There’s No Such Thing as a Free Breakfast

I told the travel agent that I would tell all my friends about our holiday experience including the free breakfast vouchers he provided us and he said in response; “I’m very sorry to hear that”.

It was late when we touched down in Honolulu and made our way to the reception desk at our Waikiki hotel. I produced our pre-paid accommodation voucher and said to the man at reception, who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt open to his waist, exposing more of him than good taste might require, “We have a reservation for Brannon, that’s spelled B-R-A….” “No you don’t,” he interrupted, “I received advice from your travel agent that your booking has been cancelled and you are now staying at another hotel”. And he went on to describe its location.

I might have responded; “Sure, ok, no problem, we’ve been travelling for 13 hours, we’ve got a fully paid voucher entitling us to stay here in this hotel, I’ve just paid $40 for a cab to get to this hotel – but you say someone else has dictated that we should stay at a hotel which; was not of our choice, is of indeterminate quality, and which is located at a destination unknown to me – yeah sure – I’m good with that, where do go I from here?” However, that’s not what I said and an uncomfortable conversation with the ‘Hawaiian Shirt’ followed.

I learned that there had been a commercial dispute between the travel company, ostensibly acting on our behalf in Hawaii, and the hotel we had booked. The result was that the travel company had transferred our reservation to another hotel without our knowledge let alone – our consent. The Hawaiian Shirt offered us a room at his hotel (a room which we had already booked and paid for) but said we would have to pay the full rate in addition to the payment we had already made to stay there. We had no intention of paying twice for the same room and it was clear he had no intention of making good our original reservation, so we had to find our way to the other hotel.

My disposition, not at its peak following my interactions at our original hotel, was not improved when, upon arrival at the new hotel my family, of five persons, was told that our booking was for four people and that if we wanted an additional bed we would have to pay a further $40 per night. I checked to see that it was not April Fool’s Day since I was struggling to believe this chain of events was just random. The American’s have an expression they call ‘hazing’ in which a newcomer (usually to a place of employment) has various practical jokes inflicted upon them by their playful and welcoming workmates. I felt I may be in the middle (or hopefully the end) of a ‘hazing’ as a newbie to the Hawaiian Isles. Unfortunately, after a huge day of buses, airport terminals, air travel and cabs I had left my sense of humour in an overhead locker somewhere and this just wasn’t funny anymore! I informed the hotel receptionist what should have been self-evident, since we were all standing in front of him, that we are a family of five, and he responded with; “my advice is that there are four people”. I pointed out that we had been travelling for six weeks across several continents and our family had neither increased nor decreased in size during that time, that I had booked for five persons, paid for five persons and that I struggled to understand how our travel agent would rationalise my family by one person during the final leg of our trip.

The receptionist continually pointed to a computer screen and a document (no doubt a print from the same screen) which unsurprisingly seemed to accord with one another to ‘confirm’ that there were just four people in our family tonight. I felt that I was in a scene from John Cleese’s hilariously funny ‘Faulty Towers’ but somehow the humour I obtained watching John Cleese treat his guests
abominably had deserted me this evening. After considerable debate, Leanne and I were permitted to keep our three children and we made our way to our room at some time after midnight. The room was ordinary – it was not what I had booked or paid for – but it was now well past the hour when Cinderella’s pumpkin lost its magic and all the fight had gone out of me for that night.

….But it returned when the phone rang the following morning at 8.30am. It was Keith, the General Manager of our travel company with his explanation of how we had been “upgraded” to our new hotel, which I note in passing was not on Waikiki Beach as was the hotel we had booked. It was, nevertheless fabulous, according to Keith, that he had managed to upgrade our booking! Keith’s enthusiasm for our ‘upgrade’, I am sure he hoped, would be contagious. However it was not. And the only potential contagion that I felt that morning lay within the confines of my upgraded hotel room. Then, perhaps forgetting that we had been ‘upgraded’, Keith said, “we contacted the hotel to let our customers know about the changes we had to make”, in response to which I told him that nobody bothered to notify us and after 13 hours of travel I was not impressed to be told that my booking had been cancelled. “Oh, we tried to contact you too” he said pathetically. I didn’t even debate that claim. Instead I said, “when we arrived at our upgraded hotel, they only had a booking for four people”.

“No, that’s not right” said Keith. “Yes Keith, that is right”, I retorted with more than a hint of frustration since it was me, and not Keith, who had been arguing with two separate hotel reception desks until very late the previous evening. “There are five people on my list”, said Keith. I said, “well the fellow at the reservations desk only had a booking for four people and wanted to charge us more for an additional bed”. “No, no” said Keith, “You have five in your party”. I said, “yes I know how many children I have, it is the hotel you chose for me, Keith, that seems to have a problem accepting that”.

Keith, it appeared, was no stranger to dealing with customers who had been inconvenienced by his organisation and he was now ready to make his big play, “We have given you free breakfast” he said excitedly. We had noted that we had some vouchers for breakfast included in our room key satchel upon check-in, but as I said to him, “we only have vouchers for four people”. “Oh, that’s the hotel’s issue we can’t do anything about that”, he said back-pedalling at the same speed as he had raced to make the offer in the first place. So, I said, “Keith, as a demonstration of good faith, why don’t you throw in another breakfast voucher?”. “I can’t do that” he said, “I don’t have the authority”. I pursued that with him but he would not budge. Keith was the General Manager of a travel company and had just admitted that he was either unable (but perhaps more likely – unwilling) to authorise a breakfast voucher. I would have been embarrassed to admit to either!

I wanted to ask him whether he had selected which of my children should not eat that morning but thought that might be lowering myself to his level, so I concluded by saying; “Keith, this is my first experience with your company and I will be telling all my friends about my trip to Hawaii. “I’m very sorry to hear that” he said.

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