Booking a motel room might seem as easy as reserving a restaurant table, but there's more to it than that.

Motel standards

If the only question you ask when you book a motel is the cost of the room, don't be surprised if it doesn't live up to your expectations when you arrive.
If the only question you ask when you book a motel is the cost of the room, don't be surprised if it doesn't live up to your expectations when you arrive.

If the only question you ask when you book a motel is the cost of the room, don't be surprised if it doesn't live up to your expectations when you arrive. With over 1600 motels, motor inns and motor lodges throughout New Zealand, there's plenty of room for variation.

Consumers have protection under the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act. In addition, around 1000 accommodation providers belong to the Motel Association of New Zealand (MANZ). MANZ expects its members to comply with its Code of Ethics, which contains guidelines for service and facility standards. A motel can be expelled from MANZ if it brings the association into disrepute.

To help avoid disappointment, there are some simple rules when you book:

  • Check all your requirements can be met (if, for example, you want a quiet room, say so).
  • Make sure you understand what things will cost.
  • Check what penalties will apply if you cancel or change your booking.
  • Confirm the arrangement in writing.

Changing your booking

If you cancel a booking, or even reduce the period of your stay at the last minute, you could face penalties. A phone booking is recognised as a legal contract and if you back out, you're breaching it.

Some moteliers will retain the deposit or part of it. They have the right to do this, although if the room is re-let we think you should get all your money back.

Others charge the full tariff if you cancel. Do not accept this. Your breach of contract amounts to a quantifiable loss to the motel. This will be less than the tariff amount, because there will be fewer costs to offset against the income. For example, if the room remains empty, the motelier won't have to pay for the electricity you would have used.

Other common problems

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act you have the right to expect a service fit for its particular purpose and supplied with reasonable care and skill. But we get complaints about a range of problems.

False or incorrect advertising
You may be told or read that the motel has a pool or spa, but it's closed for maintenance. Unless you have been warned in advance, you could be entitled to cancel the booking and go elsewhere.

If you are quoted a price for a service you are entitled to assume it includes GST, unless you are told otherwise, and do not have to pay extra. The words "plus GST" written in small letters on a large advertising hoarding are not sufficient.

Price hikes
If a price is hiked after the deal is struck, it's a clear breach of contract. Once you agree on a price for a motel room, you do not have to pay more.

If the unit next door is partying late into the night, or the neighbour's dog won't stop barking, you can ask the motelier to have the noise stopped or at least lowered. You are entitled to a reasonable amount of silence to enable you to sleep.

Charges for phone calls
Everyone expects to pay for their toll calls, but people are often surprised to be charged for local calls as well. MANZ says probably all moteliers add a margin to local and toll calls to help pay for "line charges" and call-logging software. Even if you use a calling card (where the cost of the call is charged to your own account), you may still be charged for using the phone line. In some motels you may even be charged for incoming calls. However, unfair as this might seem, motels do have the right to levy this charge. If you're going to make a call, local or long distance, ask about the cost first.

Extra people
If you turn up with an extra person, even a young child, they are likely to cost extra.

Room servicing
It's standard practice to include room servicing in the tariff. If there's an extra charge and you weren't told about it, complain. But some motels only service the room if you ask for it, and then it's extra.

Accessible facilities

Since 1985, all new motels must provide 10 percent of their units for people with disabilities. Older motels do not have to be upgraded unless they are renovated or extended. Accessible facilities should include a wet-area shower (for wheelchair access), a hand-held shower rose, handrails, ramps and no lips at door entrances.

People should tell the motelier of their needs when they book. Even though new motels must comply with the Building Act, there is still plenty of room for interpretation.

Motels with accessible facilities can display the international symbol of access commonly seen identifying accessible toilets and car parks. However, there is nothing to stop the motelier letting the room to customers without disabilities.

Motel ratings

In June 1994, the New Zealand Tourism Board and the Automobile Association introduced a motel grading system called Qualmark.

Qualmark uses a 5-star rating system, but goes further than the old 5-star ratings because it assesses quality as well as the level of services and facilities offered. Motels must pay to be assessed by Qualmark.

If a motel uses stars in its advertising, ask if it has been assessed by Qualmark. If not, there is no assurance the stars are reliable. They may only be part of an internal rating system used by a motel chain.

When you book a motel, make sure you specify:

  • The type of unit required: double, twin, smoking, with access for people with disabilities, etc.
  • The number of people staying.
  • The dates you are staying.
  • Any special requirements: sun in the morning; away from the road, etc.

Make sure you ask about:

  • The Qualmark rating of the motel, if it exists.
  • The cancellation policy, including the amount of notice you have to give and the penalties you will incur if you do cancel.
  • Any deposit that is required.
  • Whether pets are allowed.
  • If the price includes GST.
  • Cooking/laundry services.

When you've made your booking, follow it up with a fax, email or letter confirming the main points. If you've got the arrangement in writing, you're on stronger ground if something goes wrong later.

Taking it further

If you do get into a dispute, first try to resolve it with the motelier. If you don't get satisfaction, take your case to a Disputes Tribunal. You can also make a complaint to the Motel Association of New Zealand.