Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nickel and Dimed in Long Beach

Well now, here at last comes the bill slipped under the door before dawn for three nights at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach, Calif., which can mean only one thing: Time to get out of this place before they figure a new way to charge me for something other than a room.

Not that it's a bad property per se, though Long Beach is not a place I would come to unless I had to, which I did. The rooms are pleasant enough, and the famous Westin bedding is just fine.

And yet I leave with the strong impression that I have been fleeced at every possible opportunity, while at the same time subjected to an endless in-room harangue from all those placards about my personal responsibility for Saving the Planet, which in this case seems to mean Saving the Hotel Some Trouble.

First, the charges. The Internet is $9.95 a day, and it's described as "Internet Lite," whatever that means. Hard to say, as the actual "light" in the room comes most dependably from the morning sun. Part of Westin's plan to save the planet, evidently, is to install low-wattage so-called energy saving bulbs in the lamps, making it difficult to read. Apparently, I am expected to Ruin My Eyesight as part of the hotel proprietor's drive to Save Some Dough ... er, I mean, Save the Planet.

While nickel and diming me all the way. I had to go down to the Business Center the other day to print out two pages of a document. Even though I had already paid the $9.95 for Internet service in my room, the Business Center required me to pay an additional $6.95 per 15-minute periods to use the Internet there. Plus 49 cents for each page printed.

I also forgot to bring my cellphone charger. The cost to make a toll-free phone call from my room? That'll be $2 please. Same for a calling-card or credit card call. Local call? $1.50. Long-distance call (what a quaint term, I thought): "Surcharge of $6.95 plus intrastate $1.25 per minute (plus) interstate $1.75 per minute."

Thank God I didn't have to make an international call ("surcharge of 130 % over operated-assisted day rates [plus] $2.25 per minute."

There was a coffee-maker in the room, with a placard instructing me to "Stir Up Your Senses." The small packet of coffee also gave me a lecture: "The coffee in this bag, like all our coffees, is of the highest quality and purchased with respect for farmers."

Celebrating the new respect bestowed upon them, the farmers evidently took a few days off, because after the first morning, there was no bag of coffee left in the room. A pot of room-service coffee, instead, was $9.95, plus various fees.

The room service menu made for interesting reading in the dim light: "Feed the Body Nourish the Soul," it was grandly titled. The text read: "These nutritious foods can help with your health span, the extent of time you have to be healthy." ... And:
"Our superfoods breakfast menu features revitalizing dishes made from powerhouse ingredients rich in nutrients, antitoxins and delicious taste ..."

It also said, "a delivery charge of $3 plus 20 pct gratuity and sales tax will be added to your order."

Among the various admonitions to save the planet strewn about the room was one I considered to be a real beaut. "You have the option to decline housekeeping service for the day," a card informed me.

But what fun lay ahead once you've got your expensive pot of coffee and your lifespan-enhancing scrambled eggs! Splashed across the front of the Guest Services booklet was the message: "Endless Possibilities!" ... It said, "We welcome you with sights and scents to stir your soul and replenish your spirit ... the Westin Long Beach's goal is to create a sense awakening experience that refreshes and de-stresses your mind and body."

The only newspaper available in the joint besides USA Today, which was strewn haphazardly in the halls outside rooms (not mine, I might add) was the local Long Beach Press-Telegram, an anemic, soul-less, boosterish and pretty much news-free undertaking with the words "239,335 Readers Daily" boldly printed under the front-page logo -- which is quite an amazingly precise statement, for a newspaper that actually has an audited circulation of about 73,000.

This morning, my final bill, slid only partially under the door (making it easy for any would-be hacker passing by in the hall to gain enough information about its recipient to successfully crack a point-of-sale computer system, which is one of the ways hackers break into hotel credit-card data) had some wonderful fees listed, too.

There's an "Occupation/Tourism tax" of $22.80 per night. There is also a "Long Beach Tourism Assessment" of $5.67 a night.

I guess that's to help finance the vast, empty, depressing retail development across Ocean Boulevard along the Long Beach waterfront, the one with all those vacant stores and a forlorn cineplex where, desperate to flee the hotel the other night, I sat through the new George Clooney movie, "The American," the only person in the entire theater. The movie was tedious -- it's what happens when you give an overpraised still-photographer a movie camera with film in it -- but at least the price was firm, and there was no extra fee for using the seat.



ChefNick said...

My God, Joe. That's a horrendous story.

When I stay at the ANA Gate Tower hotel in Kansai, Japan, they nail you with nothing. Sure, there might be taxes, but Internet is completely, unequivocally free, there IS no room service but several restaurants (and convenience stores) to where you can go if you wish or not,and they don't jerk your chain on a single thing. Coffee and tea are completely free and your room is always cleaned if you want it (which I rarely do).

There are no surprises on the bill and they CERTAINLY don't shove it under your door.

I don't think I'll be Westin' away very soon.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Joe:

That was blisteringly funny.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe