consumer counsel

Q What do I have to do to get my money back for a weekend away that turned out to be a non-event?

We booked a dinner-bed-and-breakfast stay in a hotel chosen from a tour operator's brochure for its attractive country-house appearance and description.

The grand exterior shown in the brochure must have been achieved by clever photography, using a wide-angle lens from a low view-point in the gardens: the building is in fact quite small, motel-like and run-down looking.

After a wait of some time in the uninspiring reception area, an unsmiling girl came to take our payment voucher - and told us we had to be in the dining room at 6 o'clock because they had a big party on that evening (if we came in later, we might have to wait a while to be served).

Our choice of where to spend the rest of the evening after this early (or slow) dinner was between a dreary TV lounge with 1950s furniture round the walls and a cheerless bedroom. We couldn't face it, and decided we'd rather drive home.

I only wish we had decided to go back to the vastly superior hotel we stayed at before; it's still in the tour operator's brochure at the same price we paid for our non-weekend. I am now out of pocket by the pounds 90 paid to the travel agent, plus the petrol wasted on driving to the hotel and back.

Colin Allen, London N20

A Sorry to hear about your lost weekend. Write to the tour operator, making it clear that you are dissatisfied with the accommodation and service you were offered.

You don't have to prove that the brochure deliberately misled you (even if you had taken your own warts-and-all photographs to set against the one in the brochure, it might be arguable that the hotel was entitled to show itself off in its best light); your claim rests on the broader fact that the hotel and its service was not "of a reasonable standard" for the price you paid. You are entitled to claim a full refund, plus your travelling expenses, and compensation for your disappointment.

It's worth emphasising the contrasts between this hotel and the one you had found so satisfactory (at the same price) before - and the fact that you, as experienced "weekenders", would hardly have given up and gone home unless you had been genuinely deeply disappointed. Point out that you expect them to do more than simply take the hotelier's word for the hotel's condition and standards of service, and make it clear in your letter that you are prepared to take legal action if you don't get a refund now.

'Consumer Counsel' appears on the first Friday of the month. Send your problems to Judith Gubbay, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2451. Answers will appear on the page only.