Travel Troubleshooter

Surprise trouble with visa mars trip to Hanoi

Q: On my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I needed to spend the night in Hong Kong en route to Hanoi. 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.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog,, or email him at