Compensation when a travel provider does something wrong is always a touchy subject. While managers may have some guidelines about what they can or can’t do, there is rarely an absolute answer. Companies have tried to create guidelines, such as the Sheraton Promise from last decade*, but it’s simply impossible to get any sort of consistency over tens of thousands of employees, regardless of how well laid-out the plan is.
Those policies (or lack thereof) leave consumers in the odd position of having to negotiate compensation. It’s like buying a car whose value is unknown. If you get in this situation, it’s important to have a list of what went wrong, how it affected you and to know what the company’s points are worth. Don’t worry about the small stuff. A stain on the carpet is not a big deal. A lack of hot water is. All of this is particularly important if you are not a fan of negotiations (which I am not).
Sometimes, you’ll get lucky. For example, two months ago, we were on an overbooked flight to Orlando. This was about three days after the United passenger had been dragged off the plane and the gate agent looked panicked that the situation would get out of control. We asked her how much she was offering, she asked how much we wanted, and we settled on a $1,200 American Express gift card for a flight that got in a few hours later.
The typical compensation, though, is generally a reflection of how much you are willing to put into it. For a recent stay in Paris at the Hilton Paris Opera, I ended up without internet access for three days and elevators for two. This was a business trip, so the internet access was key. After the first night, the hotel apologized and, after some prompting, offered 3,000 points. That’s worth about $12, but I didn’t feel like arguing at the time. It became more of an issue when I still didn’t have access on the second night. I called again, they told me there was a hotel outage, etc. The offer moved up to 10,000 points, worth about $40.
The third night without a connection is what really made me stubborn about compensation. I ended up writing to the hotel and explaining that, in a business property, working internet should be a given. I asked for points equivalent to one night’s stay. They wrote back and offered 40,000, just under a half night’s stay. Since I had given up any bargaining position by not asking for more when I was at the hotel, I took the 40,000. Fortunately, they entered the 3,000 and 10,000 point deals separately, so I ended up with 53,000 points. Close enough.
One More Thing…
Hotel customers have one potential bargaining chip that many people don’t know about: the franchisee owner. The average hotel is not owned by the company whose flag it flies. For instance, Marriott owns almost none of the hotels that carry its brand name. Rather, they are owned by individual franchisees, who pay Marriott a fee for use of their name, a fee to manage the hotel, etc. Built into most franchise contracts is an agreement that the company has the right to fine the franchisee for complaints to corporate headquarters. Enough complaints and the company can de-flag (take away its brand name) from a property. That’s extremely rare, but it has happened.
My advice is to make the discussion a partnership with management. Instead of saying “Give me XXX or I’ll call corporate (which I’ve seen done, generally unsuccessfully),” simply say, “Look, I’d rather figure out the appropriate compensation to make the situation right so we can just keep it between us.” You’re more likely to walk away happy and get a guarantee that the next time you stay at the property, they’ll treat you right.
*Beginner’s Hint: Sheraton has always been the bete noir of the Starwood system. The company has never quite decided what it wants the brand to represent, and the franchisees who actually own the properties control most of the power. When choosing between a Westin and a Sheraton in the same city, I will almost always choose the Westin.
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