Nonrefundable Reservations? Maybe, Maybe Not.

PSA: Just because it says the reservation is nonrefundable doesn’t mean it’s not. Just ask and explain and be nice. Also, beware the Ping-Pong Effect.

Here’s what happened.

We made hotel reservations to go to Texas—a trip we couldn’t wait to take, as it was the wedding celebration of some good friends (and I happen to know from personal experience that Texans know how to throw a party). We used some Verizon “points” to reduce the cost. It was nonrefundable, but we are the sort of people who make plans and follow through on them. You can get great deals (on hotels in Ireland, for example) if you use the nonrefundable option—and we have, frequently.

We were a little over two months out from the event.

But after nearly all the arrangements were made, we found out that my son’s grad school commencement ceremony was the same long weekend we were going to be in the Hill Country.

(Bummer. But we’ll reschedule Texas. We were really, really looking forward to it.)

I snagged this from the Texas Hill Country website; they apparently got it from

So … I called the customer service number for Verizon Smart Rewards on a Sunday afternoon. I was just looking for a little grace. We knew it was a nonrefundable reservation. But things happen. Oh, the humanity, etc.

The clerk repeated the this is nonrefundable mantra, but then said she’d call the hotel to see if they’d release me from the obligation “as a courtesy.” Her words. I was on hold for about five minutes. (How do I know? I always look at my watch when I’m put on hold in the middle of a customer service conversation.)

Shortly the Verizon customer service rep got back on the line and said, “I spoke with Sarah at the hotel, and they won’t release the funds. You paid us and we paid the hotel, so you see, we can’t give you the money [several hundred dollars] back if we won’t get it back from the hotel.”

Hm. It all seemed a bit quick to me. I told her I understood, but that I’d look into it further. (But not, of course, until Monday, when perhaps Sarah’s boss was in the office. We’re still going to go to Texas. It would be good customer relations for the hotel to release us from this obligation. And they’d have plenty of time to rebook the room.)

So on Monday I called back to the hotel in Texas—and guess who I spoke with? Sarah! And Sarah told me she couldn’t do anything with the reservation. She said Verizon still had the funds and the ability to cancel or change anything about the reservation. I’d have to call them, she said.

A-HA! The Ping-Pong Effect. Both sides deny the ability to effect meaningful change, and the customer/client is batted back and forth between them until she gets tired and gives up.

So I called Verizon again. The nice man I spoke with this time listened to my story (including the somewhat mystifying details about my conversation with the lovely Sarah), took notes, and then said, “I’ll refer this to our travel team. It may take them twenty-four to forty-eight hours, but they’ll get back to you.”

Good enough. I still had 1) the may-I-speak-with-your-supervisor option; 2) the will-you-look-at-your-records-and-see-how-long-I’ve-been-your-customer-[answer: since 1994]-and-do-you-really-want-to-lose-me-over-this option; 3) the I’m-going-to-talk-about-this-on-social-media-including-my-travel-blog option; and 4) the calling-our-credit-card-company-to-dispute-the-charges option. C’mon: I made these reservations three days ago, realized the mistake, and the dates were still sixty days out. This shouldn’t have been difficult.

In less than an hour (!) Verizon called back. No problem! they said. They were delighted to refund the full amount, they said. It could take up to seventy-two hours to appear on our credit card statement, they said. (And it did appear.)

Conclusion? It may be that they say no first. Why not? They could end up with our money if we give up too soon. But I believed Sarah. She’s in the hospitality business. Her hotel didn’t want to make me mad over a three-night reservation that was two months away.

It’s a big world, but so far, the humans are still in charge. 🙂

A Hotel Comparison

Throughout our entire October 2015 trip, we kept up this side conversation, comparing the hotels. Which breakfast did you like best? Who had the most comfortable beds? We stayed in six hotels from start to finish, in three weeks’ time.

There are lots of things to consider, from price … to the view from the room. You might have others, but here’s my list of considerations:

Bedroom >size >bed >view from window >other furniture >desk >amenities
Bathroom >separate shower >counter space >amenities
Dining >breakfast >bar food
Comfort >ambience >service >grounds >proximity to activities
Other >spa/pool >parking >entrance >price >stay again?

Here’s how it breaks down:

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in north Co. Dublin, €129

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

You have two choices at the Portmarnock: the wing that overlooks the beach or the wing that overlooks the golf course (both wings have garden view rooms). The golf wing rooms are newer, larger, and have central heat (and air, which is really nice for a few weeks each year). The furniture is comfortable, but the chair for the desk is too low if you actually need to work at the desk. The bed is a true king-size but hard as a rock (one can live in hope that the Irish hotel industry will someday figure this out). Plenty of tea in the room, as well as complimentary bottled water. Nice modern bathroom, though not huge, with Pure brand amenities. Definitely the best bar food of the six hotels, and a strong breakfast too. No pool—swim at the beach!—but a nice, professional spa (I used it back in June) with average hotel prices. Parking is close to the entrance; the grounds are nicely kept; you’re a half hour outside the Dublin city center and perfectly located for sightseeing further up the coast and into the Midlands. The ambience at the hotel is superior: the public rooms are recently remodeled, the staff—all of them—are friendly and helpful. What you see on the website is absolutely what you get—and better. Bottom line? I’ll stay at this hotel every chance I get. Love it.

Redcastle Hotel, Spa, and Golf Resort near Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula, €79

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Gerry describes the Redcastle as “flattering to deceive.” It looks fabulous, with its location right on the shores of Lough Foyle (and, really, the Atlantic Ocean). There are rooms in the hotel that sit right on the water (although we didn’t have one)—as does the dining room, which offers a fabulous view every morning at breakfast. The grounds outside are like a park—gorgeous—and the location is convenient. But once you get inside, it’s old, labyrinthine. (Seriously, we needed a map to get to our room.) Our king-size bed was really two singles pushed together. The whole hotel needs a modern upgrade. I did try out the spa and felt I got very good value for money spent; there’s also an indoor pool which is marketed to the locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. I certainly understand the reason for this but I look for peace and quiet in a pool experience, and that was not to be had (lots of moms and kids). The breakfast was good quality, and you could order from the kitchen in addition to what was on the buffet. But you could also be blinded by the sun—the room faces east—and absolutely nothing is done about that, though we have the technology! Bottom line: if/when we stay on Inishowen again, we’ll look around for another place, in spite of the reasonable price.

Lough Eske Castle near Donegal Town, €170 (with the 3-for-2 deal)

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

Like the Portmarnock, the Lough Eske is a true luxury hotel; from the moment you walk in, your experience is of the highest quality. (I have to admit I don’t like lugging bags up the entrance stairs, though, although they do station a nice young man there to help you.) The public interiors, the staff—everything is top-notch. Our room was spectacular and huge; we had a view of the inner courtyard—about as good a view as you get at this hotel, which is named for the lake it is near, but not on. No lake views without a little walk (and I would’ve liked it if someone on staff had pointed out the best way to get to the lake; it wasn’t immediately evident). The bed—a true king-size—was a little firmer than I’d like … but the bathroom! Oh my goodness. Dual sinks, separate tub and shower, dressing area, all of it 2015 modern, and with really nice personal-care amenities too. (This bathroom was as large as our entire suite in Galway, no kidding.) The bar has a nice, old-money ambience and the food was good but we weren’t knocked out by it. We were knocked out by breakfast, which was yummy and is the Irish breakfast I will forever compare all others to: fresh, wide selection, and an omelet station in addition to preprepared eggs on the buffet. The exterior is beautiful and lends itself to strolling—lots of outdoor sculpture to be discovered. There is also an indoor pool and spa, which I did not sample. Bottom line: This was only in our budget because they were running an off-season special, but if you can afford the splurge, do it.

Connacht Hotel in Galway City, €50 (breakfast is extra)

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

As I’ve noted before, this hotel got a favorable review in the eating/drinking/lodging book we picked up at the beginning of the trip, and it is, as noted therein, easy on the budget. We were in a self-catering apartment on the backside of the huge campus, which meant it was quiet (always a plus), and the parking was convenient. It was nice, also, because there was a room with couch, table, desk, kitchenette, and a separate room with beds and desk … so I could work while Gerry watched television in the other room. There’s also an indoor pool and spa, which is heavily promoted to locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. In terms of location, it’s great—on a major thoroughfare and only a ten-minute drive into the city center. If you need a place to crash after being out and about as a tourist, the Connacht will serve you well, but don’t expect luxury; the televisions, for example, were the old tube style. (Oops!) Breakfast and bar food were meh. Bottom line: Great for your budget, definitely serviceable, but if I can’t have some historic character in a hotel, then I want streamlined and modern; this was neither.

Celbridge Manor Hotel in Co. Kildare 30 minutes outside Dublin, €99

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

This hotel markets itself to folks who want to get out of Dublin—for a holiday party, for a girls’ night out, for tea and a B&B, to throw a shower or a wedding—but not too far out, and not too much money. It looks nice outside (it’s a Georgian-era building) and inside, and the rooms are large and furnished with antiques. (And also with some typical hotel furniture—don’t designers call this eclectic? Ha.) They have live music every weekend (glad we missed that); I got the sense that the Celbridge Manor is a local watering hole, if you get my drift. Ample parking, but there are no grounds to speak of (it was a charity boarding school for orphans from the mid-1700s until the 1970s, when it was converted to a hotel). Breakfast was serviceable, bar food was not at all special (Gerry liked it; I didn’t), and there is no pool, no spa services. (I think they’re missing the boat on that.) Bed was advertised as a king-size but was just a double, maybe a small queen—and hard. I do think the hotel could stand to be freshened up, but for a nice quiet place to sleep (maybe not on the weekends), this will work. Proximity to Dublin—for tourism, and/or to stay out of the Dublin hustle-and-bustle—is a huge plus, and Celbridge is centrally located for exploring more of the country too. Bottom line: Priced right, but we’d probably try someplace else next time.

Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport, €167

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

This is an airport hotel, just meant to catch business travelers and offer cheap parking for folks flying out. So ambience and looks don’t really matter so much; we’re just sleeping near the airport so we don’t have to get up in the dark. But … it’s actually a very nice (though always busy) hotel. We have stayed in the Clayton Hotel before, in 2013 when it was called Bewley’s, for several nights, so I can say that the breakfast is just OK, not great. (though we did not have the opportunity to sample it on this trip). We did have supper in the bar and the food was good, better than good. Bed was a true king (hard, of course, but not miserable … though maybe I was just getting used to it). The best feature inside was we paid €40 extra for a suite so we’d have lots of room to pack—and were delighted with the value-for-money! Room was huge with nice chairs and couches. The bathroom was huge too. And it was about five steps away from the elevator (a plus when you’re tired). The best feature outside was the gas station right next door, as in years past the search for gas to fill up the rental has been high stress. Bottom line: This is our airport hotel of choice, and we’re agreed we’d splurge for the suite again too. 🙂

• • •

We have stayed in two other Dublin hotels for several nights, long enough to form an opinion, and I thought I’d include them here for completeness:

Camden Court Hotel, Dublin (2013), €79

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

(Note that this rate is more than two years old, and I obtained it on an advance purchase rate deal, which many hotels offer.) Situated in downtown Dublin near the Grand Canal—the multicultural Portobello neighborhood—the Camden Court caters to tour groups (hence that great rate). So there were moments when the lobby was packed, but most of the time it was quite nice. Though I didn’t sample any of it, the hotel has a hair and nails salon, heated lap pool, a large full gym, massage clinic, salon, sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi. Fantastic location: everything you might want was close by—pubs, good restaurants, shops of all sorts (none of them touristy). Breakfast food was standard issue, as was the bar food. Staff is great, friendly, and parking is free, which is highly unusual. That it’s available at all—and on-site—is highly unusual. So if you’re renting a car, you should consider the Camden Court; we’d stay here again.

The Doubletree by Hilton, Dublin, €149

From the hotel’s website.

From the hotel’s website.

This is the former Burlington Hotel and is located just south of the Grand Canal in Ranelagh, which is an upscale neighborhood. This hotel caters to the business conferences and events trade, so there is a fitness room but no spa or pool. I’ve had more than one meal at this hotel when it was the Burlington, and though it is not as luxe as it was then, the breakfast is good, the location is excellent, and it is very, very quiet (both the hotel and the neighborhood). I like that last quality in a hotel. I would stay here again in spite of the miserably hard bed. 🙂

• • •

One final thought: even two or three years ago, wi-fi in the Irish hotel and B&B trade was hit or miss—only available in the lobby, only available for a fee, or sketchy reception, for example. But in 2015 we had no wi-fi issues. You may encounter isolated locations that lack connection, but for the most part you should have no problems. Progress!


A Good Night’s Sleep!

Have you seen those Westin Hotels ads?

A weekend in the heavenly bed makes it easier to come back to earth.


I stayed in the downtown Phoenix Westin a couple Christmases ago, and I’m here to tell ya, it’s the God’s honest truth. Most comfortable bed ever.

(I didn’t necessarily intend to endore the Westin; I paid for my nights there out of my own pocket. But, in fact, I had a lovely time, and would absolutely stay there again. I’d allow plenty of time for lazing around in the bed too.)

Lower the Cost of Your Vacation! Pay in Advance!

The trip I took to Ireland this past May was made significantly more affordable because I paid for my hotels weeks—months—in advance. Yes! Both Bewley’s and the Camden Court offered great deals on rooms—as long as I would book and pay (nonrefundable) in advance.

I was reminded of this when I read this article in Time magazine.

After years in which both snow and the economy have been iffy, skiers and boarders have been booking winter vacations later and later—or sometimes not at all. So, to lock in dollars early, resort companies are pushing preseason deals that tempt enthusiasts with access to multiple mountains for a single discounted price, as long as they buy when it’s still waterskiing season. …

Some skiers might not like the idea of paying long before snow falls, but the push is working. Once the domain of locals, season passes are snatched up by global ski tourists. Vail’s 300,000 pass holders—who represent $207 million in revenue—come from 50 states and 78 countries. Sales have nearly doubled in the past six years, accounting for about 40% of the company’s lift-ticket revenues. … The earlier you bite, the better the deal—and the sooner you can begin praying for snow.

Of course, airlines have long offered a price break if you pay in advance. The concept is the same—a business fills up seats or rooms early, which helps in budget planning. Apparently this idea is nothing new. This article from Budget Travel reminds:

Who wants to think about winter when it’s still summer? But you might want to reconsider because we’ve got 11 irresistible winter getaways that can put you on world-class slopes or white-sand beaches. There’s just one catch: If you want a price as dreamy as these trips, don’t wait for the first snowfall to make your reservation. (Emphasis mine.)

The list includes cheap airfare and rooms in Florida, Hawaii, Califonia, Montana … and Mexico, Italy, Vietnam, and more.

Remember, these aren’t off-season discounts—though great deals can be had during the off-season too—but discounts offered for pay-in-advance customers. Nonrefundable doesn’t work for everyone, but in my case, it was a wedding I didn’t want to miss. I knew I was going. So be sure to look for a lock-in price package when you make your next vacation plan!