The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I’ve been ‘walked’ to a motel

Question: I made a reservation at a Fairfield Inn in Philadelphia earlier this year. I prepaid for two nights and received a confirmation.

The day before I left — six months after I made the reservation — I got an email from a manager at the Fairfield, saying that they were moving us to another hotel due to a “situation beyond our control.” It turns out there was a convention in town, and my room had been given to a platinum customer.

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Fairfield promised to move me to a hotel with the same amenities. I was further told that a Fairfield Inn could cancel confirmed reservations any time in order to book platinum customers.

The motel they moved us to was inferior by any standards. No complimentary breakfast, no airport shuttle (we nearly missed our outgoing flight), farther from the airport, smell of paint as they were under construction, and no working phones in the room.

I have written to Marriott, which owns Fairfield Inn, and the Pennsylvania attorney general, as well as the manager of the property. I have only received an email thanking me for writing them.

I would like a refund of our stay at the hotel. Can you help? — Karen Johnson, Gering, Neb.

Answer: You were “walked” to another hotel, which is a fairly common practice in the hotel industry. Hotels sometimes accept more reservations than they can accommodate, anticipating that some guests will cancel. But on a busy weekend or holiday, when everyone shows up, a property has to turn guests away.

It makes sense for a hotel to honor the reservations for its best customers, the platinum-level elites — at least from a business perspective. These are, after all, the hotel’s best guests. Telling you that you were being bumped in favor of a frequent guest, even if it was true, was unhelpful.

When you’re “walked” you should be sent to a comparable hotel and you shouldn’t have to pay any more than the rate to which you agreed. Fairfield shouldn’t have made you stay at an inferior motel, nor should it have responded to your written request for a refund with a form letter.

The real question here is: Do you deserve a refund for two nights at the motel?

Here’s the minimum you should have received: First, a prompt apology for having “walked” you to a different hotel. And second, an adjustment of your room rate to compensate you for the accommodations that didn’t meet Fairfield’s standards, and yours.

I’m surprised that you got the silent treatment. Marriott is usually great at responding to customer complaints. You can also try appealing to someone higher up at Fairfield through the customer service wiki On Your Side.

I contacted Marriott on your behalf. A representative called you and offered you a full refund for both nights.

43 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I’ve been ‘walked’ to a motel

  1. Given the circumstances, Johnson should have received a refund. I’m surprised and disappointed to hear that this involved Marriott. As you say, they generally do the right thing.

    I am curious, how did Johnson know that her room was being confiscated and given to a “Platinum” member? I’m not doubting it, but the employee that told her that either lacked common sense or was seriously disgruntled.

    1. While it was probably against hotel policy to disclose the reason, I think it’s great that the hotel revealed it. If Marriott thinks it makes sense to bump paying customers for last-minute elite travelers – and I’m not slamming them for it; they’re certainly not the only ones to do it – then they owe it to their customers to be upfront about that policy. Anything else would be shady, IMHO.

  2. Most hotels will comp you the first night regardless of your status.  The question is what could the OP have done to prevent, or at least minimize, the chances of being walked.

    My solution is to always join the loyalty program for any property that I am staying at.  Even if I have no intention of ever staying there again.  All things being equal, a loyalty program member is less likely to be walked than  a non-loyalty program member.

    1. Yes, in my experience also, reimbursement for the first night is the widespread industry norm, including for Marriott.  I’ve been walked and have seen colleagues walked several times and although we usually weren’t given advance notice before arrival like the OP, we always received a full refund for the first night.  Regardless of whether the stay was prepaid (e.g. through an opaque website) or not.

      1. Yes, but the issue isn’t the status of the bumper, but rather the status of the bumpee(is that a real word?).  The point is that if the OP has no status, she is the one likely to get bumped.  At least if she is a member of the program she will stand ahead of those who don’t even have a membership in the program.

        In bumping order

        non-status Members
        Low level Elite Status members
        High level Elite Status members

  3. I’m disappointed Marriott didn’t respond to the OP, either. Being walked to a clearly inferior property is pretty insulting. I’m glad the OP received a refund in this case.

    Though I’m normally the snarky one, I gotta say, this guy did nothing wrong and this is a good resolution.


  4. You know what would help to end these overbooking and ‘walking’ policies? If the hotel was forced to give a refund on any night where they’ve thrown you out of the hotel. Because that’s what they’re doing when they ‘walk’ you to somewhere you didn’t intend to stay.

    1. The one and only time my husband and I were walked ended up being an upgrade for us.  I even took a picture of our new room for our photo album – it was a President’s Suite or something like that. 

        1. Agreed, but if I’d gotten the refund, I wouldn’t have been able to purchase another motel/hotel room of equal value with the money, since none were available in the area.  I lucked out that time, I guess.

    2. The current policy generally works fine.  You get the first night free plus transportation to and from the new property.  Walking isn’t that bad a deal.

      1. The policy would be good IF the Fairfield followed it.  They walked a customer to an inferior hotel, breaking their own rules.  Apparently the policy needs to be more specific or their employees need more training.  

  5. I am surprised at how this was handled. Fairfield Inns are one of our family favorites and I’m a loyal Marriott customer.  Two years ago, in St. Louis, the Marriott had to walk me to the VERY nice Hyatt Regency. I got a beautiful room with a view of the arch, I paid NOTHING to either hotel for the one night I stayed there, AND they gave me a $20 for cab fare to the Hyatt (easily within walking distance) and then comped my dinner. It could have been a hassle but it was all handled very graciously. That is how I’d have expected them to treat the OP.  Walking is a reality of the biz, but when it’s done right, it needn’t displace or displease anyone.

  6. Marriott did the right thing by refunding his money. He did, however, know in advance that he wasn’t going to get this hotel and could have stayed another place. I’m not sure why you would show up, knowing in advance that they were going to put you someplace else. If they told me they were going to walk me someplace, I would ask where and check it out before walking in.

    1. Because it was prepaid. usually that means no refunds, and then the hotel says we are taking care of you. only after the guest found out in person what the new accomodations were, that there was a problem.

      in the end, the guest was given a refund. this should have happened immediately, however.

      1. Upon the credit card contract, when your reservation is guaranteed with a credit card, the hotel must transfer the customer to another equivalent hotel and the night is free. It’s always the standard for credit card guaranteed room.

    2. “He did, however, know in advance that he wasn’t going to get this hotel and could have stayed another place.”

      ONE day in advance. Yep, that’s a helluva lot of time to change plans that were months in the making.

  7. This is one reason that I usually book at the last minute unless I know it’s going to be hard to find a room (a holiday or a major convention). I reserve the room before I buy the air ticket, and if there are truly no rooms I don’t go. The farther ahead you book, the more likely it is that something will go wrong and the reservation will be lost.

    1. However, there are often better rates if you book in advance.  I generally wouldn’t worry about a reservation being lost.  Also – air travel is typically much more expensive if booked at the last minute.

      I have heard of some discounted last minute rates, including at a Fairfield Inn location.

      1. Getting a better rate at the last minute is not uncommon for me. I book a credit-card guaranteed, but not prepaid room, in advance. I check the price for my room as my stay approaches. If the rates have dropped, I book with the new rate and cancel the old reservation. Of course, this is with hotels that allow you to cancel one day before or same day of the reserved stay.

  8. Chris, it’s great you intervened and great that you got what the OP was seeking.  But to be honest, I feel it was more than I would have expected. They knew in advance they were going to be moved and could have assured that this was really an apples to apples switch.  Or, if they disliked the hotel they were walked to that much, they could have protested or left. Instead they stayed and got a refund on their stay.  That’s a real good deal IMO. 

  9. Good job. But, I think he deserve more than the refund. I would feel very offense by this double substandard treatment, bumped and silent response to the complain. I would never return to the chain of Hotels who treat me like that.

  10. I worked at a CY and the policy was to not charge, and we would pay for the room elsewhere. We could also give up to certain amount in cab fare if needed.

  11. Marriott isn’t what they use to be.  In today’s travel news, one hotel in Waikiki wants to stop having them as their management company.  I spent a day this week working on two issues with two different Marriott hotels for two different clients.  I won’t be booking a Marriott hotel of any sort from now on for clients.

    We have some companies that we book with that have a no walk policy in their contracts with various hotels.  Walking a guest makes for a very unpleasant situation as it rarely is a comparable property.  The only time I have had a client walked was in city where a large convention was taking place. 

    Glad Chris got the room rate refunded and I would be very careful of booking any Marriott chain hotel.

  12. I think in cases like this, a refund is clearly due. What would especially irk me if I were this customer is the fact that the room was prepaid. I understand that it’s the policy of pretty much all of the major chains to guarantee rooms on short notice to their most elite members. But it seems to me that in the hierarchy of customers, the first people to be bumped in a case like this should be non-loyalty club members with reservations that haven’t been paid for yet. Think about it…even after refunding the money, Marriott got free use of her money for six months. Okay, it’s not a large sum, but it’s the principle of the thing.

    Unless every other guest at the hotel was a platinum member, which I doubt (though if it was a convention full of frequent travelers, I suppose it’s technically possible), I say someone else who didn’t prepay should have gotten bumped.

    Marriott should have refunded her upfront regardless of the conditions of the hotel they ‘walked’ her to, simply for the inconvenience.

  13. I’m assuming the OP didn’t end up having to pay anything directly to the new hotel, right?

    At the least, they’re entitled to a full refund for one night (it’s very common to cover the first night in a walk) plus any extra expenses they had because of the move (transportation to the new hotel in some cases, the cost of transport to the airport if an amenity of the first but not 2nd hotel, the cost of breakfast, etc).  That may well add up to the cost of the 2nd night, so they would be entitled to a full refund of the prepaid amount.

    Overbooking and walking happens, but it really has to be the responsibility of the booked hotel to make sure the customer is kept who.e

  14. Oh, the comments are working again…  What was up with them being shut off or missing?

    Anyway, I feel this had the best resolution.  Sounds to me as though the second hotel was less than adequate.

    Marriott is usually one of the more responsive chains – if you’re a member.  My husband is a Platinum with Marriott and I use his account a great deal.  I had a problem with a stay and when I tried to resolve it, I was shuttled around and treated like an unwanted step-child.  I called him, he called Marriott and the problem was resolved before he could call me back.

    Careful with Marriott.  They love you if you’re a member…  Everyone else?  Not so much.

  15. Marriotts customer service like the airlines havegone down the toilet unless you are an elevated member.

    I contacted corporate recently in trying o work around something and they kept givingme the scripted run around.

    They just don’t get it…..

    As for her…why did they choose her to bump when they knew she prepaid her nights 6 months in advance. I would be livid with this. I would have challenged on why I ot hit.

    If she was there the same reason as he to attend a convention. I would have contacted the convention hall and coordinators of the event to and see this Fairfield lose business travelers.

    These are the details I need to know…and it’s also why you need to try and check into your hotel earlier over later because things can happen.

    In this if she tried to check n say around 5pm and the told her this I’d ask why me…why not someone else who say didn’t prepay and hadn’t shown up.

    If they are chip sing based on rate you paid then they are in a deep pr hole on this one.

  16. OP books hotel. Hotel ends up being overbooked and OP is “walked” to another property. Marriot drops the ball on processing complaint in a timely manner. Chris get involved. Marriott offers refund for the stay. (Which I would believe they would anyway.)

    The only other thing I would ask for is points for the stay in the Marriot Rewards program. (As others have noted, it is good practice to have membership, even if it is a basic level, which may prevent this from happening to you.)  Is the OP satisfied with the result?

  17. I don’t understand. What gives a hotel the right to tell you they won’t honor their reservation? Many hotels have the policy that if I don’t honor it they charge me. Is a reservation not a contract? If it’s not, why am I held accountable?

  18. I really don’t see why it took a consumer advocate’s involvement to get this complaint resolved. If Marriott had followed industry standards and comped the first night, I doubt there would have been a complaint in the first place.

    FWIW, the only time I was ever walked it was to another property in the same chain (Sol Melia) and the room was just as nice and only three blocks away. They asked me to return to the original property the next night, and gave me a really nice upgrade. That’s how these things should be handled.

  19. When you book a hotel room, you’ve entered into a contract with the hotel.  They provide you with a room, you provide them (usually in advance) with a (often nonrefundable) payment.

    I recommend first politely reminding a hotel that tries to “walk” you that they’d certainly charge you for at least one night’s stay if you broke your end of the promise, so either a nicer hotel or a partial refund is in order to accommodate their “oversold” status.

    If that strategy fails, I then recommend you threaten the hotel that you’ll sue for breach of contract in Small Claims Court.  And if that fails, I then recommend filing suit in your local Small Claims Court, which likely has jurisdiction over the case, regardless of where the hotel is, as that’s where you made your phone or internet reservation.

    I’ve only had to go as far as the “politely reminding” strategy, which ended up getting me a much better room at the same property.

  20. Chris,

    I have to take issue with your analysis of the situation.  I’m a bit taken aback that a consumer advocate would think that it somehow would have been acceptable for the Fairfield Inn to relocate a customer to an inferior property and merely provide an “adjustment” to the room rate.

    I don’t have an issue with “walking” hotel guests, in itself.  In this case, the Fairfield Inn made a voluntarily decision to walk the OP purely for its own economic self interest (making a platinum customer happy at the expense of an ordinary customer is likely to bring in greater future revenue).  However, in such a voluntary situation, the hotel has not excuse for not providing an equivalent or better hotel option for the OP.  This was not a situation outside of the hotel’s control or even a last minute mix-up.  This was voluntary.

    If I book a certain hotel, I do so not only because of price.  It’s the mixture between price, location, amenities, reviews, etc…

    Let’s say there are two hotels available when I book: A and B.

    Hotel A is $100 a night and has a better location, breakfast, etc…

    Hotel B is $50 a night and is in a worse location, no breakfast, etc…

    If I book Hotel A, it is because Hotel A is worth more than $50 to me (per night) than Hotel B. 

    If Hotel A walks me to Hotel B and offers me $50/night, I’m not being compensated enough.  Obviously the $50/night difference did not mean enough for me to book Hotel B in the first place.

    If the Fairfield Inn could not provide an equivalent product, then there is no reason the OP should have been required to pay anything.  Fairfield Inn offered a product and CHOSE not to provide it to the OP.  Offering an inferior product with an adjustment is simply a different deal than the one entered into.

    Whether or not Fairfield Inn was legally required to give a full refund, I would have thought a consumer advocate would advocate for the customer to receive treatment that a paying customer SHOULD be provided, not the legal minimum.

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