Travel Troubheslooter: ‘ didn’t tell me I needed a visa’

When Jane Torres books a hotel ”near” Hong Kong International Airport, omits a key detail. She also needs a visa. Now what?

Q. On my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I needed to spend the night in Hong Kong en route to Hanoi, Vietnam. I looked up hotels near the Hong Kong International Airport on and found the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai listed under the category “Near Hong Kong International Airport.”

Before making the reservation, I called’s customer-service number to inquire if there was a shuttle from the airport to the hotel. The representative informed me that there was no shuttle, but that I could request a limousine pickup or just get a taxi when I arrived at the airport. Based on that information, I made the reservation.

When I arrived at the airport and tried to get a taxi to the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai, I was in for a shock.

I was told that the hotel was in China and that I would need a visa to enter China, and that it takes about five days to get a visa. Obviously, I couldn’t get to the hotel, so I had to get a last-minute room at the nearest hotel, which cost me $327. Plus, I still was charged the $129 for the reservation at the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai.

I would like your help in getting to refund my room rate. Jane Torres, Miami

A. The Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai isn’t “near” the airport. According the hotel’s website, it’s a 40-minute drive. Hilton also prominently discloses the visa requirement for American citizens.

When you called, a representative should have informed you about the distance and the visa issues with this hotel. Its solution to “just get a taxi” was lacking important detail.

You turned to a place you believed was a reliable source, but it wasn’t. In the end, however, finding the exact location of the property and knowing your transportation options were your responsibility.

Here’s where a competent travel agent could have helped you. Agents are trained to know about any potential visa problems, and they'll find a hotel that’s close to the airport. And if there’s ever a dispute, a great agent can act as your advocate, securing a full refund for a hotel that didn’t live up to its billing. (A good place to start is the “Find an ASTA Travel Agent” feature at the American Society of Travel Agents site.

I retraced your steps on the site after resolving this case. Disappointingly, there’s no mention of potential visa issues, and the hotel still is listed as being “near” the airport. I guess distance is all relative, but how hard can it be to let guests know about the potential for paperwork problems?

I contacted on your behalf. In response, the hotel refunded the $129 for your missed hotel stay.

Charlotte-born Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)” (National Geographic). He’s also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips or contact him at his website: