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disputing a star rating in advance


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Well, I needed a room in Northern New Jersey for next Sat. night. Didn't do exhaustive advance research, but I've heard very nice things about the Jersey City Hyatt, so I bid the lucky $46. Rejected -- not all that surprising given the Christo event. So without too much contemplation, and knowing that airport zones are usually good spots to pick up cheap 3 star hotels, I added the two EWR zones. I picked up the Sheraton Four Points for that price.

While $46 is certainly a good price for a Newark Airport 3 star, there seems to be plenty of evidence that this is no 3 star. We all know that Sheraton typically uses the Four Points label for older hotels that "aren't good enough" to be Sheratons, so you're at a weak 3-star to begin with. And this particular hotel gets almost uniformly dreadful on-line reviews. Indeed, I remember staying there myself about 4 years ago and can still recall the surprisingly dilapidated state of the property. I imagine 4 more years have made things even worse.

After writing a note to priceline customer service (which I'm sure will be rejected by the unempowered Indian help desk), I pulled up the sheraton listing for the hotel and found out that the indoor pool is closed for a few months due to rennovations. Without a pool, this seems like further evidence that the property is currently no 3 star. By the way, I saw the hotel itself is offering its own $60 rate (very cheap for No. N.J.), another sure sign that they are not actually offering 3 star quality.

Does anyone know of anyone having success with priceline disputing a hotel's star rating? And who might adjust this for me? I assume I'll have a better shot contacting the "executive offices" on Monday. Most likely, however, I'll have a subpar experience and the property will ultimately be rerated to a maximum 2.5 star level by further complaints.

Any suggestions on how to proceed would be most welcome.

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As expected, I met with no success exchanging emails with priceline's customer "service" dep't. Priceline's attitude, stated more diplomatically, is this. We don't care that you don't think it's a 3 star. We don't care if the vast majority of posted reviews say the hotel is disappointing, dirty and dilapidated. We don't care if the hotel has published rates far below "other" 3 star hotels. We don't care if you've stayed there before and can personally attest to the hotel's inferior quality. We don't care that it's a clear underperformer in a brand that's a marginal 3 stars to begin with. We don't care that their indoor pool -- perhaps the only "selling point" the hotel had to begin with -- is closed for a couple months for repairs. Unless it's a resort, we don't guarantee a pool. If we say it's 3 stars, it's 3 stars. Maybe some day we'll get around to evaluating the property again, but for you, it's tough luck.

I guess this is their business model. They are not going to employ staff to review such complaints and weigh the evidence. "Hmmm, this customer has a point. Those reviews ARE bad, the pool has been closed, it's a marginal 3 star brand to begin with, their rates are suspicious. Let's use our customers as our eyes and ears for feedback. And we'll keep this loyal customer happy by giving him another property while we conduct a review to determine whether this property should be placed in a lower star category."

Nope -- that's not the priceline way. You get good deals most of the time and you have to live with the duds and mistakes. And the "stone wall" customer service department. Keeps costs low, you know. All our customers really care about is price. They'll come back anyway.

And until something better comes along, we probably will.

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Sorry to hear that you aren't too excited about the hotel that you got. I'll have to say that Priceline probably get too many similiar emails from people who challenge their rating system in an attempt to get out of bids. That's why you keep getting these canned email messages from them.

BTW, Priceline doesn't guarantee 3 star hotels to have a pool, but they must definitely have a restaurant.

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Lonestar, I stayed here about two months ago and complained to Customer Service at PL that this was not a 3* property. I think I talked to the same customer service agent that you did. This property was a Wyndham Garden Hotel, but it changed to a Sheraton a few years ago. You may want to make your room preference known in advance by giving the hotel a call in the early afternoon.

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Lonestar, I stayed here about two months ago and complained to Customer Service at PL that this was not a 3* property. I think I talked to the same customer service agent that you did.

So good God, what's in it for priceline to insist that this non-3-star property is a 3 star? I just don't understand why they insist on being so bull-headed about these things. You'd certainly think it would be in their interest to have satisfied customers.

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I guess if enough people complain, PL might change the rating. The Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Elizabeth, NJ is rated as a 3* yet the Marriott Courtyard in Lyndhurst, NJ is a 2.5* property. Granted, both are not in the same zone, and airport hotels generally get worn out faster due to one night stays, I don't understand how there can be such a difference between ratings and reality. The Courtyard is a great property, clean, updated and well maintained that belies its 2.5* rating. The Sheraton Four Points is basically a place to crash if you need to be in Newark on business and you are by yourself. If you can get it for less than $50, it is a good deal, but parking is $5.00.

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Yes, there are a lot of 2.5 star hotels that are "nicer" than 3 stars -- or at least offer a better value when they throw in continental breakfast, local calls, etc. Courtyards don't do that, but they're generally newer and, if you're not holding a conference or something, offer all the amenities you're likely to use. I know of many people who bemoan the involuntary upgrade priceline will give you from 2.5 to 3 star properties.

That said, I have seen some dumpy traditional hotels rated only 2.5 stars from Priceline. I've also seen non-dumpy Hiltons "downgraded" by priceline -- apparently on the direction of the hotel chain itself -- where the Hilton had no other competition in the 3-star category.

From a priceline user's perspective, there doesn't seem to be a good solution to this problem. Personally, I think they should stick these marginal Four Points in the 2.5 star category, and leave the 3 stars to Marriotts, Sheratons, Hiltons, etc. I don't really want to see a Hotwire-like 3.5 star group.

FWIW, with the pool closed, the Newark Four Points is really like the nearby Days Inn, and should be currently rated 2 stars.

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I have to answer any post that I am inferring from your name must be from a Texan. I am an ex-patriate living in Michigan near Thereuare.

This won't solve your feeling of being ripped off and frustration with non-existant customer service, but I have read this tip on this board. Stay there and take pictures. Send those pictures to PL customer service address that is posted elsewhere on this board (it's TOP SECRET). Demand this hotel be re-rated.

It is rare but PL has been known to downgrade hotels with enough customer complaints. There was a 4* hotel in Toronto downgraded to a 3* last year and a similar downgrading in NYC. Be sure to post your "winning" bid on this clunker in the New Jersey section with a WARNING label. This will help future bidders avoid bidding 3* in this zone. Although the 2.5* upgrade to this hotel is theoretically possible, in your post strongly recommend only bidding 2.5* in this zone to avoid this hotel. If there's a lot of 2.5* hotels in this zone it's unlikely to be "upgraded" to this one.

And thanks for caring enough to try.

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