Why won’t Starwood let me change my reservation ?

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By Christopher Elliott

Carol Pratt is stuck with three pre-paid nights at a Starwood Hotel. Even though she wants to move the reservation by a few days, the hotel won’t let her without losing all of her money. What’s going on?

Question

I made a pre-paid reservation at the W New York – Downtown. The rate description said it was non-refundable and a penalty would apply for changes. When I tried to change it to a few days later, I was told that the reservation was actually non-changeable, and that should I cancel it, I would lose the money and need to book three new nights.

I contacted the W hotel’s central line and pointed out that the rate description for non-refundable rates stated they were non-refundable and non-changeable. This isn’t the same as ‘a penalty for changes,’ the language used in the rate’s terms I booked.

I was essentially told that the penalty was 100 percent of the pre-paid room rate. I kept the original reservation and made a new one for the extra two nights. This proved cheaper than canceling and rebooking.

I e-mailed customer service asking for a review. I had been expecting to pay a higher daily rate and to pay some kind of penalty fee. But I received a prompt reply reiterating the first reservation agent’s statements. I was told that pre-paid rates are “non-cancellable, non-changeable and non-refundable” and that a penalty is charged for cancelling, as well as that changes cannot be made.

The bottom line is that I am now paying over $1,700 for 5 nights when, at most, I believe I should be paying $1,262 for three, at a higher daily rate, plus a reasonable penalty fee. I think Starwood’s reply does not address the issue and that a “known glitch” on the rate description does not excuse them from from adhering to the language on both their website and their confirmation e-mail. Am I off base here? – Carol Pratt, Washington

Answer

You are not off base at all. If anything, Starwood is off base. The way I see it, you’re not canceling or changing your reservation, because you still intend to stay at the hotel on some of the days you had originally intended to be there.

The W Hotel, which is owned by Starwood, appears to be interpreting its own rules in a way that is most advantageous to the company. It is saying: If you make any change to this reservation, you lose everything, even if you intend to stay in the room for part of the original booking.

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I’ve reviewed the correspondence between you and Starwood, and the interesting thing is, it knows it was wrong. “The email explains that the discrepancy in the phrasing of the cancellation policy is a known glitch. “Our Web Team is working as fast as possible to get this corrected.” (This case was resolved several months ago, and the problem is now fixed.)

You took your case to the highest level you could, but were still getting form responses. By the way, I list all the higher-ups on my consumer advocacy site. Your next stop would have been a credit card dispute, which is something I recommend only as a last resort. Calling me was the right move. (Here’s our ultimate guide on winning a credit card dispute.)

My advocacy team and I contacted Starwood on your behalf. The company contacted you and recommended reaching out to the hotel directly before escalating concerns to corporate in the future. That’s good advice.

The W altered your reservation to three nights, waiving the penalty fee, exceeding your request.

Did the W handle this complaint correctly?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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