To give you some back story, I'm not one to shy from adventure so, unless I have a casino offer or a free night using loyalty points, I don't make advance reservations. Like any good frequent traveler with a smart device, I use a selection of apps like HotelTonight or Hotel Deals to book the best deal. For my first stay at El Cortez, I used Booking.com's new-ish same day app, Tonight, and grabbed a rate that came to $30.51. The way Tonight works is that your card guarantees the reservation, but it isn't actually charged until arrival. When I checked in, I was told my card would be authorized for the room rate plus tax and the required incidental deposit of $50 for a total of $80.51.
Since a deposit isn't anything out of the ordinary and I knew that I wouldn't be making any room charges, I swiped my card and was handed my key. When I checked out, I went to the desk and was told the rate had been charged and the hold released. Now, when the hotel says released, let's be real and do the disclaimer thing that states funds are typically made available again anywhere from three to 10 business days. I'm pretty fortunate that my holds are mostly released by night's end. So, everything seemed ordinary enough, and I went on my merry way.
This is where my story jumps to Friday the 13th. As usual, I pulled up my apps at noon, checked rates, considered where I wanted to be, what I wanted to check out, and so on. Turns out, I didn't like the rates that first popped up so, since I am a gambler, I decided to wait a while and see if I could get something better. Finally around 4 p.m., I decided to book the best deal which was El Cortez on HotelTonight for $67 with tax. Since I had a $25 credit, it actually wound up at $42 which HotelTonight charged right away. I arrived around 5 p.m. and started to check-in. Just as the clerk was about to hand me my keys, I swiped my card for the $50 deposit. That was when the clerk looked at me and said my card was declined.
Me: "Excuse me?"
Clerk: "You're card was declined, do you have another card you'd like to use?"
Me: "Ummm, no. Ok, just don't give my room away and let me go call the bank."
To be truthful, I don't get the shock most people get when their card is declined because my card will get declined when I've been on the road for a while and the bank decides they want me to check in with them because they're not sure if it's suspicious activity or not. I don't compulsively check my balance, but I live on a budget and I know what I spend. So, I stepped outside and called my bank. I explained the situation, and asked for the available balance and the most recent transactions like normal. Except, this time was not normal. This time, I was told my available balance would not cover the deposit; and, when she went through the list of recent transactions, the HT charge for $42 appeared while the El Cortez showed up twice with one charge for $80.51 and one for $30.51.
Me: "Excuse me?"
Armed with this info and a slightly WTF attitude, I went back to the front desk to get a supervisor. I told her my situation and explained that when I called the bank I found out that the hold from my previous stay had not been released and that I had been charged twice for my room rate. At first, the supervisor didn't believe me. She pulled up my account and said the system showed the deposit as released and the rate as charged once, but she agreed to speak with the bank to sort it out. After going over a few introductions and authorization codes, she handed the phone back to me and the banking rep told me what I didn't want to hear"
Bank: "We've fixed the discrepancy, but the funds won't be available to you until either tomorrow or Monday."
Me: "Excuse me?"
(Are you sensing a theme to the evening?)
By this time, it had already been almost two hours since my arrival and my head was hurting. I asked the rep to explain to me why she couldn't make the funds available or do a temporary increase since it was an error and, long story short, the answer was "it's Friday night and that department isn't available right now." That's when I got off the phone and went back to the front desk to ask if there were other options. The answer was no. I discovered that El Cortez does not accept cash deposits, will not waive the deposit, and can only accept cards with the owner present which effectively ruled out all my other first-string options. I asked what I was supposed to do and, while very polite, the supervisor informed me that it was up to me and that bookings through HT are non-refundable; which, I had known beforehand, but obviously didn't help this situation in the least.
My next call was to HotelTonight customer service and I promptly spoke with a very genial representative named Ryan who gave me some hope saying that, if I was unable to use the room because of this issue, they would consider a refund if the Cortez would consider one, too. While this was some relief, it obviously would not have been my first choice. Since it was now around 8 p.m, things were not looking so goo. At that point, I did what any modern person does these days: I turned to Twitter.
I sent out a mass SOS and also DM'd colleagues, including our @702Becca (@VegasBecca on Twitter), while searching the #Vegas hashtag for people who might be looking to pick up a last-minute room and trying to remember my log-in for Couchsurfing. I also tried lurking at the front desk to try and spot walk-ups inquiring about rates and tried texting people I knew from days gone by with Vegas connections whose numbers were still in my phone because I'm too lazy to cull my contacts. As time marched on, it looked like this was a lost cause. So I tweeted an update:
To HotelTonight's credit, they jumped right on my tweet and were in touch with me about the problem and how they could fix it. At the same time that they were getting me information about cancelling, @702Becca DM'd me that her husband (@bfrischy7 on Twitter) was on the way to help lend a card. After several hours, my crisis was solved in a matter of minutes. I was able to check-in and get my room, HotelTonight was happy the issue was resolved, and I think El Cortez security was even happy to see me move along after keeping an eye on me for the last hour or so of the ordeal. Ultimately, though, it had taken roughly six hours to get through, and I felt more frazzled than a traveler exiting McCarran after an ump-teen hour flight on a puddle jumper.
Don't get me wrong. I'm hoping this is not a regular occurrence or practice at El Cortez. For the price and the room type, it's still, in many ways, a good deal. As you can imagine, though, it's not really a deal I'm ready to jump on again any time soon.