Taking a holiday when you freelance

Grand Hotel Minerva Florence review…

Review: Grand Hotel Minerva Florence…

Taking a holiday when you freelanceConfusion over a booking with the four star Grand Hotel Minerva in Florence, Italy, has left me over £1200 out of pocket… 

Browsing booking.com for a short break in a hotel in the beautiful city of Florence, I was struck by the plethora of excellent reviews and the stunning photos of the rooftop pool at Grand Hotel Minerva.

It was three months before I hoped to go away and believing booking.com offered free cancellations, I booked – or thought I provisionally booked with free cancellation – this delightful hotel for a three night break.

At the same time I emailed asking about bringing our pet cat (who always travels with us!) as well as questions about parking a car at the hotel.

But shortly after I received a text from my bank saying the transaction for the £1200 fee (1345.50 euros) – which I thought would be paid at the hotel after our stay – had been flagged as possibly fraudulent and declined.

A few minutes later booking.com sent me an email saying: You need to update your credit card in order to guarantee your stay – please do this within the next 24 hours. 

I rang my bank, Lloyds who said no money had gone through and the transaction was therefore void – if I wanted to book the hotel, I would need to go through the process again on booking.com

That evening my husband and I looked at the details of this hotel and decided although it claims to be pet friendly, the fact it then states on its website you can’t leave a pet alone in your hotel room (you must pay extra for a petsitter when you go to the pool or restaurant), meant it wouldn’t be a good option for us.

Grand Hotel Minerva Florence cancellation policy
The confusing email…

We heard absolutely nothing from Grand Minerva Florence or booking.com and went on to book another hotel where our cat was welcome to stay in our room when we were out.

Fast forward three months and my husband and I were on holiday sat on a beach in Cannes when I suddenly received an email from booking.com advertising car hire in Florence.

It was the first I’d heard from booking.com or indeed anything about Grand Minerva Florence since the email stating the booking had to be confirmed within 24 hours to guarantee it.

But when I rang booking.com I discovered the hotel had taken the money out of my account anyway. Booking.com and Grand Hotel Minerva Florence claimed it was non refundable and stated that it would be payable as soon as I made the reservation and although there was still a week before our ‘stay’ began, I would therefore forfeit the whole amount as a ‘cancellation fee’.

The hotel maintained when I booked I was sent a confirmation email – and this held firm even when my bank didn’t let me pay. When my card didn’t work first time the hotel still kept the reservation confirmed and without telling me, they tried my card again until finally it worked.

Despite the fact I received no email from booking.com nor the hotel, both claimed they were legally entitled to take the money at any point after I initially made the reservation on booking.com. The hotel said: ‘We can positively say that you had no notification of your reservation being cancelled which means it is still active.’

I felt this was grossly unfair. I had no idea when I booked that I was in for the whole fee at the time – believing I could cancel up until a week before. However, when booking.com sent the email telling me the booking was no longer guaranteed I had no idea the hotel could take the money anyway. It seemed extraordinary that the hotel could keep on trying my card without telling me. So I decided to tackle both them and booking.com about it.

Unsurprisingly the unregulated booking.com – which The Guardian newspaper recently investigated over similar complaints about cancellation fees from other customers and which is awash with complaints on Google – wasn’t interested. An extremely rude individual simply stated over and over booking.com could not give any refund and referred me to the hotel.

Neither would Hotel Grand Minerva budge – until I said that as a journalist I felt it was an issue which at at the very least was confusing to customers and should be highlighted publicly to warn others. I also felt the hotel should complain to booking.com about the confusing email they sent to me when the card was declined. And I felt the hotel should have sent me some sort of communication in the three months they’d had the booking – but there was nothing.

Hotel Grand Minerva Florence then said they would try to resell my ‘booking’ for the room. Although my husband felt it was outrageous they’d taken the money for the reservation and not sent any emails since, I also saw it from the hotel’s point of view that they were also victim to booking.com’s confusing email and as a result could suffer a loss. So I said that was fine- which I felt was extremely reasonable of me.

However while the ‘booking’ dates came and went I heard nothing about whether the room had been resold or not. I emailed again and they admitted they had managed to ‘partly resell the space’ and were therefore able to offer a 50 per cent refund.

The offer came with this caveat: As I had mentioned writing about my experience they stated that if I did not accept this offer and publicly accused the hotel of any wrong-doing ‘we will see ourselves forced to involve our lawyers.’

Two weeks after they promised the refund there was still no sign of it so I emailed again asking where it was only to be told although we’d agreed they would pay this 50% refund, I was using my job as a journalist as a ‘blackmailing tool’.

Their email added: ‘It is now of our knowledge that you are a professional journalist and I do not advise to start any sort of campaign against us and/or booking.com. Our lawyers would be involved immediately and you may incur in high refund expenses. I am asking myself if this repeated threat of using the press is already something that may be of any interest to our lawyers.’

I rang but was told they have processed a refund on paper but have no idea when the refund will actually be paid.

On its website Grand Hotel Minerva Florence boasts: ‘Here we are, ready to assist you. With all our hearts! Our mission is to contribute to the perfect stay in Florence. We’ll do anything possible to accomplish it and that you’ll come back visit us.’

However, in my opinion – which I am legally entitled to write on my own personal blog without legal action whatever Hotel Grand Minerva Florence says – I am so glad we never went to this hotel!

At the very least, having taking my money and continued with the booking, I would have expected at least one automated welcome email in the three months from Grand Hotel Minerva – after all this is a hotel which boasts top notch service and was charging me over £400 per night.

Having done some research into what happens at other hotels when a card is initially declined, it appears the majority cancel the booking and resell the room. In fact it is a common reason why someone will lose their booking.

But if your card is declined you need to ensure you cancel the booking or the money might still be taken. In my situation cancelling the booking even immediately wouldn’t have worked as apparently when I booked it stated at the time on booking.com website I had to pay all money up front. I do not recall seeing this and I cannot imagine I would have paid the full amount straightaway when I hadn’t even shown the hotel to my husband! But booking.com and Grand Hotel Minerva say this is the case.

I have also learned from all the experiences online that using booking.com is a big risk and the website is best used as a search tool only for sourcing accommodation. Then it’s best to ring that hotel yourself and book directly with the hotel. Talk to the hotel to check issues such as parking, bringing pets and cancellation fees before you ever pay over a penny.

Have you had a similar issue with a hotel booking? Tell me about it below…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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