How to lose loyalty and alienate customers

If you’re going to Bristol (or London, Birmingham, Glasgow or Manchester), don’t stay in the City Inn.

We’ve used it at least three times in the past, usually for the Comic Con but also for PPH’s birthday. It’s handily near the station but also an easy walk to St Nicholas Street and up into Park Road etc. So when we decided to stay overnight for the Pipettes at the Cooler, I booked an ‘autumn package’ with them so we could also have a good nose around the new Cabot Circus. Two nights, with champagne and canapes on arrival plus newspaper, breakfasts etc. Not the cheapest hotel around, but then we love the location and the iMac in the room (very handy if you’re going to saunter back at midnight and use iPlayer to watch Strictly Come Dancing). Everything was fine. OK, so the canapes included fish but also some yummy cheesy ones.  The Guardian and Observer appeared without fail. Everyone from the bar staff to the chamber maids were friendly and helpful. But there was one problem, and it’s a problem which means not only will I not stay there again, I’m now posting why here and advising others not to.  They have taken money from my account which I did not authorise.

Like most people, I’m used to handing over a card for ‘an impression’ at the start of a stay, in case you eat all the chocolate in the fridge and don’t declare it, or if you flee in the night with all the pillows. What I was not told on check-in was that they would be taking both the total for the stay and an additional £100 “in case”. It was ‘an impression’, not a payment, and I was not asked to authorise anything by putting in a PIN or signing a credit card slip. As my card is a debit, the amount was immediately taken from my available balance, and my available credit with the bank plummeted. Something I discovered the next morning, when I withdrew some cash for the planned shopping wander and noticed a couple of hundred quid missing.

Not knowing that the hotel was the cause, I therefore spent the weekend – until I could get home and check my balance carefully – wondering where the money had vanished to. Had my card been cloned? There were no suspicious withdrawals on a mini statement from a machine and my bank is usually pretty quick to lock the card if something odd does happen. Had my bank made an error not in my favour? Given the various state of various banks, you had to wonder. So, I spent very little for the rest of the weekend and spent quite a lot of time worrying instead. When we checked out we were presented with the actual bill, which we put on the Chap’s credit card as something mysterious had happened to my bank account. This was the first time any transaction was described as payment.

The idea of an ‘impression’, so my bank tells me, is that a company puts through a minor transaction to check the card is valid. £1, perhaps. Then you pay up when you check out (or if you flee in the night with the mini-bar, then they charge it all to your card). If you pay with a different card on departure, the minor transaction is cancelled and you never notice the credit check. But City Inn decided to not only charge me the full amount without saying that was what they were doing, but also to take an additional £100. Which maybe I’d not have noticed if it weren’t for the fact that I use a debit and not a credit card. As it was, I suddenly had a black hole in my accounts.

The bank informs me that the transaction will be automatically cancelled within 7-10 working days, and the person I spoke to at City Inn yesterday said that they would fax the bank a cancellation today but none the less, that credit is effectively gone without my consent and I will not receive it back for a couple of weeks.

So, if you are thinking of staying in the City Inn hotel in Bristol, London, Birmingham, Glasgow or Manchester, bear in mind they will effectively take money from you without necessarily informing you of it or gaining your consent. Avoid.

ETA: according to their Terms and Conditions, “Please note that upon check-in, an additional credit card authorisation for various amounts as an incidentals guarantee or a cash deposit to the same value per day” might seem to cover their arse. Unfortunately, it was not described as such and I was not told of the amount (doubtless as people baulk at it). Also, the T&C claim that “All cards will be charged for your full stay within 72 hours of making the booking”. As I booked on 4 October 2008 and was not charged then, the company itself is in breach of its own T&C.

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2 Responses to “How to lose loyalty and alienate customers”

  1. ezineaerticles » Blog Archive » How to lose loyalty and alienate customers Says:

    [...] Original Mags [...]

  2. carrie Says:

    That’s crazy! They borrowed £100 from you without asking! I’ve never heard of that before.


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