I flew into Pisa, Italy on Wednesday and spent much of the afternoon there, before boarding a train to Rome. Arrival in Rome was not scheduled until around 9pm, so with a very busy day of sightseeing to follow, I thought it would make sense to get a room on Priceline rather than splurge on a premium property like the Westin or St. Regis.
Priceline’s “Name-Your-Own-Price” wasn’t returning anything, but Hotwire offered a 3.5 star hotel in Central Rome for $67 (just over $84 including taxes and fees). I booked it and was horrified to get a dive hotel in a rough neighborhood a few blocks from the central train station called Tempio Di Pallade.
A few points of clarification. First, yes, I have become spoiled when it comes to staying in nice hotels. Second, this did not affect my judgment of this hotel–I bent over backwards to try to rationalize its label as a European 3.5 star hotel. But I could not.
Upon arrival, the man at the front desk was having trouble checking in a woman. He motioned for my brother and I to sit down and we had to wait about 20 minutes for the issue to be resolved, which required numerous phone calls and trips to the fax machine in an adjacent room.
Finally, it was our turn. The man was a nice guy, very nice, but let’s just say that speed was not his gift. He did manage to find our reservation after a few minutes of searching (sorting through a stack of paperwork), but it took a bit of time to copy our passports and fill out the government registration forms. Then there was another couple of forms for good measure, one acknowledging that we had checked into the hotel. A Hotwire thing perhaps? Finally, we had to pay the EU2 tourist tax imposed on visitors to Rome. That had to be paid in cash and required the creation of another lengthy receipt and signing another form. At last, we were presented with a room key for room 121.
Now if this was the only issue, I wouldn’t bother bringing it up, but I am just getting started. The room itself was more aptly-characterized a walk-in closet rather than a bedroom. Again, this was an old hotel in Europe so that was to be expected. But what I did not expect to see was cobwebs on the ceiling and what looked to be like a very dirty bedspread (think blue dress…). I was surprised to see a TV in the room, but it only carried a few Italian channels.
I know many hotels don’t wash bedspreads or comforters each time a guest departs, but if there are white stains on a blue bedspread, it is probably a good idea to wash them, no? My brother and I thought about calling Hotwire to complain, requesting another room, or just leaving the hotel and disputing the charge with my credit card company, but now it was after 10pm and I just took the bedspread and threw it on the floor at the foot of the bed. The sheets appeared clean.
We had not had dinner yet, so we left the hotel and found a pretty good pizza parlor a few blocks away. Just an aside, what is up with cover charges at restaurants in Italy?
Back at the hotel, I asked the front desk man about internet and he said there was none–no WiFi or even a computer station I could use (hence, no blog post a few nights back). This was my biggest issue. Internet is no longer a luxury at hotel–it is a necessary amenity for most travelers. It has been years since I’ve stayed at a hotel or hostel without internet and I have stayed at some really dodgy places. I just cannot fathom how a hotel can be assigned a 3.5 star rating when it does not even offer internet to guests.
The hotel included a “complimentary hot breakfast” which turned out to be simply bread, cold cuts, cheese, cereal, juice, and coffee. The dining room had a nifty looking yogurt machine, but it was broken.
I chalk this experience up as a lesson learned. If I had wanted a dive hotel, I could have easily booked one for about $30 less per night and even chosen one that had free wi-fi. This experience has solidified in my mind that it is too much of a gamble to use Priceline and Hotwire, at least in Europe. My hotel was not even up to Motel-6 or Super-8 standards–Hotwire should be ashamed to peddle hotels like Tempio Di Pallade, let alone label them a 3.5 star hotel.
The following night, I stayed at the Park Hyatt in Milan. Oh, what a difference! As I have made the transition from hostels and budget hotels to luxury hotels, I have realized that coughing up the incremental increase in cash or points for a better place is almost always worth the expenditure. Look for a full report on my stay at the Park Hyatt Milano later this week.
Priceline and Hotwire can be great tools, but I am now very weary of them. I would urge you all to use caution (and tools like biddingfortravel.com) should you decide to use them in the future.