When you book a stay at a hotel, the confirmation email hitting your inbox probably makes you feel like your trip is locked in place. But a Bay Area woman learned this week, just because you are able to book a hotel room online doesn’t necessarily mean the hotel has a place for you to stay.
The newly-remodeled hotel in Vallejo allowed her to book a room for May 7-9, though hotel management later told her it could not guarantee the room for her stay.
Last week Radisson told NBC Bay Area the hotel was tentatively scheduled to open May 6. However, the City of Vallejo told us the hotel won’t be able to take in guests until May 20, at the earliest, due to pending inspections. The franchisee who owns the hotel confirms it’s now planning to welcome its first guests starting May 20.
A Trip to Wine Country
After months cooped up inside during the pandemic, South Bay resident Amanda Pensack was looking forward to taking a girls trip to Napa. She and her friends crafted an itinerary for the weekend, complete with scheduled visits to wineries, reservations at restaurants, and stops to take photos along the way.
Pensack booked the closest Radisson property she could find to Napa: the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson in Vallejo. She made the reservation using 33,000 Radisson points plus an e-certificate, a total value of more than $250. She saved her confirmation email for a room at the Country Inn & Suites from May 7-9.
The week before her trip, she checked the hotel website for parking details and noticed a message which read “now accepting reservations for May, 8, 2021 and beyond.”
Pensack panicked, what about her reservation on May 7? Would she have a place to stay?
She tried calling the hotel’s listed phone line directly several times, but no one answered and there was no option to leave a message. She sent messages to Radisson's social media accounts. Representatives on those accounts responded to her, though no one who wrote back told her whether the hotel would be open for her stay.
With time running out for her to find new accommodations, Pensack contacted the NBC Bay Area Responds team to investigate.
NBC Bay Area Responds
We first emailed Radisson’s corporate communications team on April 29.
By April 30, Radisson responded saying the hotel was working to resolve this issue, noting this particular hotel is independently owned and operates under a franchise agreement with Radisson Hotel Group Americas.
“The hotel has experienced some unexpected potential last-minute delays to its opening, but it is still tentatively planning to open on Thursday, May 6,” a Radisson Public Relations specialist wrote to NBC Bay Area on April 30, adding that by May 3 the hotel should have a definitive opening date.
Radisson also said it offered Pensack two nights at another hotel, reimbursed her 33,000 rewards points and her e-certificate, plus an additional 66,000 rewards points.
Delays in Opening
At the time the hotel offered Pensack another place to stay, it was also still accepting reservations for May 8. The NBC Bay Area Responds team went to visit the hotel property on May 3.
The property itself was fenced off and still undergoing construction that day. We saw a staircase being installed, an empty pool, and doors wide open to rooms without finished floors.
During our visit, we ran into Ankit Panchal, the CEO of 365 Hospitality, the Bay Area-based franchise that owns the hotel.
Panchal agreed to answer our questions and offered us a tour of a finished room. He explained that while the part of the hotel with the bare rooms and the unfinished pool was not ready, he believes another portion of the hotel is almost ready for guests, pending a city inspection.
“As of now we are actively monitoring it and we only have three reservations on the [May 7], so if we start seeing more momentum and more people booking it, we’re going to start calling them, we might shut it down, because we can only accommodate 10 to 15 rooms on Friday,” Panchal told NBC Bay Area. “We have full staff, we have rooms cleaned up, we are ready to rock and roll and it's only a matter of time before the city comes in and gives the partial occupancy certificate.”
Panchal said this hotel has been undergoing remodeling over the past two years. Originally, he planned the hotel would open in April. But he said delays at the Port of Oakland and international shipping hangups left the hotel without essential furniture, supplies, and back-of-the-house necessities.
Additionally, Panchal said the approvals from city inspections took longer than the hotel anticipated.
We asked him why the hotel didn’t let people know in advance about these delays to opening.
“We put it on our website,” Panchal responded. “But what happened was, when the city inspector comes in here, it's unexpected, we can’t --we’re not gonna know what they’re going to tell [us]. So if there’s some pieces missing, they’re going to tell us, ‘hey you’re going to wait and you’re going to fix that’ and then we call our guest up and we tell them that ‘we are going to relocate you to a different property’ we can relocate them to an equivalent type.’’’
Through the evening of May 5, the Radisson booking website for the Country Inn & Suites property in Vallejo had a banner telling guests reservations would be accepted for stays beginning May 8. Though by the morning of May 6, the website banner had been changed to say the hotel would accept reservations starting May 15.
On May 3, Panchal told NBC Bay Area that his team has already been calling the guests they’ve been unable to accommodate 24 to 48 hours prior to check-in, offering these guests either a refund or a stay at a comparable hotel nearby.
“Most of them, as we said, have accepted the refund or accepted relocation,” Panchal told us.
The City of Vallejo tells NBC Bay Area that a permit was issued in late January for a complete remodel and rebranding of this hotel. Final inspections to open the hotel began a few weeks ago.
According to the city’s timeline, the hotel is still at least two weeks out from being able to welcome guests. The city expects stocking up the hotel and staff training to begin on May 13. Once that is complete, the hotel will need approval from the Fire and Building Departments in order to start bringing in guests. The first guests will be at the hotel sometime between May 20 and June 30, the city told NBC Bay Area on Wednesday.
Managing a hotel remodel during a pandemic does come with challenges. The city acknowledged COVID-19 has caused delays in the permitting and inspection process.
“COVID-19 has really put us, especially the tourism industry, into tough times where not too many people are staying in hotels, not too many people are traveling,” Panchal added. “Finally after vaccinations and things like that, things are starting to go back to normal. We would like to finally start seeing people coming back.”
What to Do if You’re Booking at a New Hotel?
We spoke with Panchal about what guests should keep in mind when booking at brand new hotels in the future.
He advises calling and emailing the property you're hoping to stay at (rather than a 1-800 number) to speak with someone who is actually at the location.
“Call the property directly and try to see if you can get a hold of them, and verify that ‘hey I am coming in, I have a reservation, I am just trying to make sure I have a room ready,’” he said.
Panchal added that brand new hotels may also be experiencing shipping delays of certain merchandise like his hotel is.
A.J. Rossitto with the California Hotel & Lodging Association noted that the standards hotels have to follow can vary depending on the state, city, or county where the hotel is located.
“Individual hotels and hotel brands determine their re-booking, check-in, and guest-communications policies,” Rossitto told us.
While the State of California is targeting a June 15 date to fully reopen its economy, Rossitto also noted many hotels are still struggling and may delay reopening due to staffing shortages.
You’ll want to do your homework about the policies at the hotel you’re booking. NBC Bay Area Consumer Investigator Chris Chmura recommends you do that research before you lock in a reservation.
Pensack told us this experience taught her to always double-check her reservations.
“Even if you booked something and you think, oh, OK, I got a confirmation email, it doesn't hurt to just do a final double-check, even a week or so, two weeks before you’re expected to be somewhere,” she noted.
She’s glad she trusted her intuition when she worried about her Vallejo reservation.
She’s also glad she reached out to the NBC Bay Area Responds Team to investigate her concerns.
“I absolutely believe that by going through NBC and having the NBC Investigation team helping me with this potential issue, that we were able to get it resolved,” Pensack said.
Have a consumer complaint? Let us know, so we can help.