I am not a big fan of booking hotels online. I would rather just turn up on the day and pay at the hotel, which is more convenient and quicker. Unfortunately, a lot of hotels now require customers to book through a third party platform or penalise them if they do not with a higher cost.
Agoda’s Sharp Practices
I sometimes use Agoda and have noticed in the past that some of its practices seem a bit sharp. For example, sometimes they offer “free” Asia Miles for a booking but also offer the same booking for a lower price without the miles. So it is hardly as if the Asia Miles are free.
However I recently had an experience which I felt was closer to a bait and switch scam and has made me distrust them more.
First, I should mention that a couple of years ago, I booked one night at a hotel in Bangkok which I had wanted to try. I paid the full cost in advance. Upon arrival, the owner said that she had no spare rooms and so could not accommodate me, but would book me into an equivalent or higher priced nearby hotel and drive me there. I was unhappy about that experience since it defeats the whole point of booking in advance with a service like Agoda, but I hoped that it may be a one off.
A Classic Bait and Switch
Fast forward to this Summer. I wanted to stay at the Grand Kemang Hotel in Jakarta for a night and booked on the day using Agoda. Instead of paying in advance, I chose the option of paying at the hotel. I would have preferred just to stay at the hotel, but in my opinion unreasonably they did not offer as good rates for walk in guests as they did through Agoda.
Agoda confirmed the booking, with a reference number. They told me that the total cost of IDR819,000 (HK$480) would be payable at the hotel.
When I checked in, the front desk faffed around for a while trying to locate a reservation. I gave them the confirmation number but they could not find the booking. I had a business call to make at a fixed time, so I gave them IDR1,000,000 in cash and asked for a room key, and told them that they could contact Agoda and then later we could sort out any difference in cash.
I missed a couple of calls from Agoda that afternoon but received two e-mails from them in short succession both containing the following: “It’s with utmost regret that we have encountered an unexpected system error with regards to your booking. . . Unfortunately, this unconfirmed booking will be cancelled by our system.” They also offered me a goodwill gesture of a US$4 discount off my next booking on Agoda, although that would not be automatically deducted and instead I would have to forward this e-mail.
I responded that I expected Agoda to sort out the problem, as I had booked through them and received a confirmation. The hotel had plenty of empty rooms. Agoda never responded to this e-mail.
Upon checking out the next morning, the receptionist said that they had spoken to Agoda and there had been a credit card problem – this was unlikely as no credit card was involved in the booking. They said that as Agoda had cancelled the reservation, I would have to pay the hotel’s rate as it was “impossible” for them to offer the same rate as Agoda (clearly untrue, as the hotel could offer any rate it decided). They gave me back IDR40,000 meaning the room cost had come out at IDR960,000 – around HK$80 higher than the total price Agoda quoted when confirming my booking.
Grand Kemang turned this into a big issue which wasted considerable time and their staff did not come across as sympathetic or empowered to help guests, so on that basis I would not revisit or recommend the hotel. I did subsequently complain to the management by letter and they responded that they had changed their policy so this should not happen again.
The bigger question here, though, is whether one can trust Agoda. This had the characteristics of a classic bait and switch scam – the customer agrees to buy something at one price, the seller or their intermediary in this case agrees, but on arrival, the seller reneges and demands a higher price.
Agoda’s poor communication and derisory US$4 offer by way of apology in fact compounded my low opinion of them. I may well use them again in future through necessity but will prefer not to.