Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Seriously. Its a tale - grab yourself a cuppa, and settle in.
Let me take you back to 2019.
In 2019, life was carefree, heres a list of 10 things that we could back in 2019:
We could -
Leave the house when we wanted and why we wanted
Go in to the pub just because you were passing, without booking your slot and just because you bumped into an old friend
Eat within 2m of somebody you didn't know
Have a house party for 200 strangers if you wanted
Go to work easily and have a meeting face to face, meetings would start with danish pastries and a chat not "can you hear me, I can't see you, unmute"
Decide for yourself how many to invite for your birthday meal - more than 6 if you wanted
Go to a concert or theatre... Forget numbers, they were open is enough
Attend a sports event without being an accredited member of the press or a member of the team
Dance in a crowded nightclub, drunk and like nobody is watching, snog a stranger, shag a random
Enter a shop unmasked... In fact it was frowned upon to cover your face in a shop... Bad enough wearing a hat...
... and you could also book a holiday 🕶
and then fly - without any real concerns.... 🛫
that is where this piece comes in, as this is what I did.
Nice huh? a dream holiday - one that I have always wanted to take, and at last had the time and money to do it... exciting. Fly into San Francisco, drive the pacific highway in an open top Mustang, experience all that LA has to offer and after a trip down Route 66, through the sweltering heat of Death Valley - we finish off with 3 days in Las Vegas.
All good so far - I booked the flydrive through British Airways at ba.com - £300 deposit and a plan to pay monthly until we go. One of the easiest and most exciting transactions I have ever made. All I need now us to book hotels for our trip.
Firstly, let me set this straight - I am no amateur when it comes to booking holidays without the need of an agent - I have travelled many places independently, including the USA on numerous occassions - this was going to be a piece of cake.
You see, I have a logical process I go through. This took ages pre-google, working from tourist information centres and over the phone. Since the advent of the internet though, this process has become much easier. Starting with trivago as a large search and booking engine always gives me more than enough options. I take these options and then look elsewhere to see if there is a cheaper option for the same deal... This could be hotels.com or lastminute.com or the likes including booking.com or it might be with the hotel itself, direct. In my experience, I find the hotel direct option very expensive when compared (I am not sure why this is by the way, perhaps a hotelier could explain the rationale behind pushing guests to a 3rd party ?) ... but by process of elimination, I end up in an agents pocket most of the time, and invariably this agent is booking.com
Why booking.com? Well its relatively simple - I just like them. I like their search and booking engine. It is clear what you are getting and the price you are paying, as well as when you are expected to pay it; I like that you can call somebody 24/7 for help; I like that the process is smooth with extremely low friction and I like that your rights as a consumer are respected; I like that their prices are usually there or thereabouts and I find that they treat you as their customer, not as a customer of the hotel, meaning they own their own shit - I really like that about them. Yes, I have always found that the rewards of using them are good.
Sometimes though somebody else comes along to chuck a spanner in your love story.
Upon searching Las Vegas hotels, I spent a long time looking for the right thing... Downtown or Strip... Off the main drag or on it... Free parking or no parking... Breakfast or no breakfast... Vegas is about experience, and I wanted the best experience for this break. Now I know a bit about Vegas - I have been before, I have acquaintances that live there. So I decided to go Downtown, in the heart of the action and go iconic. To cut a long story short I decided upon The Golden Nugget.... Why?
.... Best pool in Las Vegas. Period.
I remember trying to find the perfect deal... trying so hard to stay faithful to my trusted process. To be right, at the time I was happy to stick by the people I knew and trusted, the people who had never let me down. The prices were quite expensive, but this was a special trip - once in a lifetime.
Then it hapoened.
Then along came www.alpharooms.com, into my google search, top of the page - looking glamorous, and shaking their perky cheap price bottom, and pert 4 star review boobs at me. Just like Alan Rickman in Love Actually, my head was turned... I was a classic fool. I turned my back on everything I trusted and liked, for a cheap room with a sexy offer. It goes to show you can sell anything to anybody - once. What a sap I was. I was a disgrace. I should have known that they would never respect me after a booking.
Although, I saved about £60 a night on standard price, so at the time I felt like a complete stud muffin.
Now bear in mind, this was pre-covid. I paid £258 for 3 nights B&B in a superior tower room, with a view over Las Vegas. I was happy. We were happy. In fact we were terribly excited. The first hotel booked, still in November, boom.
Golden Nugget, Las Vegas
Over the next 4 months, Christmas came and went, and I managed to book all other required hotels, through booking.com or direct, including the fabulous Shore Cliff Hotel on Pismo Beach, and the truly iconic Queen Mary on Long Beach. We were set.
Shore Cliff, Pismo Beach
Queen Mary, Long Beach
Then came COVID19
Then came Total lockdown
Then came Furlough
Then came the best laid plans, disappearing down the shitter.
COVID19 changed everything - and continues to cause untold devastation around the World. This blog is not to detract from how serious CV19 is, or indeed how much it has affected everybody - However, for the purposes of this blog, I have to tell you the saga of my Vegas hotel booking, and the simply shite service experienced from alpharooms.com
May 2020: lockdown was in full swing and travel was banned. I received an email from BA informing me that our flight was cancelled, and explaining what I needed to do to change or cancel with a refund. We decided to change our dates, believing September may be ok... After all, it was another 5 months away, this shenanigans had to be done by then didn't it?
Within an hour we had changed our flights, our car and all 9 of our other hotel bookings to new dates in September - no cost - no hassle - both our direct bookings and bookings.com had come through - this was how it should be. No stress in unprecedented times, and consumers given their basic rights. All I had to do was call alpharooms and change the Golden Nugget. Easy.
It started early April - 6th to be precise, with a phone call... An answer machine message like a get out clause kept playing... Owing to Covid19 blah blah blah... Contact limited blah blah blah... Live chat blah blah blah....
This message repeated over and over until I could listen no more. I had to do something to get in touch, surely my memories didnt deceive me... It was all bullshit of course - well all apart from the covid bit, the rest was bullshit.
My sexy temptress had gone to ground, leaving me metaphorically strapped naked to a lamp post and robbed of my money. Little did I know, my dignity would follow.
By May 7th, I resorted to email. My question was simple - why are you not talking to me, and can I change our dates please? This is the answer I got...
Yes, you read that correctly, but let me reiterate for you. Susan says:
If you wanted to modify the booking now then charges will be applicable 30 gbp per person plus supplier charges
Well, I was livid. My bollocks-o-meter went from running normally to overheat in a nano second. I was now in that space between rational and lunacy - a space reserved for those special moments when the piss take becomes personal. My last experience in this space came many many years ago. When on holiday, I was woken from slumber at 3am by 6 drunk and rowdy Germans skinny dipping outside my apartment window in Tenerife. They seemed to have the same respect for my quieten down request, as alpharooms were giving me now. The Germans were going to get 'told', and so were alpharooms. One thing stood in my way - exactly how was I going to do that ? This 'how' question didn't form in my head then, and it hadn't yet formed in my head now... so that was a major flaw in my 'make them do what I want' plan.
My reply to Susan, was polite and to the point:
I waited what felt like a week for a reply, but was really only about 20 seconds, before venting my spleen on Twitter.
As you do.
I had an accomplice. In fact, as it turned out, there were simply hundreds of people facing the same issue I was experiencing. All of them severely pissed off with the ignorance and blasé, laissez faire attitude of alpharooms. I read the reviews on tripadvisor, they scored anything from an obviously fake 4 star to a more honest and realistic 1 star. This didn't help my mood, I was getting more uncomfortable as I read just how rubbish they.were, how they avoided the subject and would not answer the phone, let alone sort your problem. Their blatant apathy towards their customers was quite frankly, to coin a phrase seldom used in peace time - making my shit itch.
Then this appeared. I had waited and ranted and itched waiting for this. I am so glad I didn't hold my breath.
Classic. I was blowing another gasket. An impersonal holding pattern. For the love of God, this wasn't even addressed to me. A real brush off.
The next passage of communication only proved to make our relationship a whole lot worse.
.... and so, with that - I completely, totally and utterly lost my shit.
I could not believe it - over a month since my first email, since my first phone call - over a month, and it takes a ranting tweet to get a response. If Leo was a real person, then he was going to get the full story.
Over the next 25 days, I was sent backwards and forwards, on and off the phone - I had made contact with a 'senior supervisor' called Stuart, who on the 2nd June had promised me a call back. Another lie. I was losing the will, all faith in anybody to do with alpharooms was gone. I had resigned myself to legal action in a bid to get our money back. When eventually, at long last, and totally unexpectedly, after nearly 3 months, this arrived in my messages.
This change of room was going to cost me £60... to be honest, this whole shambolic affair had already cost me £105 in phone call charges, another sixty for no reason, was just about the final straw.
I have to say, when Leo asked for a recommendation, I did belly laugh so loud the neighbour must have thought there was some strange wild animal in our living room.
No, I said. If you have to ask, you really do not deserve a recommendation.
.... Groundhog Day - September 2020
Unfortunately, this tricky little COVID 19 bugger is still lurking around, and once again, we had to cancel our trip.... this is a bit like Groundhog Day.
Within an hour we had cancelled our flights and our car, and received a voucher to rebook anytime before April 2022. All 9 of our other hotel bookings had been cancelled - no cost - no hassle - both direct and bookings.com had come through - this was how it should be. No stress in unprecedented times, and consumers given their basic rights. All I had to do was call alpharooms and change the Golden Nugget. Easy.
This was a slightly different experience, after 1 hour and 15 minutes on hold, I eventually had the chance to speak to somebody. He said he could help me cancel my booking. Wow I thought, maybe my cheeky little minx was going to pleasently surprise me after all. Alas not.
Up to now, i didn't realise that alpharooms weren't even a 3rd party booking company, but they are a 3rd party to a 3rd party... what does that make them, a 9th party ?? Anyway, After another 30 minutes on hold, the rep came back on the phone and informed me:
the cancellation charge would be 100% of the final booking amount
My BP went through the roof, I was chomping on Haribo and swilling coffee in an attempt to remain calm. He then dropped the killer comment
So, if you have a credit card I will take the £70 you owe for the booking, and then cancel it for you
I replied , in a calm yet surprisingly firm way with "are you taking the f**king piss, f**k off, you absolute f**king robbing bastard - you can go fu**king swivel if you think you are getting another red cent out of me"....
He was in India, so not sure he understood all my local colloquialisms, but I think he got the message - thats the great thing about 'fuck off' it is such a universally accepted phrase. When you say those words, the receiver knows exactly what you mean, whether you are in the UK, or anywhere else in the World. However, just to clarify, Mr India repeated the question - you know what they say about always doing the same thing, well that old proverb is absolutely true - upon repeating his request for my credit card, he received the same response.
Can you imagine my incandescent rage, and the shade of puce I had turned, as I asked him for a manager only to find out he didn't have one, or the wobble in my anger fuelled voice when I asked his managers name to be told he couldn't tell me for security reasons - just in case I wanted to catch a flight to India to stalk said manager.
The clown on the end of the phone then tried to tell me that I could still go to Las Vegas, that the hotel was still open and I could go... FFS I thought. This really is something else.
I decided at this point that I needed to complain about the service I was receiving from this joker, and again the shabby way alpharooms were treating me. I asked what felt like 100 times for his name.
Eventually, In beautifully broken English, using his natural, obviously Indian accent, he replied "My name is Nick Green".
I hung up the phone.
F**k 'em. F**k the money, and F**k their arrogance. I will never, ever, ever use alpharooms again - bookings.com will get all my independent travel business from now on, I just hope they forgive me for straying.
By the way, for those interested in what happened with the Germans from earlier... me and my mate dropped our trousers and mooned them from the balcony.
That showed them, and if alpharooms could have seen me, I would have mooned them too.