Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

As you all know, I’ve spent the last week traveling in the Southwestern US, visiting and photographing Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. Along the way, as always, I’ve been looking out for interesting uses of language, and found plenty of it. The purpose for this post is twofold, though, and for that reason, it’s more of a rant than you normally find here. My first reason for posting is that I’d like to discuss an interesting (and infuriating) technique by which people and companies can tell the truth and lie simultaneously. My second (and main) purpose for this post, however, is to let people know to avoid Best Western Ruby’s Inn, outside Bryce Canyon, Utah. They scammed us, and I’d like to see that other people aren’t similarly taken.

Barely false advertising

Being the nerd I am, I do my best to stay connected when I’m on the road. I try and pick hotels that have internet available. According to AAA (and all the hotel’s posted information), Best Western Ruby’s Inn offers “High Speed Internet Access” and “Complimentary Wireless Internet”.

Both of these statements are true, technically. Best Western Ruby’s Inn (repeated for Google) does, in fact, have Wireless Internet, and I was able to pick up their signal without any trouble, and at full strength. However, unlike other hotels, the wireless speeds are around 1 kilobyte per second to non-existent (loading my mail took around 5 minutes, and even then was unreliable). Of course, I anticipated less-than-superb speeds if they had to use a satellite connection, seeing as they’re out in the middle of Utah, but still, I expected some degree of usability.

So, I went across the way to the front desk to ask if I was doing something wrong. I explained my problem to the manager, and he informed me that the wireless system is, regrettably, “a bit slow” and that there wasn’t anything he could do. However, he eagerly pointed out that the High Speed Internet terminals in the lobby would have no such connection speed issues. What he failed to mention is that those High Speed Internet terminals (listed simply as “Eight Internet Kiosks” on their site) cost 50 cents per minute to use. _(EDIT: According to their manager, the cost is 20 cents per minute. I was misinformed.) _ At every other Best Western we visited, “Free Wireless Internet” and “High Speed Internet” refer to one and the same service. However, Best Western Ruby’s Inn has redefined those terms, separating them, so that they can still offer what they’ve promised, but still gouge the guests for 50 cents a minute.

If you bought a car based on an ad saying “Used Car, New Engine”, then they proceeded to hand you a gutted Camry and a factory sealed engine for a lawnmower, you’d likely sue. They’re not lying, per se, but they’re certainly not being honest. By changing the meaning of the hotel catch phrase “Free Wireless and High Speed Internet”, they’re off the hook for false advertising. If it were just the internet situation, I’d be more willing to cut them some slack. However, they don’t stop there with their creative redefinition of usual terms.

We meant REALLY local calls

On the little laminated sheet next to each phone, they discuss the rates for different sorts of calls. It clearly states that long distance calls cost an arm, International costs both arms and a leg. However, it proudly proclaims that local calls are completely free.

When my girlfriend and I realized that we didn’t want to stay the planned three nights (their $16 per person buffet and $9 microwaved mozzarella sticks didn’t thrill us), we decided to try and find another hotel in the area. We called a Best Western (which didn’t have an 800 number) in the same area code and general region and made some reservations, figuring that it was a local call. One call, maybe 4 minutes, total.

The next morning, at checkout, the young lady at the desk informed me that I made $6 worth of phone calls. I explained that they were local calls, and that the charge was made in error. She then informed me that “local” refers to calls made to any room or building at the Best Western Ruby’s Inn complex, not to any outside numbers. Outside numbers are billed at $1.50 a minute, apparently, even to nearby hotels in the same chain, same region, and same area code.

Then, the sheer sleazyness of it hit: They redefined “local” so they could charge us more. Note, this wasn’t on the sheet. There wasn’t a “Ruby’s Inn Rate” and a “Far-Local” rate. Just “Local Calls are complimentary”. This is like a hotel boasting about “nearby parking”, and then explaining to customers that there’s a small plot of land that the hotel owns next to the lot, 10 miles away, so technically, the lot is right near the hotel’s land. Once again, they’ve changed the meaning of a word to hide a rather exorbitant charge.

Dishonest honesty

Unfortunately, there’s not much one can do about this sort of thing. They’re never actually lying to you, they’re just redefining terms in the language so that they can sound like a good, honest, and benevolent hotel, while still operating like a Tourist Trap.

They might not get many return customers this way, but they figure that once you’re there, you’re trapped. By the time you’ve seen through their deceptive phrasings, you’re 15 miles away from the nearest motel, likely already moved in, and probably exhausted, so you’re not going to find a better place. If you’re not careful, you’ll go to check out and be billed exorbitantly, but it’s after the service was rendered, so you’re pretty much stuck paying.

Lessons to learn

So, from this tirade, what should you take away?

1) Visit Bryce Canyon National Park (and Zion National Park) if you ever get the chance. They’re truly beautiful places, and worth every cent of the trip to get there.

2) Best Western Ruby’s Inn, near Bryce Canyon National Park, is a tourist trap. They will lure you in and sound wonderful, but once you’re checked in, they’ll do their best to charge you as much as legally possible. Between deceptive tactics like those above, hidden charges (nearly 20% tax on the room) (EDIT: According to the Manager’s response, the room tax is 11%. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming my memory was in error), and the exorbitantly priced goods in the diner and grocery (often your only option), your room and board can easily jump up by half or more.

3) If you’re going to the area, I highly recommend commuting from the Best Western East Zion Thunderbird Lodge instead. From here, you can get to Bryce in around 1.5 hours, and Zion within 30 minutes, and the room rates were half of what Ruby’s charged, for equivalent (or nicer) rooms. They also offered actual high-speed wireless and free local calls, without any deception. This hotel is as good as Ruby’s was bad.

4) Ask for definitions. When you call for reservations at a hotel which smells tourist-trappy, ask if the free wireless is high speed. Ask what local means. Ask what “reasonably priced” means in the context of their restaurant. They can’t lie to you if you ask directly, and their power over your checkbook lies in your assumptions about the English language.

5) To the proprietors of Ruby’s Inn: Remember, language works both ways. You used it to distort the truth about your hotel, now I’m using it to bring some clarity to your practices. Hopefully some of your future customers will google you, read this, and decide to find another hotel based on this post.

Live by the word, die by the word.

EDIT: The manager of Best Western Ruby’s Inn has commented on this thread and refuted some of my points here. I encourage you to read the comments thread to hear both sides of the matter.

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