Just about every mother of the bride wants her daughter’s wedding day to be perfect. From the invitations to the flowers to the music to the food, every detail is meticulously planned and carefully organized.
As part of the arrangements, the White Township woman started looking for a hotel to book a block of rooms for out-of-town guests, and in March 2011, she decided on the Comfort Inn in Hackettstown.
“It was perfectly located between the church and the reception,” she said. “Our thought was that guests, especially older guests, could rest there a bit between the church and reception and then continue on.” It didn’t work out that way.
Guests booked eight rooms for two nights: Sept. 22, the night of the rehearsal, and Sept. 23, the wedding day.
These were not just any guests, Albrecht said. They all, including the bride’s grandmother and long-distance college friends, had roles in the wedding. The plan was that they could check in at 2 p.m. Sept. 22 to get ready for that evening’s practice run in the church.
But less than 24 hours before check-in time, the guests were contacted by Comfort Inn.
Guests were told “they were overbooked and the guests were being moved to the Days Inn in Budd Lake,” Albrecht said. “I was not notified until guests started calling me, upset. I called and was told by the manager that he had rented the rooms to ‘an energy company from Oxford, N.J.’ and I had no recourse.”
The rooms at Days Inn, which was nearly nine miles from the initial hotel and in the opposite direction from the reception hall, were offered at a discounted price.
There was no time to argue, so the guests, all from South Jersey or Massachusetts, started to arrive at the Days Inn on Sept. 22 to prepare for the 5 p.m. wedding rehearsal and subsequent dinner.
“The rooms were not all ready,” Albrecht said, so many of the guests didn’t see their rooms until after the rehearsal dinner later that night. “When they did get in the rooms that night after the dinner, rooms were filthy: stains on the carpet and the white towels, dirt in the tubs, grinds in the coffee makers, chairs that were broken in the room, bugs and filth in the bathrooms.”
And one couple, Albrecht said, was only offered a smoking room, so they left and had to find somewhere else to stay.
So how bad was it?
“That was the worst motel I’ve been in, and I’ve been in a lot of them,” said Jeanette Albrecht, the bride’s octogenarian grandmother. “The water was backed up in the sink and there was a dirty bar of soap that nobody cleaned up.”
Althea Gidos, the bride’s aunt, wasn’t happy either.
“In the hallway between my mom’s room and my room there was a towel over something that looked like (vomit),” Gidos said. “In the room, the first thing I noticed was the odor. It was the bathroom. It was just dirty and the toilet seat was messy and coming apart.”
ASKING FOR SATISFACTION
After the wedding — which went off without a hitch — Albrecht contacted all the guests to apologize for the bad experience. She asked them all to complain to the hotel, and then she contacted the hotels herself.
On Sept. 24, she made an appointment to see the Comfort Inn manager the next day. When she arrived for the meeting, Albrecht said, the manager wouldn’t see her privately, but insisted they stay at the front desk.
No concessions or restitution were offered.
Albrecht then called parent company Choice Hotels, lodging a formal complaint. The manager would have 72 hours to respond.
On the same day, she said she called Days Inn and spoke to a manager named Raj.
“He was sorry we weren’t happy but wasn’t doing anything about it,” Albrecht said.
On Sept. 26, Albrecht called the Days Inn parent company, Wyndham Hotel Group. It wouldn’t take her complaint, Albrecht said, because she wasn’t one of the guests.
On Sept. 27, she said she received an e-mail from the Comfort Inn manager, who basically said “sorry you weren’t happy with Days Inn,” but there was no mention of the fact the group was moved in the first place.
Later that day, a Choice Hotels customer service rep said she reviewed the case with the Comfort Inn’s “general manager coaching group.” The hotel followed protocol by offering the discounted rooms and nothing else could be done. Requests to talk to a supervisor were denied.
That’s when Albrecht had enough.
“I cannot believe that the ‘energy company from Oxford’ just walked in and took all our rooms the day before we needed them. I cannot believe they didn’t call me as the person who booked the block of rooms,” Albrecht said. “If I was given more notice, I would’ve seen where else we could’ve moved them, but with less than 24 hours to their arrival and in the last throes of preparation, there just wasn’t time.”
We contacted both properties’ parent companies to see if they would reconsider the many complaints.
A few days later, Albrecht received a call from Raj, the Days Inn manager. He offered to reimburse $50 per room.
Albrecht balked, asking for a full refund for each guest, and Raj said he’d call her back.
Then we received an e-mail from the parent company, Wyndham.
“While the hotel is independently owned and operated, customer satisfaction is a top priority to the brand,” said spokesman Joy Gulledge. “To that end, we have contacted the property about the incident and believe there may have been a misunderstanding, so we’re going to fix it.” Misunderstanding? What kind of misunderstanding?
Later that day, Albrecht received another call from Days Inn. It would refund all the guests the fee for both nights.
That was good.
Then Albrecht heard from Choice Hotels, the parent company of Comfort Inn.
The rep offered Albrecht points on her hotel rewards account, but Albrecht still wanted to make sure the error — the last-minute cancellation of a block of rooms that had been reserved 18 months in advance — was addressed internally.
“She said that cancelling an existing block or reservation was not acceptable policy and neither was it right to deny a customer to talk to a supervisor,” Albrecht said. “She said that both employees — the manager and customer service — would be spoken to so it didn’t happen again. That suited me.”
We asked Comfort Inn to explain why the rooms were given away in the first place, and it didn’t respond.
We then asked Days Inn to address the complaints about the condition of the rooms.
“It’s wasn’t like that,” manager Raj Gajjar said of the complaints that the rooms were dirty.
He said some guests were told the rooms weren’t ready yet because they had to be cleaned. We asked if it was possible a housekeeper could have missed a room by accident, or perhaps wasn’t as thorough as usual because they were rushing to finish. He said it was “impossible.” And, he said, guests could have complained any time, but he said no one did until a few days after they checked out.
Albrecht called all the guests to tell them to watch their credit cards for the refund. She said she’s glad it’s resolved, but she’s still frustrated that she couldn’t get resolution without help.
“It’s sad that I couldn’t go through proper channels, the managers, the hotel chain customer service — and neither could my guests — and get this resolved,” she said.
“My hope is that another family will not go through this turmoil.”