The Manhattan hotel room was one block from Central Park and had a great price. Unfortunately, it also had an unpleasant odor that my travel companion and I could not quite place.

"Diesely; a mix of car exhaust and chemicals," she tried. Yes, something like that.

So shortly after we checked in at the Excelsior Hotel on Manhattan's Upper West Side, I returned to the front desk to inquire about another room. Previous visitors had made the same complaint about the room, I was told, as the clerk handed me keys to a new room.

That room had the same scent, though milder, but when I called the front desk, they didn't offer yet another room.

We cracked open a window, went out to dinner and hoped for the best. But after dinner, the scent had permeated the hallway. As the elevator doors closed behind us, we heard a little boy ask his father about the bad odor. Back in the room, we got our bags.

Fortunately, the Beacon hotel, where we'd stayed earlier in the year, had availability and was nearby so we could roll our bags right over.

But there was still the issue of a refund from the Excelsior. I'd locked in a great rate by paying in advance. But I believed the hotel had breached any implied contract when it failed to provide a habitable room. The manager wasn't at the hotel when we departed, so I called the next day as instructed by the front desk. He didn't return my call. The next day, I sent an e-mail, glad for the chance to track the conversation. Again, no response.

Shortly after my return to the Twin Cities, I saw a $25 refund on my American Express. That was far from the price of a two-night stay, so again I wrote to the manager, and again he remained silent.

Finally, I contested the charges with American Express. Two months later — after the Excelsior did not explain its case to American Express, either (see the pattern here?) — AmEx issued me a refund.

The moral of the story? Be persistent — and use a credit card that has your back.

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at