Cross Border Customer Service

Well, we’ve been in India for over two months now. New Delhi is quite honestly one of the largest outdoor saunas I’ve ever come across. Of course, you have the added benefit of noise, air, and water pollution to go with the oppressive heat. To get away from it all for a few days, we decided to spend two nights at the Hotel Grand New Delhi (the site doesn’t work very well with Firefox) to experience what a conventional sauna looks and feels like as well as experience a bit of relaxation.

I started by researching various hotels around Delhi that offer the luxurious getaway we were looking for. I wanted to stay at a hotel that I hadn’t stayed at before and that were in the southern part of New Delhi. My search eventually led me to The Grand but various Indian sites I visited had put rooms at Rs. 20,000/night (or around USD 500) per night. I decided to check out some of the sites back in the US and found a great rate of $189/night for The Grand through Travelocity. I wound up booking the hotel room through Travelocity since it was quoted in USD and I wouldn’t have to worry about converting currency into Indian Rupees to pay for the room. Travelocity quoted me $378 for two nights plus applicable taxes which came out to 12.5%. I figured this was a great deal as compared to the quotes I was getting from the Indian travel sites.

We arrived at the Grand on Wednesday and took a stroll through the hotel to see all of the restaurants, the spa and gym, the shopping arcade and the banquet halls. Our stay at the Grand was pleasant. The staff were generally helpful and courteous at all the restaurants, the coffee shop and the spa.

On Friday, upon checkout, we were (unpleasantly) surprised that The Grand had charged us in Indian Rupees – 8505 + 1500 Tax per night. At the current international exchange rate of roughly Rs. 40 per USD, this comes out to $212.63 per night plus taxes of $37.50 per night. Obviously, this wasn’t $189 per night so we argued with Travelocity and the Manager of The Grand, Mr. Mani for over 2 hours as to why we should pay this amount. The Grand stated that their policy was to convert all bookings made in USD to INR at a rate of Rs. 45 per USD. I explained to him that I purposely booked the stay through Travelocity so that I would be billed in USD and not in INR. Nowhere did Travelocity mention that my rate of $189 per night would be payable in the local currency at a much less advantageous rate. All Travelocity’s confirmations and web pages only indicated that payment would have to be made at the time of checkout.

The market rate and what The Grand was converting my booking has a 12.5% spread. Conversely, if I were to convert USD cash into INR at the hotel, they would only give me Rs. 39 per USD. This sounds like the best currency exchange business in the world to me.

We kept arguing and explained to the hotel that there appears to be a huge communication gap between the hotel and Travelocity and we would appreciate a conference call with Travelocity, the manager of The Grand, and us. He acquiesced and we called Travelocity. After 20 minutes, on and off on hold, Travelocity’s answer was, “email customer service” after paying the bill. Mr. Mani’s repeated explanation was, “This is the way it is.”

After more than two hours of arguing about how neither Travelocity nor The Grand have written disclosures that reservations made online will be converted to the local currency at a rate that was almost 12.5% less favorable than the current international trading rate, I was exhausted and fed-up with Travelocity and the staff at The Grand. I told Mr. Mani that I’ve had it. Let’s settle the bill and go. After more arguing and some yelling, we paid the bill with my American Express card and walked out of The Grand extremely disappointed with the customer service of Travelocity and the bone-headed, automaton-like actions of The Grand’s front-desk staff and manager.

I called American Express customer service a few days later and was incredibly pleased at how well the agent (call center located in India as well) immediately credited my account back with the overage charges incurred because of The Grand and Travelocity.

This is an example of how customer service across borders, just plain sucks. Neither The Grand nor Travelocity were willing to admit that they had not properly disclosed that the reservations made would be converted into Indian Rupees. At the end of the day, I wound up paying roughly $75.00 more than I should have. The money isn’t what bothers me. It’s the fact that neither of these organizations were willing to accept their mistakes or listen to the customer’s issues and help resolve them. American Express on the other hand, didn’t care about anything other than what I had to say. They immediately credited my account and told me that they will follow up with Travelocity and The Grand on their own, even after I protested and said I don’t want the credit. I just want American Express to investigate Travelocity and The Grand’s policies and have them pay the refund. Too bad The Grand and Traveloity will not pay me for my time wasted or the mental anguish of dealing with their non-customer focused staff.

On another note, I recently purchased a water filter from a local distributor near Delhi. Five days after the filter was installed, he called me up and asked me if everything was running ok and if I had any problems to please contact him so that he can resolve the issues. It was nice to see that some businesses still have a customer focus.

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