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Reverse Bait and Switch at the Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa

The “bait and switch” technique that some hotels use to lure guests to their property is legendary on hotel-review sites like Tripadvisor.com. The scheme comes in many forms: Maybe you make your reservations at Hotel X, but when you arrive, you find Hotel X is oversold, and you’re told you can stay “for the same rate at our sister property” Hotel Y — which is in a crummy location with tiny guest rooms.

Or perhaps you book an oceanfront room, and when you arrive, you’re given a key to a garden-view room. Or you pay a nice, low Internet-only rate, only to find that rate only applies to the least desirable rooms in the house — and to “upgrade” to a decent room you’ll need to shell out the bucks on site. (Remember my epic nightmare experience at the Hotel El Pescador in Puerto Vallarta?)

But what happens when your group of 14 (yes, 14) arrives at your all-inclusive resort in Mexico to find you’ve all received an upgrade you don’t want (aka the “reverse bait and switch”). Well, if you’re my extended family, you start drinking a lot of the included cocktails you’ve already paid for!

When we booked our Christmas vacation at the Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa in Playa del Carmen last fall, we looked very carefully at the prices for each of the room types available. We made it very clear in our reservation (via a travel agent, through Apple Vacations) that we wanted to stay in the least expensive “Beach” section of the resort.

These “Beach” rooms at the Sandos Playacar Beach are the oldest, smallest rooms closest to the activity pool and the ocean. After, all we had six young children in our group — we knew they’d spend most of their vacation back and forth between the pool and the ocean. We wanted our pool homebase to be ultra-close to our guest rooms, so we could run upstairs for the inevitable forgotten flip flops and goggles.

However, on arrival, we were handed our keys to our four different rooms in the “Riviera” section of the resort – the furthest rooms from the beach!

"Riviera" room with huge bathroom, Jacuzzi tub and flat-screen TV.
“Riviera” room with Jacuzzi tub, giant bathroom, flat-screen TV.

We were given lines like, “Oh, these rooms are better. They are new and large and have whirlpool tubs and flat-screen TVs.” Yeah, well that’s all fine and good, but we didn’t fly to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for a week to sit in our hotel rooms soaking in the tub and watching television!

The front desk staff (and every manager we called over) told us that they “love” Apple Vacations and wanted to reward us with the bigger more beautiful rooms. We contended that in our eyes, these “big beautiful” rooms were not an upgrade — they were a 10-minute walk to the ocean, or our antsy kids would have to wait 5 minutes for a tram to come to deliver us to the second lobby closest to the “Beach” rooms and the activity pool — and even then we’d still need to walk a few minutes to the action.

To make a very long story short, we needed to stay in the big, modern “Riviera” rooms for one night — they had absolutely no “Beach” rooms available that evening. Then we were all switched to the “Beach” rooms the next day for the duration of our week’s stay. But we were really, really mad. What gives a hotel the right to “upgrade” you, when the “upgrade” is questionable?

This was not simply moving us to another floor. We wouldn’t be complaining if they gave us large suites instead of standard rooms in the “Beach” section. Nope, this was a very, very different animal!

We contend that the resort should have emailed us and asked us if we wanted to be moved to a very different section of the property. We were insulted they just decided for us how we wanted to spend our vacation — and we told the managers that.

Turns out, management realized how upset we were (could it have been our raised voices after two or three daiquiris each?) — and offered to make it up to us. They said they’d arrange a big family meal in a private palapa on the beach for us one night, which was a lovely gesture — especially since the special meal was outstanding (although we certainly didn’t ask for such service).

View of activity pool and buffet restaurant from a "Beach" room.
View of activity pool and buffet restaurant from a “Beach” room.

What I did ask for was four free massages at the on-site spa for all the adult women in our party — and management obliged. (Hey, we needed to work out all the stress caused by the room snafu!)

The moral to the story?

If you’ve paid for a certain section of a hotel, and the quality of your vacation depends on your guest room in that section of the hotel, ask the reservations staff make a note (and underline or bold it!) in your record. Follow up with a phone call to the reservation staff to confirm your room choice closer to the date of your stay.

Turns out, we all loved our small, old, cheesily decorated “Beach” rooms. They were literally steps away from the activity pool (and kids’ games, water aerobics, giant chess, ping-pong and pool bingo), super-close to the a buffet restaurant, and we could see the ocean from our balcony. The “Riviera” rooms are absolutely spacious and modern and sophisticated, but worlds away from the ocean and the action! We had a balcony that looked out to a sidewalk and an overgrown jungle — where’s the ambiance in that?

While I wouldn’t hesitate to visit the Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa again — the food, resort location, activity staff and spa are all great — you can bet I’ll specify exactly where I want my room to be!

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