Hotel guest bumped into an inferior place

Inside a Fairfield Inn (Chris Ocken/Chicago Tribune)

I made a reservation at a Fairfield Inn in Philadelphia earlier this year. I prepaid for two nights and received a confirmation.

The day before I left — six months after I made the reservation — I got an email from a manager at the Fairfield, saying that they were moving us to another hotel due to a "situation beyond our control." It turns out there was a convention in town, and my room had been given to a platinum customer.

Fairfield promised to move me to a hotel with the same amenities. I was further told that a Fairfield Inn could cancel confirmed reservations any time to book platinum customers.

The motel they moved us to was inferior by any standards. No complimentary breakfast, no airport shuttle (we nearly missed our outgoing flight), farther from the airport, smell of paint as they were under construction, and no working phones in the room.

I have written to Marriott, which owns Fairfield Inn, and the Pennsylvania attorney general as well as the manager of the property. I have only received an email thanking me for writing.

I would like a refund of our stay at the hotel. Can you help?

Karen Johnson, Gering, Neb.

A: You were "walked" to another hotel, which is a fairly common practice in the hotel industry. Hotels sometimes accept more reservations than they can accommodate, anticipating that some guests will cancel. But on a busy weekend or holiday, when everyone shows up, a property has to turn guests away.

It makes sense for a hotel to honor the reservations for its best customers, the platinum-level elites, at least from a business perspective. These are, after all, the hotel's best guests. But telling you that you were being bumped in favor of a frequent guest, even if it was true, was unhelpful.

When you're "walked," you should be sent to a comparable hotel and shouldn't have to pay any more than the rate to which you agreed. Fairfield shouldn't have made you stay at an inferior motel, nor should it have responded to your written request for a refund with a form letter.

The real question here: Do you deserve a refund for two nights at the motel?

Here's the minimum you should have received: First, a prompt apology for having "walked" you to a different hotel. And second, an adjustment of your room rate to compensate you for the accommodations that didn't meet your or Fairfield's standards.

I'm surprised that you got the silent treatment. Marriott usually is great at responding to customer complaints. You also can try appealing to someone higher up at Fairfield through the customer service office.

I contacted Marriott on your behalf. A representative called you and offered you a full refund for both nights.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and a co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.