Monday, April 5, 2010

Read between the lines in hotel reviews

We had two nights in Singapore, and one was for an arrival after midnight. We’d checked online, and selected and booked a mid-range hotel. The reviews had noted that the “Fragrance Crystal” hotel was located in the red light Geylang district, but most had been fairly positive. Alternatives were either much more expensive or backpacker dorms. I booked and paid online, noting on the Agoda form that we would be arriving very late—possibly after 01:00.

Our plane was delayed so we didn’t arrive until nearly 02:30. The front desk had our reservation though, and gave us keys to a 3rd floor room.

The room was dismal. Not only was there noise from the street, but it smelled of smoke (despite being a non-smoking hotel), and there was just a sheet over a rubber mattress with a rather dirty blanket. When Katharine called the desk, she was told that “no sheets are available” and “we cannot control if someone smokes in a room.”

We thought we might just cope, but even the pillows smelled of smoke. I called back to insist they find a sheet, new pillows and a clean blanket. At nearly 04:00, the items arrived, and we soon fell asleep—only to be jarred awake by an unrequested wake-up call at 06:00!

Apparently they had neglected to cancel it from the previous guest.

I spoke to the manager when we did get up some time later. He listened, apologized, and said he would upgrade us to a proper room. No excuses or waffling—and he was true to his word. The 7th floor back room was quite acceptable, and we had a good sleep the next night.

Our reservation clearly let them know the room would be empty until late, so we suspect that the 3rd floor room had been “rented out” without management knowing.


  • Plan to pay a bit more to avoid a red light district. The hotel location was reasonably convenient to the excellent Singapore MRT system, but the walk to the station had garbage in the street and some disreputable characters along the way—certainly not typical of the rest of Singapore.
  • Check the room before moving in, even if it is very late and they claim it is the last room. If we’d done that, they would have at least had to find bedding sooner—or found a different room.
  • When there is a problem, speak to management. Shouting would not have helped—and may well have worked against us. By just stating the facts, the manager was able to rectify the situation without losing face.
  • Online sites like take full payment at time of booking. Both of our nights were fully paid, so changing after the first night would be complicated (at least). If there is an option, just pay a deposit.
  • Use online sites like TripAdvisor or Agoda’s own feedback to rate hotels. in our case, the bad experience was certainly part of our stay, but the manager’s actions at least helped raise our rating to some extent.