the hassle of having to relocate, but this may not be feasible or even worth the expense in practice.

Can a hotel charge me whatever it wants for a room?

Hotel rates depend on lot on seasonal variance and can fluctuate wildly, costing double or triple the normal rate during some times of the year. However, hotels cannot just charge you whatever they want. Many states mandate that hotels post a maximum charge in a conspicuous place (often on the back of the door).

Items such as a visitor fee or bed tax may be mandated by state or local law. Other fees, such as utility or service charges may not be legitimate, however. A hotel is not allowed to charge you more than the rate it quoted to you when you made the reservation unless you approve the charge in advance.

Is there a right to privacy in my hotel room?

Generally, yes, you have a right to expect privacy in your hotel room as long as you are using the hotel room in a normal, responsible way. However, if you are engaging in anything illegal or disturbing other guests, hotel management can enter your room without your permission.

Note that hotel management, not the police, can enter the room without your permission and hotel management cannot give the police permission to search your room. The police must go through the usual process, which usually means getting a warrant before they are allowed to search your room.

A final exception to your right to privacy is for cleaning and maintenance. Hotel management does have the right to enter your room to clean or perform necessary maintenance.

What happens if I don't check-out by the deadline.

Unlike apartment or house rentals, hotels can evict you if you stay past the agreed time. Of course, most hotels will understand short delays and accommodate you, but the hotel is entitled to evict you, change the locks (easy with electronic key cards) and move your items out.

Am I entitled to a discount?

Many groups are entitled to hotel discounts, here are some of the most common groups:

  • Seniors
  • Corporate customers
  • Government customers
  • Families with children
  • Professional associations (American Bar Association)
  • Certain credit card members
  • American Automotive Association (AAA) members

My property has been stolen from my hotel room, is the hotel responsible?

Historically, hotels were liable for your property during your stay. Today, however, most states significantly limit the liability a hotel can face if you property gets stolen or destroyed while at the hotel. In most states, hotels are required to provide you with a safe for your valuable belongings. Be aware, however, that there are monetary limits on hotel liability, so even if the hotel is responsible for the loss of your expensive suit, it may not be liable for the full dollar amount of your suit.

The major exception to this rule, however, is if the hotel did not exercise reasonable care in protecting your property. For instance, if the hotel leaves the safe unlocked, or does not meet local fire codes, then the hotel may be liable for the full value of your property if someone breaks into your safe or if the hotel burns down.

My car was broken into while at the hotel, is the hotel responsible?

Similar to how your personal property is handled, it depends on whether the hotel exercised reasonable care in protecting your car. If the hotel was negligent, then it may be liable for damages to your car.

If any property was taken from inside your car, it is far less certain, but again will largely depend on whether the hotel could have foreseen and prevented such a theft. It may not have been foreseeable that a random passerby would break-in to your car and steal your stereo, but it may have been foreseeable that the hotel's valet might steal the cell phone in your car.

I hurt myself while at the hotel, is the hotel responsible?

It depends largely on the circumstances. If you slipped and fell on the hotel premises because the hotel management failed to clean up a spill, or failed to clear a walkway, then the hotel may be liable. Another typical example is if you have an accident because a hotel doesn't adequately light an area. If you do get hurt while at a hotel, contact a lawyer to determine whether you have a case.

A crime was committed near the hotel, is the hotel responsible?

Generally, a hotel will not be responsible for crimes committed on or near the hotel's premises. The exception to this is if the hotel should have anticipated the crime and failed to prevent it. A common example of this would be if the hotel were located in a high crime area, but didn't put any safeguards in place (such as locked windows and bright lighting). Hotels must also warn of any known criminal problems around the hotel.

What are the hotel's responsibilities for maintaining the pool area?

Hotels know that people prefer hotels with swimming pools, but by attracting guests with a swimming pool, hotels also become responsible for their customers' safety around the pool. Although many hotels post a notice that claims you are swimming at your own risk, it is unlikely that any such warning is adequate to save it from a serious lawsuit. In addition to basic safety, hotels must also anticipate that children and even intoxicated adults will likely use the pool and they must put appropriate safeguards in place.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with
protecting your rights with regard to travel rules and contracts.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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