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Complaints and consequences

Last night I introduced my best friend to the woman I am dating. It seemed the right time as I had met Aurora’s father the day before. While I was nervous meeting her dad, I was hysterical having her meet Caroline. I knew I would be on my best behavior with her father, but when it comes to Caroline and Aurora, one of the things I like about both of them is that I can never entirely predict how either will react.

Aurora and Caroline weren’t complete strangers: They had been on a DVD cover together, but never met in person. It seemed to me the best way for all of us to meet would be a very Vegas night out. Get a hotel room on the Strip, order dinner from room service and then as a trio wander about bonding. In short: a staycation.

One of the great things about living in Las Vegas is that the Strip provides so many cheap hotel rooms on off nights like Sunday or seasonally, like during the summer months. I didn’t want a cheap hotel, but I also didn’t think I could afford Wynn or Bellagio. I eventually settled on MGM Grand.

A hotel like MGM Grand with more than 5,000 rooms to fill every single night usually has good bargains available. I found a web advertisement teasing a room at the MGM Grand starting at $79 a night. After clicking through and checking the calendar I couldn’t find a single room on any night for $79 all the way through to September, but I did find a room for $89 (which, I noticed on my bill was really $89.99). Fine.

Checking-in at the MGM was a breeze, totally different than my recent experience at the Tropicana. Our room (floor 28) was great: two queen-sized beds, immaculately clean and with a huge window offering a view of Hooters through to the executive airport. There was only one thing missing: pens. I normally wouldn’t notice, but Aurora needed to take a few notes. There was stationary. No pens. So, she called down to the front desk and was transferred to housekeeping, which offered to run up two pens for her to use. The only caveat was the $4 delivery charge ($2 a pen) for someone to get into an elevator and drop the pens off at our room. Aurora called the front desk again to complain, and, shortly after that conversation housekeeping called to apologize and pens arrived free of charge.

One thing about calling from a room registered to Richard Abowitz is that Aurora was addressed by the operator as “Mrs. Abowitz.” We both needed deep breaths to recover from that innocent mistake.

Meanwhile, despite my own disdain for the pen as an obsolete technology, I was having my own problems. The front desk had told me that WiFi ($13.99) was unavailable in the room, and the supplied Ethernet connection was not working. So, while Aurora fought for pens, I was involved in a detailed cell phone call that ended after I spent far too long on hold. When I checked out I discovered that though my call had not made the Ethernet connection work, the technician had charged me for the service he could not provide.

Of course, one of the reasons rooms are so cheap is that everything else is expensive – pen delivery, Internet adjustments – and room service is definitely among the most overpriced options in any resort. Just an elevator ride away from our room sat a dozen or so MGM Grand restaurants, not to mention the rest of the Strip, but none of us were hungry enough to order an entrée. Still, ordering salads and soup for three people ended up costing more than the hotel room itself, due in part to a $7.50 charge for a few extra slices of pineapple on Aurora’s salad. And my soup was horrible.

MGM is really a resort you can spend a day exploring. And, we did. We checked out the menu at Robuchon, explored the weird little mall of underground stores (from the Harley shop to the magic store) that mark the path to the self parking garage. Of course, we spent the most time watching the lions kept near the casino floor. The visit went well and for me the night was a mission accomplished, as in my head I pronounced Aurora and Caroline friends. Good times.

In the morning, we checked out in person instead of automatically. This turned out to be a very smart move. First Dianna, the check out counter employee, noticed I had been charged twice for Internet access and removed one of the charges from my bill. And, then she asked: “Did you enjoy your stay?” I decided to come clean, and told her the room was lovely, but the room service had issues. She apologized and removed the entire meal except for beverages and the tip from my bill.

Clearly in Vegas, complaining is worth the effort. In fact, it’s an effective money-saving strategy. With so many rooms and so many guests mistakes get made, but even staying in a bargain room on an off night, the customer comes first here in a way that perhaps is no longer true in customer service in the rest of the country. Complaints get results instead of corporate palaver.

When I got home I discovered that I had left my iPod docking station at the MGM. The loss of my docking station would have best either the room or room service for the most expensive part of my night at the MGM Grand, but by the time I noticed the missing piece, I also noticed a phone message. Dianna, the front desk clerk who had been so helpful on the bill, had called. My docking station is waiting for me at the lost and found.

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