So this is the piece I promised last week.
So maybe you remember, approximately a billion years ago, I was headed to Tampa from Austin, and I missed my flight. Y’all may not know, but I rarely miss my flights – I’m generally vigilant to the point of near panic; I frequently have a hard time sleeping if I have an early plane.
But anyway, since the last time I had been to the Austin airport, they had opened a new terminal. Now I don’t know why the fuck they call this a new terminal since it’s practically an hour away from the first one, but whatever. What I’m saying here is that by the time I made it there, my flight had taken off without me.
Five minutes earlier.
I was flying some crazy budget airline, and thought there was no way I’d get on another flight at all, let alone that day. But sure enough, an extremely helpful gate agent said he could put me on a flight to Orlando that was boarding in two minutes. I had about 30 seconds to decide.
But I thought to myself: I can do this. I’ve flown into MCO, I already know which bus to take from the airport to the MegaBus station, I know there’s a bus to Tampa that leaves three hours after I get there. I can do this, with about a half an hour to spare.
So I agreed.
And when I was already on the taxiing plane, strapped into my seat, ready to fly to Florida, the captain comes on the loudspeaker and informs me, for the first time, that we’re not flying to MCO.
We were flying to SFB.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Sanford, Florida is like…and hour and a half from Orlando by a combination of Lyft and a train.
So I get off the plane, I make it to downtown Orlando. The last bus to Tampa, with three different companies, had already departed for the day. So I had to find somewhere to stay.
I found a hostel on Booking.com for one night, and booked a bus to Tampa for 11 am the next morning.
I mean, it sucked because I was missing a day in Tampa with my friends, but it was otherwise okay.
Until I got to the “hostel.”
It was basically just someone’s house, and there was no one to check me in at all. I sat in the living room for a while waiting, and then I called Booking.com. And then I learned what is still to this day the greatest travel hack I have ever learned: when you book a place to sleep through literally any reputable booking site and it turns out they can’t accommodate you, they will relocate you at no extra charge.
And even better, especially if you’re me and you’re pissed at the original property that you booked, they will often actually charge them for it.
Anyway, a few hours later I was tucked into a king-sized bed in a suite in Winter Park. They even paid for my Lyft there.
You see, virtually anyone can list on Booking.com these days. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass, because I’d rather just pay than show up to a property that doesn’t exist or is in someway illegitimate, but it’s nice to know that this backup exists. I’ve done this exact thing a few more times: Once in Tulum, Atlanta, and my favorite time, in Tokyo when I ended up in a 22nd floor suite looking out over Shinjuku. All because the hostel I booked, and had already paid for, was unavailable.
And it just happened to me again.
So with the whole “all my cards are expired” situation, coupled with whatever the fuck is going on with the goddamned US Postal Service, I ended up in this period between the last day I could use my cards and them arriving overseas. That’s all squared away now, they’re arriving on Thursday inshallah, but in the meantime, I had one day in Istanbul to withdraw as much money as possible before they lapsed.
Because I only had a certain amount of cash to use until my cards come, I found a place in Pristina that I could pay for, in advance, with my PayPal account.
Except that I messaged them five times in the few days before my flight, and they never answered.
And then I called them. Like 10 times. No answer.
So I called the booking company. This time I booked it on an Expedia site, namely Hotels.com, but this shit works the same way no matter where you book, as long as it’s legit.
I actually wasn’t even trying to get a free hotel room, I was trying to get them to simply pull another number for the original, shitty property I booked and fucking call them to make sure it actually existed. And when we all realized it didn’t, I asked for a credit for the amount I paid so I could book another property at my own expense.
It was gonna cost me like $200.
It was actually their own incompetence that landed me in a $300 a night suite in Pristina; they could have just kicked me back the $20 or whatever that I had spent, not kept me on the phone for six hours, and I would have gone happily on my way.
But apparently that’s against their “policy,” and this stupid-ass policy cost them $600.
But here’s the thing.
I was arriving in Pristina after midnight. I wouldn’t have cell service, and since commuter planes over here frequently don’t have outlets, there was a good chance my phone would be dead by the time I arrived anyway.
And quite frankly, surviving this pandemic has been enough, and I’m generally in no mood for a fucking middle-of-the-night adventure in a country I’ve never been to when it’s already past curfew.
And like, yeah. It worked out this time. But what if I hadn’t tried to schedule an airport shuttle with the property? What if I hadn’t found out that this property is actually closed before I arrived?
See this, THIS, is the fucking problem. Booking sites don’t give a shit how their customers are impacted as long as they’re still making money, so they keep listing these shitty properties even after people have already complained that they’ve been raped there, or mistreated, or even after they’ve been informed that it doesn’t actually exist. The more properties they have on their sites, the more variety it appears that they have, the more revenue they collect.
If this is not yet clear: I am saying that they don’t give a shit about you.
And they should, because people using them are at disproportionate advantages.
Like, sure. If I was a white guy booking at, say, that hostel in Skopje that had a serial rapist as a manager for six fucking months, then yeah. I would never find that out, likely have a good experience there, and be merrily on my way without any problems at all. I’d probably even leave a good review.
But not everyone is a white guy.
Not everyone is even a guy.
And when the number of people who don’t have a problem outweigh the number of people who do, which is assuredly the case, these sites continue to list dangerous properties simply because they can.
And, as I mentioned before, because they truly do not give a fuck.
And none of us have a lot of recourse out here.
Unless these sites start to feel it. Financially.
See, because I rebooked my property before I arrived, the booking site had to pay for it themselves. They didn’t charge the other property for my stay, but rather had to pay this five-star hotel, out of pocket, for some dirty, poor nomad to stay there (me.)
And hey, if you really want my review on the hotel? The sheets were excellent. My bathroom was practically solid marble.
And that’s about it. I fucking hate staying at these soulless, “fancy” places.
But regardless, the more it costs when these sites have to rebook a property, the more they will actually consider vetting the properties they list more carefully.
So what I’m telling you is that if you want to do something to decrease the amount of danger that women face when booking properties abroad, you can do this on purpose.
Do you want to stay in a five-star hotel for free and help decrease the rates of sexual assault simultaneously? You can!
Just look for some sus-ass property on one of these sites, and pay for it in advance. Trust me: you’ll find one. Once you know what to look for, you’ll start to realize how many dupes these sites list. You have to pick one that actually doesn’t exist. Call them, email them, whatever to double-check.
Then book it. Be sure you pay in advance.
Then, a day before your trip or after you arrive, just call the booking company and tell them the property can’t accommodate you.
And you’ll be relaxing in your suite in no time.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fucking hassle. I have never wanted to have to be relocated, I’d always prefer to just get off a plane and into my bed without all this fucking nonsense. But if enough of us put this pressure on enough of these sites, financially, it will actually be better for us in the long run.
Now look – these are multi-million dollar companies. Expedia is a multi-billion dollar company. I think.
But – and I’m speculating, here – if even 100 additional people exploited this loophole in a month, I bet you it would trigger an entirely new department, one that audits and vets the goddamned properties that they advertise on their fucking site before women traveling alone even have to deal with them in the first place.
So. If you’ve ever wanted a free hotel room, here’s your chance. I’ve done it five times.
How may can you rack up?