The Albanian Guesthouse That Locked Us In and Wouldn’t Let Us Leave

Posted By Jeremy in Europe


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Angry AngieI tend to give most hotels the benefit of the doubt in situations where things become a bit questionable.  But being locked inside a hotel when we had an expensive bus ticket reserved and had to leave is not something I can overlook.

At Hotel Areela in Tirana, Albania, that is exactly what we got.

All Is Fine Until Checkout

Until we checked out, everything at the hotel was fine.  The room was clean enough, breakfasts large, and staff incredibly friendly.  The only oddity was that the cleaning lady moved all of our belongings around one day to clean, something that is high on my pet peeves list.  But that paled in comparison to our checkout experience.

Being Refused to Leave And No One To Help

Come our last morning, we noticed something odd.  No one but the cleaning lady, who also served breakfast, was there.  It was slightly earlier, but by the time we went to checkout there was always someone at the desk in the previous mornings. Since it was a weekday, there was no reason to expect any difference (not to mention, their hotel listing clearly states 24 hour front desk on both booking.com and their own website).

We came down to leave and still no one was there but the cleaning lady.  She told us to sit and wait in Albanian (we think by hand gestures at least) but after 10 minutes we had to get moving to catch our bus and we asked to pay one more time.

Then the troubles started.

Since she didnt speak English, she just made hand gestures to give her money.  (A rather rude movement in my opinion, like when you would rub your fingers together to signify a great deal of money).

A few minutes of futile attempts to ask how much, and we were losing our patience.  I dont like handing over cash or a credit card without a confirmation of our bill, and the cleaning lady definitely did not get it and only kept making the finger motions of money.

Another few minutes and she walked away to serve other guests breakfast.

Since our bus departure was coming up, I tried showing her the bus ticket to show we had to leave, but she kept at the same gestures without doing anything else or calling the desk workers to help.

Then We Found The Door Was Locked

Since about 20 minutes had passed by this point, I was going to just leave and put a note at the desk telling them to charge my credit card.  In fact, I was in the middle of writing that very note when Angie found the main door was locked with no one but the cleaning ladies having a key.

We were all, quite literally, locked in the hotel.

…and Angie was not having it.

Getting Visibly Angry

At this point our requests to pay were getting louder, and the lady finally called someone to help.

The person on the phone was one of the front desk attendants who spoke good English and was normally helpful. Rather than give us aid to help us pay, by, I don’t know, telling me how much I owed, she proceeded to lecture me about it being my responsibility to pay when someone was at the desk.

Wait, what? There were always people at the desk this time each morning, and no one told us we had to prepay for a unique circumstance on this day.  It was listed as a 24 hour desk after all. In fact, it was the people at the front desk who suggested we take a 9am bus, and no one told us (including no posted signs) that we would have to checkout early if we had a morning departure.

So while we were trying to figure this out, Angie broke down and tried to steal the key from the cleaning lady, who was not having it at all.  Between shouts, tears, and other issues, it seemed like we were never going to make our bus.

If this had gone on any longer, one of us would probably have ended up in an Albanian jail.  Luckily, it never got that far.

A Silly Resolution

A few more minutes go by in our English-Albanian shouting match and the person on the phone walks in and continues to chastise us for yelling at them when other guests were around.

I kept asking to pay so we can leave, and after finally seeing the bill I realize I have to pay with a credit card (which were accepted).  The employee looks at me and simply says something to the extent of the machine is right here you could have paid whenever you wanted. 

What?  Okay, we’ve never been told to run our card ourselves (here or anywhere for that matter), and we were only just shown our bill a few minutes before that anyway. 

“Can you charge it now we have to go!”
“No, its okay, you can leave we will charge it later.”

The cleaning lady unlocks the door and we leave, practically running to catch the bus.  Angie muttering a few curses under her breath as we go while a few other guests had to endure hearing this while eating their breakfast.

Missing All Customer Service Basics

As much as I wanted to like this hotel, our last experience ruined it all.  To miss all customer service basics is something I’ve never seen in nearly 50 countries and in countless hotels of all sizes and qualities.

To physically lock guests in with only a few employees having a key?  That is unsafe on so many levels, not to mention a shady tactic to refuse to let us leave because no one was at the “24-hour” desk.

Not telling the guests about checkout policy that clearly clashes with their online listing, and then blaming them for everything when all that was asked was a copy of the bill before giving money? Well, there is a first time for everything I suppose.

Perhaps the most upsetting part about the whole thing is that if the employees were at the desk like they should have been this issue wouldnt have happened at all. 

Suffice it to say, we wont be going back there if we ever return to Albania.

Luckily for you, there are dozens of other properties worth your time in Tirana, so you can easily skip this one without issue. They do not deserve your money, and you do not deserve their attitude.  Now I just need to figure out how to report the unsafe activity that goes on there to the local tourism board or regulating authorities.

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12 Comments

    • We did make it to our bus, but we would have been late if we had been held up a moment longer. Luckily the bus was delayed a few minutes, so we had some extra breathing room too.

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  1. Wow, what a sketchy situation! I have never heard of the front door being locked. And who on earth would swipe their own credit card? Jeez.

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    • I know. I keep trying to think to myself that there was some miscommunication there, but how it was implied to me made it seem like they wanted me to swipe my card whenever I was able. No matter how many times I think it over, I come to the same conclusion.

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  2. Having the door locked is frightening – one of the few things I’m very cautious about in hotels is making sure there’s clear access to the exits in case of emergency. And the fact that they tried to scold you about it is ridiculous. I guess they figure they can get away with it, because their guests will leave the area soon and can’t complain much.

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    • It never clicked with us about that aspect until we were leaving, even though we were locked out several times (but an employee always let us in right away so we never thought anything about it). There have been only a few times where I’ve consciously questioned safety plans, but it never crossed my mind here.

      As for the post-trip complaining, I think that idea is all too common. I’m thankful for review services in this particular moment!

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  3. That is absolutely insane! Something I would never expect to see just as I am sure you didn’t. I suppose you never know what you are going to get when heading to a new location. All part of the experience though, hope the rest of your trip was good!

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    • Yeah, always something interesting! So far we’ve been traveling for around 140ish days on this itinerary and that was the first major “what just happened?!” moment. Something crazy was bound to happen eventually, no matter how cautious we are in vetting hotels.

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  4. UGH. I would double check your credit card to make sure they didn’t charge you any extra.

    I was locked in a hostel in Xi’an once and had a hell of a time trying to leave to catch my early flight. Very annoying and very unsafe.

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    • I’m keeping an eye on it, but the charge that I saw went through was for the correct amount. Even just a dollar or so off I would have likely issued a charge back on the credit card. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that this trip.

      That is awful that it happened to you too at another place. Was it a similar situation or why were you locked in?

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  5. Eek! I’ve never, ever heard of anything like that before, especially not in a hotel! That’s crazy that they’d keep the front door locked and I, like you, would have never, ever thought to have processed my own credit card myself – that sounds incredibly dodgy! Well, suffice to say that I won’t be staying there when I make it to Tirana.

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    • I know, it was incredibly bizarre. I really don’t understand how any of it makes sense, even giving it a few days to think about what happened. We’re just happy we got out before it escalated even more!

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