The Alpharooms experience - dark, confusing, uncaring
I'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.
In 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.