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June 6, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Suckered In London
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Cheers from Los Angeles! This week, we travel from Cyprus to London to downtown L.A., and we learn a valuable lesson after I get completely suckered by a Heathrow airport hotel booking service. The good news: I took one for the team. Due to my mistakes, hopefully fewer people will get ripped off the way I did. After a very pleasant British Airways flight home in Club World (yeah, baby!), I spent my first night (in a historic hotel, nonetheless), in downtown L.A. To read these stories and to see lots of pictures, scroll down.

LARNACA AIRPORT
Because I was traveling like a madman leading up to my Cyprus trip, I didnít double-check my paper tickets to ensure that everything (name, cities, dates and times) were accurate. Big mistake! My flight departed early in the morning and not in the afternoon, as my itinerary stated. TIP: Always double-check your tickets and itinerary. Fortunately, when I arrived at the Larnaca airport, there was still another flight to London, luckily with a few empty seats. Cyprus Airways waived my change fee but I was going to miss my British Airways connection to Los Angeles, which meant I would be spending the night in England. Not a bad problem to have, eh? I went to the British Airways desk where they, too, waived the $200 change fee; it pays to be friendly, calm and to have some connections. I had a lot of work to do so instead of spending a lot of money and wasting time, I decided to book myself into an airport hotel. I wanted to book one before getting on my five-hour flight but thereís no Internet access at the Larnaca Airport. Instead, I grabbed an expensive but delicious slice of Sbarro pizza CY£2.45 ($5.60 USD) and a reasonably priced CY£.50 ($1.15 USD) bottle of water and people watched.

AIRPORT HOTEL
The flight to London was nice and easy. The Cyprus Airways crew was much nicer than the one I had on my flight down and the food was better, too! Mmmm, that pasta with ham was good! I landed at Heathrow around 9pm. There was no line at customs but the baggage claim area was complete chaos, filled mostly with teenagers. On my way to find an Internet kiosk or hotel help desk, I spotted the British Hotel Reservation Centre right outside baggage claim. Bingo! I had used a similar service once before in the Sydney airport and had found fantastic last-minute deals. Well, not here. Like I said, the airport was packed and when I approached the booth, Kara, a Czech woman working behind the desk said, "Sorry sir, everything in London is sold out because of spring break." With an empty feeling in my stomach, I asked, "How about the airport hotels?" She replied, "They are booked too, because British Midland Airlines (BMI) had a bunch of cancellations, as did other airlines". She then offered me a stay at a hotel 30 minutes away for £166 ($327 USD). I thought she was joking! As I started to walk away, she offered to check with the Sheraton Skyline (one of Heathrowís Airport Hotels) one more time. She picked up the phone, then uttered the words (probably to a dial tone), "Oh brilliant! I will ring you right back".

"Good news!" she declared. "They just opened up a room over at the Sheraton." "How much?" I asked tentatively. "£220 ($434 USD)." WHAT!? She said that if I waited any longer Iíd be stuck with a suite at the Marriott for £600 ($1,200 USD). There was a growing queue and I really didnít want to sleep in the airport. I was exhausted and admittedly, vulnerable, so I took the bait. When she saw that I was still reluctant, she offered these words: "I promise, itís your best option." I gave her one of those looks that said, "You sure arenít lying?" She promised she wasnít and I reluctantly handed her my credit card. Then she informed me of the £5 ($10 USD) service fee and asked if I wanted to prepay for the shuttle bus. Can you believe that a round trip bus transfer to travel a mere eight minutes to an airport hotel costs £8 ($16 USD)?! This wasnít one of her scams, either. Thatís the normal fare. Whoever operates Londonís transit system should be ashamed of themselves for charging so much for a bus ride! It made me, and probably all of the other overnight visitors to London, never want to come back again. I walked out feeling robbed of £233 ($460 USD).

SUCKERED
The H3 bus made two stops before arriving at the Sheraton. I checked in at the gold line since the regular line was about a 25-minute wait. It pays to collect hotel points and gain elite status; you should, too. The first thing I asked the clerk, after handing over my prepaid receipt and credit card for incidentals, is whether he had any rooms available and whether I had gotten ripped off or not. He informed me that, in fact, they had plenty of rooms available for a rate of £105 ($207 USD). I swear, I almost went back to the airport to demand my money back but was afraid that if that biatch didnít fork it over, I might get thrown in jail for causing such a ruckus. Besides, I wasnít going to pay another £8 ($16 USD) for the bus ride back to the airport. Instead, all I could do was laugh. After all, I was suckered and it was my own fault Ė well, sort of. I donít think the British Authority should be allowing these tactics to be used on its visitors. Do you?

SHERATON SKYLINE
Because I am a Starwood Gold Member, I was upgraded into a non-smoking executive room. It was still small, but well designed, with a teak wood bed frame, dark blue walls, a desk and a tea/coffee station. The first thing I did was log on to Sheraton.com. And no, the Internet was not free. In fact, it cost £12 ($24 USD) for 24 hours or £6 ($12 USD) for 30 minutes; donít even get me started on this subject! When I found a rate for the very same room I was in for ... get this ... £47.50 ($94 USD), I dreamt about running down to the airport to give Kara a piece of my mind. But again, with security on high alert, I didnít want to risk getting a cap in my ass. So I laughed some more. What a sucker I am! Worst of all: how many others just like me are out there? Then I thought that there might be something I could do about this. With the reach of my weekly newsletter and Frommers.comís distribution list, I might be able to help stop this unethical practice from happening.

TIP: To avoid these types of situations, always pre-book your trip. If I had been able to log on to the Internet in the Larnaca airport, this never would have happened. Obviously, looking back, I am kicking myself that I didnít use one of Heathrowís Internet cafťs or call the hotel directly. But when itís late at night and thereís a long line building behind you, the sales techniques I described above can work. If you ever run into this kind of situation, you can issue a complaint by contacting the British Hotel Reservation Centre at hotels@bhrconline.com.

BREAKFAST NOT INCLUDED
Before calling it a night, I rang down to the front desk to make a backup wake-up call in addition to my alarm clock and to confirm that breakfast was included in the exorbitant rate I had paid for my room. The clerk/manager who checked me in said, "Yes, but please hold on a second while I just double-check your booking." When I heard the words, "Sorry sir, your rate doesnít include the breakfast buffet," I snapped. I said, "Let me get this straight. Youíre telling me that for the £230 Iím paying for this room which, by the way, is probably three times what most guests are paying, that it doesnít include the breakfast buffet?" "Thatís right sir," he replied smugly. Unreal! He apologized. The only good news is that in the morning, I pleaded with the day manager to waive the Internet access fee after I explained my ordeal. She agreed, but then muttered with a cheeky smile, "Remember, the best rates are always online." Ugh!

CLICK HERE to read BHRC customer service response.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip

 

Leaving Cyprus

 

Larnaca Airport

 

Funny Kid

 

Boarding Cyprus Airways

 

5 Hour Flight

 

Heathrow

 

Where I was Suckered

 

Sheraton Skyline

 

My Room

 

Tea Bag On Bed

 

Tea Station

 

Internet Price

 

Screen Shot Of Sheraton.com

HOUSEKEEPING

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