Maybe Priscilla Walker’s trip to Sedona, Ariz., wasn’t meant to be. First, Southwest Airlines canceled her flight to Arizona, making it impossible to reach her Marriott Vacation Club timeshare property on time.
And then Marriott did a terrible thing, according to Walker: It pocketed $1,745 worth of Marriott Vacation Club points without offering her a meaningful explanation.
Walker is furious because she had every intention of showing up in Sedona. She says there were special circumstances that Marriott should have considered when deciding her case.
I agree with her.
But can the best advocacy team in the world persuade Marriott Vacation Club to reverse its decision? And what does Marriott’s fine print say about timeshare cancellations beyond your control?
A canceled flight and no way to get to Arizona
On December 26, Walker had a Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland to Phoenix. She planned to pick up a rental car and drive to Sedona.
Walker had made an excellent choice of vacation sites. Sedona’s trademark red rocks with a dusting of snow is a rare and beautiful sight. Its vast network of hiking trails takes you to the most breathtaking vistas in the American West. And Sedona also has our all-time favorite pizza joint, Pisa Lisa. (Try the Deluxe Semplice.)
She’d reserved five nights at the Marriott Residence Inn Sedona, a new property in West Sedona. It’s close to some of my all-time favorite hiking trails — Outer Limits and Thunder Mountain across 89A on the northern side, Scenic Overlook and Skywalker on the south side, and if you’re really ambitious, Cathedral Rock. I have many happy memories of hiking through those mountains with current and former friends.
But then Southwest Airlines had its holiday meltdown. It canceled Waker’s flight to Phoenix.
“They could not offer another flight,” says Walker.
So she called Marriott Vacation Club. She’d used 3,500 Marriott Destination Points to make her timeshare reservation. She asked Marriott to credit the points back to her account or to offer a cash refund or a voucher at the Marriott Residence Inn Sedona. But it refused.
“I emailed, chatted, and escalated all the way to the CEO,” she says. “The answer was the same — no.”
Can you cancel a Marriott Vacation Club reservation?
Yes, but you have a limited amount of time to cancel.
Most Marriott properties have a strict 24-hour cancellation policy. If you notify the hotel you’re not coming, you can cancel your stay and receive a refund of any points or money. I’ll have a breakdown of Marriott Vacation Club’s cancellation policy in just a minute.
So when Walker asked for a refund, here’s the response she received:
Thank you for contacting Marriott Vacation Club. We hope this email finds you happy and healthy.
We are so sorry to hear of the flight delays and unforeseen problems getting on your vacation, the cancellation policy is 24 hours before arrival and nothing can be done in canceling the reservation. Marriott is very diligent in offering and providing Travel Insurance, if you have purchased this insurance follow instructions to make a claim on this reservation.
(Ah, the old travel insurance sales pitch. Where have we heard that before?)
But aren’t there exceptions for circumstances beyond your control, like a pandemic? Yes, but even during the pandemic, Marriott only loosened its refund rules a little The hotel chain allowed guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with prepaid rates that are typically more restrictive, to get a refund up to 24 hours before arrival.
Walker didn’t find out about her flight cancellation until she was within the 24-hour window. But she still had an ace up her sleeve.
Is this Marriott Vacation Club cancellation an extraordinary circumstance?
Walker contended that her Marriott Vacation Club cancellation was an extraordinary circumstance.
She had no control over the weather, which caused a massive meltdown of Southwest’s operation. Nor did she have any way of influencing the airline’s decision not to upgrade its IT systems — a critical factor in the operational fiasco.
Companies like Marriott are known to make exceptions for extraordinary circumstances. For example, if you have a prepaid rate and you die 24 hours before your check-in, the hotel will refund your money. (Well, technically, it would refund your next of kin.)
And there was something else.
When she made her reservation by phone, the Marriott representative did not mention the company’s cancellation policy. Then she received several emails with conflicting information.
“One said Marriott Vacation Club had a one-day advance cancellation policy,” she says. “Another said it required two days advance notice of a cancellation.”
Marriott’s disclosure had been inadequate. It had also provided confusing information to Walker. And having her flight canceled because of a bomb cyclone truly was an extraordinary circumstance.
Her case landed with a loud thud on my antique secretaire at the sprawling, glass-walled galactic headquarters of Elliott Advocacy.
I had to take it.
But first, I needed to clarify a few things about her club points.
Are Marriott Bonvoy and Marriott Vacation Club the same?
No, they are not. Marriott Vacation Club spun off from Marriott International more than a decade ago and became a publicly traded company under the new parent company, Marriott Vacations Worldwide. But Marriott retains a relationship with Marriott Vacation Club, allowing guests to redeem Vacation Club Points for stays at Marriott Vacation Club resorts and Marriott hotels.
Walker’s 3,500 Marriott Destination Points were different from 3,500 Marriott Bonvoy points. Marriott Vacation Club determines the value of its points based on each property, and assigns a point cost to each type of room or villa, which can vary by season. Owners then spend their points to occupy the rooms. In contrast, Bonvoy point values are determined at the corporate level by Marriott International.
But what about the cancellation policy?
What is the Marriott Vacation Club cancellation policy?
Marriott Vacation Club’s cancellation policy allows you to cancel your stay booked using your Vacation Club Points as long under certain conditions.
- If you cancel more than 60 days before your scheduled arrival date, you get your points back.
- If you cancel 1 to 60 days before your scheduled arrival date, you get the Vacation Club Points back, but Marriott Vacation Club only allows you to use your points for the next 60 days, after which they expire.
- If you cancel on your arrival date, you lose all your points.
You can cancel your stay by contacting Marriott Vacation Club directly at (407) 641-1801 Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday between 10 a.m and 5 p.m. Eastern Time.
The Marriott Vacation Club cancellation policy is fairly standard in the timeshare industry, so there’s nothing unique about being a Marriott Vacation Club member that would put you at a disadvantage.
Still, my advice about timeshare ownership remains unchanged. Buying a timeshare is almost always an unwise way to spend your vacation dollar, as I note in my complete guide to timeshares.
But what do you do if you’ve already joined the club?
How do you protect yourself from a Marriott Vacation Club cancellation?
How do you protect yourself if you’re a Marriott Vacation Club member and are spending points for your next vacation?
Cancel at least 24 hours before your arrival
If you can’t make it to the hotel on time, let Marriott Vacation Club know immediately — the sooner, the better. I realize this sounds like obvious advice, but you would be surprised by how many guests wait until the last minute to let their hotel know they can’t make it. Not a good idea.
Consider travel insurance
Travel insurance is not a bad idea. It could have covered Walker’s costs if she had to cancel her stay. Of course, Marriott Vacation Club would be happy to sell you one of its policies. So, of course, they will push travel insurance — and punish guests who fail to buy it. I would not call that a shining example of good customer service. By the way, always check independent travel insurance companies before buying any kind of travel protection to ensure you’re getting the best coverage. Here’s my guide to buying travel insurance.
Ask about other protection
As I was reviewing the paper trail between Walker and Marriott Vacation Club, I stumbled upon a thread that mentioned the possibility of filing a claim with Travelex. It turns out Marriott Vacation Club offers a $199 annual policy. Unfortunately, the policy wouldn’t have covered Walker’s cancellation. But it’s interesting to know that she had that option. In other words, you may have insurance you didn’t even know about.
Will Marriott Vacation Club refund the points or not?
I contacted Marriott Vacation Club on Walker’s behalf. I thought she had a reasonably solid case, considering the circumstances of her cancellation and how Marriott Vacation Club handled its disclosures.
I carefully presented the facts to Marriott and asked it to reconsider her request.
Shortly after that, Walker received a call from Marriott Vacation Club.
David, a Marriott Vacation Club manager, explained the cancellation policy again and said that if the company made an exception for her, it would have to make an exception for everyone with a special circumstance.
Walker said that sounded like a good idea. After all, Southwest Airlines had refunded her tickets, apologized and given her 12,000 points after her flight disruption. And she wasn’t asking for anything other than to be able to use her points on a future date.
“David said Marriott Vacation Club was very profit-oriented,” she says. “If they did that, the profitability of the impacted properties would result in higher maintenance fees to us, the Vacation Club members.”
Walker didn’t buy that. She says her Marriott Vacation Club maintenance fees have gone up every year, anyway.
“But basically,” she adds, “Marriott’s answer remained the same. The policy stands. They won’t do anything.”
This is probably going to cost Marriott Vacation Club more than 3,500 points
Walker says she’ll probably end her relationship with Marriott Vacation Club because it kept her points. She’s also telling anyone who will listen — including all of her friends who also are members of Marriott Vacation Club — about the lost points.
“I will not forget that Marriott did not help me,” she told me.
One thing seems certain. With the loss of her business and likely the business of her friends who are Marriott customers, Marriott Vacation Club will pay dearly for failing to help a member who happened to be stuck in a winter storm.
Should Marriott Vacation Club have refunded Walker’s points as goodwill gesture? Or was it correct to enforce its rules? Scroll down to leave your comment.