He found out Marriott advance purchase rates are nonrefundable — the hard way

Paul Owers didn’t pay attention to the fine print when he booked a room at the Marriott TownePlace Suites in Williamsport, Pa.

He wishes he had.

Oh, you know what comes next, don’t you?

First, a few particulars: Owers is a card-carrying Marriott frequent customer. While he was a guest at the Marriott, he asked a front desk clerk for help with reserving a room for two nights a month later.

“The hotel was sold out,” he explains. “so she handed me the phone and suggested I call another Marriott property, Fairfield Inn, across town.”

He did and made a reservation at the Fairfield, which kept him in the Marriott family.

“The clerk said I might be able to get a better rate at yet another hotel,” he recalls. “I did get a better rate. So I made that reservation, and while the clerk was still standing there, I called back to Fairfield to cancel the first reservation.”

Then he asked the same Fairfield rep to delete his first reservation.

“The Fairfield clerk said she ‘would take care of it’ so I did not think to ask for a cancellation number,” he says.

Yeah, he should have asked for one

The next month, he discovered a charge for $505 on his credit card bill — and no way to make it go away.

“When I called to complain, the general manager said there is no record that I ever canceled the room,” he says. “She said the clerk told me about the cancellation policy — which was not true — and she said the cancellation policy also was emailed to me. But I never received any email because Fairfield mistakenly had my parents’ email address rather than mine.”

Related story:   How stupid do they think you are?

Oh, boy.

Owers initiated a credit card dispute, but as you can imagine, he lost. And that brought him to our doorstep here in Advocacyland with a seemingly unsolvable case.

How to avoid an unwanted Marriott charge

Obviously, Owers should have reviewed the terms. He should have gotten a cancellation number. At the very least, his parents should have forwarded his email. Mom and Dad, how about it?

But none of that happened, unfortunately. And the credit card dispute that went sideways seemed to seal his fate. Once you’ve lost one of those, your next step is small claims court.

Or … is it?

Our advocacy team referred Owers to our help forum, where our staff members promptly analyzed his case. That’s what our forum people do, and they do it very well.

Their diagnosis: Not hopeless!

See, Owers had status and he still hadn’t tried the thing we advise people to do first: Send a brief, polite email to one of the Marriott executives listed on our site.

So that’s what we advised him to do.

And now, the unbelievable conclusion

Owers sent a brief, polite email to our reliable list of Marriott’s executives.

“Later that day, I received a call from Diane Krob, a customer liaison in Mr. Marriott’s office,” he reports. “She said she would be looking into the matter and would try to get me a full refund.”

After a day, Krob sent an update: She’d “sweet talked” the general manager of the hotel to give me a refund,” he says. “She said the refund should show up in 3 to 5 business days.”

Related story:   How "special" do your circumstances have to be for a refund?

And wouldn’t you know it, the refund materialized just a few days later. Boom, baby!

“Thank you very much for your help,” she says. “I would not have known where to send my letter. I’m still puzzled why the general manager of this hotel is so reluctant to give me a refund and has been so unfriendly during this whole process. That’s the very definition of poor customer service, but at least the Marriott higher-ups came through.”

So how did this one get moved into the “win” column? I think Owers’ loyalty had at least something to do with it (and he grudgingly admits). I think his persistence also played a role. (And, ahem, our advocacy team gives great advice, don’t they?)

But the biggest contributing factor here was reaching the right person with his complaint. Take a bow, research team.

All of this raises at least one big question: Should Marriott have refunded this money? After all, it held a room for him and probably lost $505 on this transaction. If I were a Marriott shareholder, how would I feel about this? What if Marriott did this for every customer who asked?

OK, that’s more than one question. But I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Did Marriott roll over and play dead on this one — and should it have?

Should Marriott have refunded Paul Owers’ money?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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