Am I owed a refund for this disastrous stay at the Courtyard?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Diane McMillian checked into the Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia, S.C., she’d endured ten sleepless nights helping victims of the South Carolina floods as a disaster relief inspector.

Little did she know she was about to get a front row seat to a disaster of a different kind.

This is the weekly feature where I ask you if I should get involved in a case. Today, McMillian needs to know if her experience at the Courtyard was so awful that she deserves a full refund — and also, if I can help her get it.

Let’s set the scene. It’s three hours after her check-in, and McMillian is getting ready to take a shower. She’s taken off her clothes when …

“Two young guys open my door and walk in, seeing me naked,” she says. “As they back out of the room apologizing, I call the front desk. They say someone is coming upstairs. No one ever came.”

It turns out the young men were members of a swim team who were in Columbia for a competition. McMillian went downstairs to complain. But instead of an apology, an employee told her she’d have to vacate her room.

“She said I was supposed to be in room 810 and room 804 belongs to other people,” she recalls. “I showed her my key which clearly had 804 written on it. She continued to tell me that I had to get out of the room because they needed it.”

(Note: Magnetic key cards don’t normally have room numbers on them. I’m sure she meant to say that her key was coded for room 804.)

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“I reminded her that I had unpacked, lain in the bed and I am sure that no one else wants to just move into a used room,” she says.

McMillian reminded the Courtyard employee that she was a Marriott Rewards member and that she had been working with flood victims. A swim team member standing near the desk intervened and said he would be happy to accept room 810. So she got to stay in room 804.

Problem solved? Not quite

“At 8:05 a.m., I had another intrusion,” she says. “The maid knocked twice very lightly. I woke up, not sure if I was dreaming or if it was across the hall. Lo and behold, the door opened with the maid trying to get in to clean my room.”

She went downstairs to complain, but an assistant manager “brushed me off,” she says. (Related: How to fix your own consumer problem.)

“I expect either a refund or enough points to get a complimentary stay,” she says. “I have gotten neither.”

So, should we help McMillian get a refund or enough points for a “free” stay?

The real question is: Did Marriott offer her something it didn’t deliver? And if so, what’s the remedy?

Its own business conduct guide addresses a situation like this:

Customers should be given what is promised and at the promised price. Misrepresentations about Marriott’s products and services may lead to costly legal action. A false claim, a small untruth, or even a perception of dishonesty can jeopardize the loyalty and satisfaction of our customers.

McMillian was promised room 804 and an incredibly restorative sleep experience. She got one, but not the other.

And yet, as I read her side of the story, I can’t help but think that there may be another side to this story that might make Marriott look less like the villain. Also, she got a room. The unwanted 8 a.m. wake-up call was on the house.

Should I take Diane McMillian's case?

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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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