Motel chain's voucher proves to be worthless

Ellie is offered a certificate for a free room for a night as compensation for a bad stay at a Motel 6. But when she tries to redeem it, she's told it's no good. How do you get the hotel to keep its promise?

Here's the problem: “I'm having a problem with a hotel voucher that has turned out to be useless, and was hoping you could help me.

“Last summer, I took my daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter to San Antonio to visit SeaWorld. We stayed at the Motel 6 on Market Square.

“Unfortunately, my granddaughter found a makeshift crack pipe that a previous guest had fashioned. It was hidden in the light fixture so, understandably, the housekeeping staff overlooked it. Fortunately, my grandchild was not cut or injured by this glass shard.

“The office staff and the national customer service people were extremely conciliatory about the incident. The local Motel 6 staff in San Antonio mailed a free room certificate as compensation for our discomfort.

“A few months later, we planned a short trip to a town near my home in Dallas to visit relatives. Ordinarily we would have made this a day trip but decided to stay in Tyler, Texas, to use our free room voucher. The staff at the Tyler, Texas, Motel 6 refused to honor the certificate because the San Antonio hotel did not correctly fill it out.

“After making calls to Motel 6 corporate and checking with the San Antonio office that issued the voucher, we were sent a letter from a supervisor that basically told us to get lost. Can you help?” Ellie Pope, Lancaster, Texas

Here's the solution: If Motel 6 wanted to compensate you with a free room night, it should have sent vouchers you could use. It appears the ones you received were not valid, and the property in Tyler was well within its rights to refuse them.

But I'm not sure a hotel should be giving you a free night because of something a previous guest left in the room. Should the cleaning staff have found the crack pipe? Absolutely. But they didn't put it there. If you're staying at the kind of hotel where there's drug paraphernalia to be found, then an apology and an offer to move you to another room would have probably been sufficient.

Based on your previous experience at that property, I take it this wasn't the kind of hotel where there's drug paraphernalia to be found.

It's always a good idea to look over the vouchers before accepting them and to ask about the terms. Can they be used at any hotel in the chain, or just at the one issuing it? When do the certificates expire? Also, is everything filled out correctly (vouchers often need to be validated with a signature, for example)?

You could have also phoned the Motel 6 in Tyler to find out if the vouchers would be accepted.

I contacted Motel 6 on your behalf. It apologized for the difficulties with redeeming the voucher. It sent you five validated vouchers, each good for a room night at any Motel 6.

Charlotte native Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine.