The Alpharooms experience - dark, confusing, uncaring

2 June 2011

Bitterwallet - Alpharooms complaint bad customer serviceI've had the misfortune of dealing with hotel booking website Alpharooms over the past two months, and I can now say that it's one of the most miserable experiences I've had using hotel websites.

Here's the story. Not so long ago, Groupon ran a promotion with Alpharooms, selling £50 hotel vouchers for £20 each. Since I had a trip planned, I bought five of them individually and booked my rooms accordingly.

The first thing you notice about Alpharoom's website is that it's full of dark pattern design - confusing user experiences designed to catch customers out. For example, shortly after the Groupon promotion finished, Alpharooms moved the discount code field from the end of the booking procedure to the very beginning. Instead of entering your discount code when you provide payment details - like every other hotel website - you now have to enter it in the search area. In other words, if you want to use a voucher, you have to add your code before you even start looking for a hotel. If you don't, you're not given another opportunity to do so.

Bitterwallet - Alpharooms complaint dark patternsIn another example, if you tell Alpharooms you don't want to pay for their travel insurance and click forward to the next stage of booking, a drop down box will prompt you to change your mind. User experience tells you to click OK to confirm your original decision, dismiss the box and progress to the next page, because clicking Cancel means you'll stay on the current page.

In this instance, both options take you to the next page - but clicking OK adds the insurance to your total. Alpharooms has swapped the functionality to do the exact opposite of what you might expect.

Despite their best efforts, I booked each room in turn and paid the price I expected to. I then received confirmation emails for each booking.

Unfortunately, payment failed in one instance, despite the Alpharooms website confirming payment was made. Alpharooms emailed me to say my booking would be cancelled; when I didn't respond, they cancelled the room.

At least that's what Alpharooms have since told me. Unfortunately, despite receiving all of their other emails without a hitch, I didn't receive the cancellation email. It didn't go to spam or trash or anywhere else. But despite insisting on taking a phone number during the booking process - a requirement rather than an option - nobody thought to try calling it. Customer support have since told me it's not policy to call customers. Both Late Rooms and Hotels.com have called me in the past when there's been an issue with a booking, but it's seemingly too much for Alpharooms.

All of which explains why I arrived at a hotel in El Paso on the Mexican border and only then discovered I had nowhere to stay. I couldn't call Alpharooms to ask what was happening - the only number available on Alpharoom's website is for customer services, which had closed at 6pm. It was only 3pm but El Paso is seven hours behind - unless you're in the same timezone, part-time customer support for travellers is no use whatsoever.

The only place you'll find an emergency number is on a second email sent after the confirmation email, a voucher no hotelier has ever asked me for on the occasions I've used Alpharooms in the past. Didn't print the voucher? Lost it? You're on your own then, because that number can't be found anywhere else.

I've complained, but I've been told it's my fault for not receiving the single cancellation email that simply never arrived in my inbox. I've since asked Alpharooms about my £50 voucher; as far as I can see, the company still owes me £50 credit for a hotel room. But customer support won't reply to my query, so as it stands I'm out of pocket for the full cost of a hotel room and the original voucher too.

In summary, then:

• Alpharooms' website employs dark patterns in its user experience
• Alpharooms will confirm your booking and tell you they've received payment, even when they haven't
• Alpharooms' customer services put the least amount of effort possible into contacting customers when something goes wrong
• Alpharooms only provide emergency information on an unnecessary voucher that hotels may or may not require

To summarise the summary, then - Alpharooms is a miserable hotel booking experience, and you're better off booking with a business that offers no-nonsense booking procedures and genuine customer care.

TOPICS:   Travel

13 comments

  • Boris
    Can you book the Hans Brinker on the site?
  • DickDick
    Their actions are not so different to other websites, trying to get you to make a mistake when booking, having to pay more or doing it all again. You were lucky to get 4 reservations out of 5. There were some threads on MSE about people that had bought multiple vouchers getting their bookings cancelled as they had bought more than one. IIRC it was badly worded, saying one per transaction, buy multiples as gifts. Of course, people bought more than one, but used only one per transaction. I think some people also reported that the number of available hotels went down as soon as they put in their voucher code, and back up if they removed it. Incidently, as you had separate bookings, did you have to check-out every morning, then check back in to a different room each evening?
  • Paul S.
    Interesting - I didn't think to see if it was a widespread problem. It did appear as though the promotion massively sold out - I think around 11,000 vouchers were sold in the end. 3 of the 5 bookings were for individual nights at different hotels. Two were for two consecutive nights at the same hotel. Somehow I was booked into a smoking room on the first night, which was nice.
  • Issac M.
    Surprising article this. Last time I used Alpharooms was during last years ash cloud. They refunded bookings when they weren't obliged to, and were shit hot at responding via email Thought generally that they were quite a good company
  • Jo
    Maybe next time you should visit the Hans Brinker in Amsterdam instead :)
  • Keith
    I had problems when I used the groupon vouchers. Had a search on the website & found a hotel in Nottingham and sub £50, thought I'd go ahead and book it. Went back to the homepage and put the voucher code in, the hotel I had searched only minutes before was now 50p over £50 meaning I had to pay the booking fee (£5.99 I think). Rang them up to ask why the room was now over £50 and apparently they source them from different companies and the voucher I wanted to use didn't allow me to book from the below £50 company.
  • Shooter M.
    "User experience tells you to click OK to confirm your original decision, dismiss the box and progress to the next page, because clicking Cancel means you’ll stay on the current page". The "Capacity to Read" experience tells me that reading what is said and clicking a box in responce thereto is infinitely better to blindly clicking away
  • Jan m.
    I am sorry you had this experience - I have had a similar miserable experience today with Alpha rooms. On trying to pay the balance of our holiday £2355.56 via their on line payment form (their advertising states 'your holiday can be finalised in a couple of clicks') I could not get their site to accept my payment -I tried last night and again this morning. I also rang them four times this morning but could not get through. At 11.30 I Unfortunately had to go out, on my return at 3.05 I tried again to submit the form THEN I noticed an e mail from alpha rooms saying if payment had not reached them by 3.15 this reservation was at risk of being cancelled. I then rang hoping to make a direct payment with them, waited in a queue and spoke to a most unhelpful woman who more or less said 'tough you have lost your holiday'. I asked then to speak to a supervisor (Rachael) who informed me we were ten YES 10 minutes late and the holiday was cancelled. We had already paid a deposit of £600 which when asked if we could use to re-book the same holiday with, said No. I tried to relay my problems but she just was not interested - did not even offer to speak to their customer reservation team to see is there could be any way some or all of this deposit could be used again. We are a party of ten, all flights have been booked paid for and holiday dates reserved at work. To re-book this holiday it will cost me £1235.40 more! ALL FOR TEN MINUTES. A most unhelpful experience.
  • Jan m.
    Ps. Re above I am e-mailingn the Alpha rooms reservation team so will keep you posted on outcome
  • Alison P.
    BAD BAD BAD, they are booking agents for Hotels4u.com if you go direct rather than through them you will save yourself about £80.00. I recently booked a hotel through them and paid over £30 in transfers. Having recently read on Tripadvisor about the hotel I had booked about certain slides being height restricted I enquired as to how much it would cost me to change my hotel and what fees would be incurred. I was told that they wouldn't be able to do this over the telephone and thus I would have to go into Manage My Booking and change it there and they would then send me an email stating the difference and if I didn't reply they wouldn't change my original booking in an way. I said I wasn't happy doing this but they refused outright to help me any further. I followed their instructions online and then I have a message saying that I have cancelled my booking they have taken £35 for the privilege and also not refunded my transfers and then the deposit which I have paid has to used in conjunction with me booking another hotel with them. I am absolutely outraged by the way of their codes of conduct this should not be allowed. I have called t hem to explain and they are coming back to me with a response once they have listened to my call (which I have no idea will prove if I am right or they are wrong, I guess it's their word against mine). STAY CLEAR FROM THIS COMPANY GO TO HOTELS4U.COM DIRECT..........................................
  • mr f.
    disgraceful customer service..had the misfortune of booking a package wth alpharooms and after 5 days of me booking wth them they ring me to tell me that the flights that i have booked are no longer available ..which i find highly amusing as i booked the whole deal through one of there sales reps..so instead of rectifying the problem and getting me new flights for same price i had booked wth them they now want an extra 200 pound each for the flights..they told me there was nothing they could do for me ..so basically 2 weeks before im due to fly out i now have the added stress of looking for new flights which will cost me alot more than when i booked ..thanks very much alpharooms!!! im totally disgusted with how ive been treated and i will never book or recommend them to anyone..shame on them...
  • lorna m.
    had used Alpha rooms before and made a booking for hotel and transfers in Cairo. After booking I contacted them regarding arrival time due to curfew and asked to check if transfer would operate okay. Despite several emails and phone calls I was getting nowhere so decided to contact transfer company directly and was told transfer would not operate. I then called Alpha rooms who advised that it was operating so despite asking them to call and check which they didn't do I was left until the day before travel to be told after me calling them again that transfer would not operate and hey I might get a refund if transfer company permit it!!! Have been dealing with their useless customer services ever since and they are no use whatsoever. Do not use this company as they are happy to take your money but not help with any aftersales issues. The worst company I have ever had the displeasure to deal with - rubbish service from start to finish do not book them
  • Patricia M.
    I booked an apartment with Alpha Rooms, left £1 deposit i had to cancel for personal reasons 11 weeks before holiday was due and without my consent took £39 from my account...never will i use this company again

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