I’m a bit biased against hotels ever since I rented a lovely apartment on a canal in Venice. Not long after that, someone I know told me about an apartment he’d rented from a guy in Italy, only to have the owner show up and kick him out part way through his trip. After that, I decided to be a bit more careful, booking through agencies, expecting them to have vetted the properties on offer.
It’s not easy finding a reputable Parisian apartment, so I was happy to find a cute, reasonably priced apartment in Montmartre through Booking.com. With a free cancellation policy and a best price guarantee, what could possibly go wrong?
Asking questions like that just invites trouble ;-) Especially when Booking.com customer service is involved.
My odyssey began when I found the same apartment on a different website for a nightly rate that came out to be 170€ cheaper than what I’d paid. Booking.com customer service denied my claim for a “best price guarantee” refund because the apartment wasn’t available for the dates of my stay. Of course it wasn’t available! There’s only one apartment, therefore after I’d booked it, there could be no availability for the same dates. I pressed Booking.com customer service for a refund based on the fact that my stay was in the same rate period as the cheaper one, and they denied the claim again. So essentially, despite the terms of my reservation, there was no best price guarantee on this apartment. I pointed this out to no avail, and to much frustration.
After taking my Booking.com customer service grievance to Facebook and publicly shaming them, they relented and gave me the refund. Too little, too late. I’ll never use Booking.com again.
But, the pricing issue was just the tip of the hellish iceberg that was my apartment rental in Paris.
A few days before our arrival, I made check-in arrangements, expecting that the owner would’ve met us at the property. Instead, I had to call his mobile, then stand in the street with my luggage for 20 minutes until he finally showed up.
I assume that online property photos are taken with a wide angle lens and that the actual property will be a bit smaller. I also assume that it might not be lovely as it looks in the photos. But this place was a dump! It wasn’t even an apartment. It was a room with a kitchen sink, cracked dishes, chipped wine glasses, and a cook top. It was so small, that I couldn’t open the fridge properly if the sleeper sofa was open. It was dirty, ugly, and in poor repair. I’ve stayed in nicer hostels and for much less money!
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a balance due and the owner “didn’t have the credit card machine” so he asked me to write down my credit card number, expiration date, and security code so he could charge the balance when he got home!
After a brief standoff, he walked me to an ATM so I could withdraw the balance, which was over my daily limit. Luckily, the photographer had some Euros on him, so we were able to make rent, but the whole thing felt shady. I tried not to cry, and I dreaded going back that hellhole each night. It’s a very good thing wine is cheap, good, and plentiful in Paris ;-)
But, we quickly found our routine… our evening café, the bakery where we bought our baguettes and croissants, the green grocer where we bought tomatoes and fruit, the shop where we bought our wine, cheese, and the strongest and most wonderful Dijon mustard I’ve ever tasted!
On check out day, the owner insisted on meeting us for a key handoff, so again, we found ourselves standing in the street with our luggage. I was already irritated by everything having to do with this guy and I was fantasizing about throwing the keys at him, and generally giving him an American style smackdown, but my daydream was interrupted by a woman and her tiny dog.
At first, I thought she was crazy, then I understood that she was threatening to call the police because according to her, short term rentals are against the building’s rules and she was tired of this guy’s renters standing outside the building with their luggage. Fair enough, but how was that our fault? Could this have been any worse?
I’ve given all of this information to Booking.com customer service and I do hope they’ll investigate. However, I’m disappointed that such a well known travel booking site does such a poor job of vetting properties, and is so reluctant to honor its own policies. Part of travel is the adventure, but this was a hard one to embrace. I hope that in time this will become a funny travel story, but I’m still too close to it.
A different apartment would’ve made a world of difference, but I don’t think I would’ve liked Montmartre any better. I was drawn to Montmartre because of its bohemian pedigree and the film Amelie, but if I should ever return to Paris, I’d stay in St. Germain.
I’ve needed some time away from this trip, but I think I’m almost ready to see it again, so you should expect photos in the coming week :)
P.S. It was 3 years ago today that Opie and I took our one way flight to Denmark! Where does the time go?