The Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. (Baltimore Sun, Courtesy…)
Travelzoo, the website that specializes in vacation deals, recently expanded its reach, broadening its offerings for local deals from restaurants to include hotels, cruises and other packages. Travelzoo Local Deals is a subsidiary operating in nearly 100 markets across the globe, including Baltimore.
The Local Deals is similar to Groupon, which now offers Groupon Getaways in partnership with Expedia, but think five-star hotels, spas and restaurants. I signed up and the offers came fast and furious, so I decided to give it a shot.
I've been wanting to check out The Chelsea hotel in Atlantic City and Travelzoo Local Deals offered a one-night package for two, including a luxe ocean-view king room, dinner at the chic Chelsea Prime steakhouse, VIP access to nightclubs, solarium passes for use of the whirlpool and spa, all for $189.
I crunched a few numbers: A three-course dinner for two at Chelsea Prime could easily top $100. The rooms in the hotel's 20-story Luxe Tower are typically in the $150 per night range. I figured this was clearly a deal, even though it didn't include taxes and gratuity and you had to check-in midweek, Sunday to Thursday. So I purchased the voucher with my husband's upcoming birthday in mind.
Later that same day, I checked to see if the deal had sold out. (It did. More than 580 vouchers were sold.) While on the site, I noticed Travelzoo had added an update: "Chelsea Prime restaurant is closed Sundays-Wednesdays through June 15, and on Mondays, The hotel offers guests a $100 credit to use at Teplitzky's restaurant on property for thos elooking to stay and dine when Chelsea Prime is not open."
My husband's birthday was after that, but when I called to make the reservation in July, I was told by the hotel that Chelsea Prime actually is only open Thursday to Saturday, so if I wanted the Travelzoo deal, I needed to stay on Thursday night. Otherwise, I would be eating at Teplitzky's, the hotel's famous and historic deli, but still - a club sandwich instead of a ribeye steak.
So, essentially, the deal as advertised and promoted by Travelzoo was not available Sunday to Thursday. Of course, the voucher gave me the option of ponying up another $110 to stay a Friday night, but that's not such a great deal.
The Travelzoo offer seemed a classic bait and switch to me. So I emailed and called Travelzoo and requested a refund, although it was outside of its 7-day refund window. I had my case escalated to a supervisor, who was supposed to call me back.
After waiting a week and deciding that I would write about the issue, I contacted Travelzoo through a media spokesperson not only to get their side of the story, but to figure out how this happened.
I ended up talking with Justin Soffer, the vice president of business development for Travelzoo Getaways. He was contrite, explaining that there is a quite lengthy and involved check-off process between Travelzoo and the properties it works with to make certain all of the elements of a deal are solid. For example, Travelzoo has its partners sign off on capacity worksheets that clearly indicate availability in restaurant seating or in hotel rooms.
"We’re dealing with properties that are external to our organization. We rely on them to give us information..and they’re usually pretty good at it," Soffer said.
He was unaware of any issues related to The Chelsea deal, but said that when there is a problem like this they typically work directly with the property.
"We wouldn’t want to put a deal out that’s truly bookable or available for one day a week. There’s no point for us to sell a bunch of vouchers on something that is ultimately going to frustrate people," he said.
Soffer said a more frequent complaint is that a hotel room is not available on a desired date. He said Travelzoo is working on adding a calendar that will quickly show users which days are available and which days are selling out.
Still, I asked why I had not heard back from Travelzoo regarding my refund request.
"We’re selling thousands of these vouchers each week. There are inevitably things that happen. We have a customer service team that’s fully staffed [open 12 hours a day] for this type of thing," he said. "We definitely track customers and how we get back to them."
A Travelzoo customer service manager contacted me soonafter I spoke with Soffer and a refund was issued.
For me, it's the principle of the thing. I would have had lunch at Teplitzky's anyways - it has a great reputation and tempting menu. But it's not the same as dinner in a 1940s supper club with a grand piano and $8 tater tots - and that's beside the point. Travelzoo offered something that it could not, for whatever reason, provide.
Despite my initial rocky experience, I'm still keeping an eye on Travelzoo Local. I'm hoping to find a deal that it can really deliver.