Here’s why a hotel might try to force a smoking room on you, and what to do

600px-No_smoking_symbolI ended up being forced to spend a night in a smoking room during my recent road trip, even though I had booked a non-smoking room on Expedia.com. I would have rather shared a room with someone who use something like a PAX vaporizer. At least this way, you know that vaping isn’t as harmful as smoking and you wouldn’t have to smell the scent of burnt cigarettes and smokem, especially if you got a vape from somewhere like Puffmen, but unfortunately, I had to.
Some of you saw my initial (rather angry) post on this. Now, I can tell you the rest of the story, including some advice on what to do in this situation.

Here’s the short version: When hotels start to fill up, there’s a magical equation they employ to maximize revenue — to fill up every last room — and that involves an educated guess: How many smoking vs. non-smoking guests will show up needing a room? You don’t want to turn anyone who might help fill up your last few rooms. Remember, when you’re talking last rooms, you are talking almost pure profit for the hotel. The incremental cost of servicing those last rooms is tiny. So….what would you do? You’re never going to get that equation exactly right, which means you almost certainly will be turning away a non-smoker and losing revenue on that smoking room, or vice versa.

Or…you could talk one kind of guest into staying in the other kind of room.

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When I pulled into the Ogden, Utah Sleep in on July 18, I was told that I had booked a smoking room. Right as I was about to check in, another couple was walking out, facing the same problem. When I showed the desk clerk my reservation, I was told that Expedia misinformed the hotel about my room request. The manager got involved and said Expedia misinforms the hotel routinely.

Upon reflection, I find that very hard to believe. That has never happened to me anywhere else, and I find no evidence of such widespread communication errors online.

I was told that Sleep Inns, at least in that part of the world, are popular with truckers precisely because they set aside large numbers of smoking rooms. Could the hotel have been playing almost-full smoking-room roulette with me?

I often talk about consumer transactions as asynchronous — in a perfect world, i.e. a real free market, consumers would have multiple choices and could easily walk away when being mistreated by a company. Naturally, things rarely work that way. It was late, I’d already driven 550 miles that day, I needed to stop driving, and I had very uncertain prospects for getting another room in a safe amount of time. So I made the best of a bad set of choices. I held my nose and slept in the room, deciding to fight for my rights later. It didn’t kill me, though I did wake up with a raspy voice and a cough.

The end of the story: Because I had booked the hotel through Expedia, I had paid Expedia, so that meant I had to start there. To its credit, Expedia almost immediately issued me a $50 credit, which was more than half the cost of the room. The operator then called the hotel to ask for its stance on issuing a refund. The Sleep manager refused, saying Expedia was at fault for giving faulty information. Because I was driving through the Middle of Nowhere, Utah, at the time, my call was dropped several times, making follow up all the more challenging. But I made sure to register a complaint about Sleep through Expedia; I’ll send a complaint to Sleep’s parent, Choice Hotels International, when I get a chance. And I won’t stay at a Sleep hotel for some time.

Now, is there anything else I could have done? Maybe, though in this situation, arriving earlier than 11 p.m. was probably the only way I could have avoid it. I turned to travel rippoff expert, Christopher Elliot, to better understand what happened. Here’s what he told me. I particularly like the “walking” suggestion, I was unfamiliar with that term:

In a perfect world, there would be no “smoking” rooms. Many states agree. Heck, even smokers step out on to the balcony to light up. There’s no reason why they should be allowed to do it indoors, where the carcinogens can affect other guests. VAping inside would be fine, because the smell isn’t tht bad and doesn’t tend to stay around in the room, if you do vape, why not buy the best vape mods in order to make your experience that whole lot better.
Do nonsmokers end up in smoking rooms often? Fortunately, no. Modern hotel yield-management systems ensure that you get the room you reserved — usually. The problem, more often, is second-hand smoke coming from a “smoking” room. No reservation system can regulate that.
The exception is a last-minute reservation. I made one last year at a hotel in Arkansas, and ended up on a smoking floor, but in what the hotel claimed was a non-smoking room. I could barely breathe.
When you’re in a room you don’t like, you have to let the hotel know immediately. If they can’t fix it, appeal to corporate, if it’s a chain. If that’s not an option, then ask to be “walked” to a different hotel that has a non-smoking room. Most hotels have reciprocal agreements with other hotels, where they can accommodate you if they run out of room.

As I often say, Road trips aren’t a vacation, they are an adventure. After more than 3 weeks on the road, being stuck in a smoking room for eight hours was the worst thing that happened to me, which means I am extremely lucky and things went very well. Still, fair is fair, and smoking rooms are unhealthy. I hope my story might help you avoid a bad road trip night.

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About Bob Sullivan 1428 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.