When Life Gives You a Force Majeure Event, Earn Stay Credit

This was supposed to be my first weekend at home in over a month, and a 10-day stretch without any travel. Weather had somewhat different plans for me.

Last night around 10:45pm, I lost power. A major, brief storm took down power for millions of households on top of 100 degree heat.

I went to bed, woke up in the morning around 6:30am, and still had no power. An hour later I started planning.

I had no internet at home, but my Verizon MiFI was functioning (of course it has limited battery life, and I had no power to recharge it). Power was out at my offices.

My phone was fully charged, and I rang up Hyatt — the nearby Arlington and Crystal City properties had no power.

I rang up Starwood, there was a 15 minute wait time to speak with an agent. Local landlines were down, we couldn’t get responses from some hotels to figure out whether they had power or not. The closest hotels, Westin Arlington and Le Meridien Arlington, were without power. The Sheraton Crystal City was down. Even the Westins in Reston and near Dulles were non-responsive.

The best we could find that were open were the Element Dulles and the Westin Washington City Center (the old Vista hotel where DC’s then-mayor Marion Barry was videotaped smoking crack with a prostitute). The Westin in Georgetown was fully booked.

I didn’t really want to go into the District, I’ve found power to be less reliable and it takes longer to come back online. My worry that additional power outrages would flow through the system even with the storm passed wasn’t entirely unfounded, watching my local power company’s outage summary, most of the area was without power and just as that number fell a bit it would bounce back up by a few thousand as time passed.

I called back to Hyatt and while they thought that the Hyatt Reston might be without power (with landlines out this was difficult to confirm for certain), they had just managed to get through to the Hyatt Fair Lakes in Fairfax.

The property had power. I could see online that they had a AAA Breakfast rate available for $71. Decision time. At that price point I made two decisions — to book two nights rather than just one, thinking that as the morning wore on hotels would be selling out and that with the bulk of the region without power it could well be even longer than that before my own power was restored; and to also book a day rate prior to the start of that two night stay for an extra $50.

Shortly afterward I arrived at the Fair Lakes Hyatt and found that they did indeed have power and air conditioning. They were refrigerated and fully staffed. So they had food.

They didn’t have any internet, their reservation systems were down. They told me they were sold out (I was glad I booked when I did, and clearly they weren’t actively managing their inventory if they offered up nearly last room availability at the $71 price point).

The front desk clerk was telling folks they could not offer early check-in. Many were angry. I did have a day rate, I had a 10am check-in and it was after that time. Their system wouldn’t show open rooms or clean rooms, they couldn’t even pull up my reservation.

I gave them my confirmation number, I told them my room rate. They found a room, sent someone up to check that it was empty and clean, and let me in. They couldn’t create any keys.

But the room was comfortable and clean. I could recharge my devices. I could even watch television. I plugged in my Verizon MiFi, I now had internet (internet came back after just a couple of hours).

I called down for room service. It took quite awhile for someone in room service to answer. It took awhile for someone at the front desk to answer in order to give me the internet password (free for Diamond members) once that came back online.

Guest demands were extraordinary. And the hotel staff performed marvelously under pressure. They were ever pleasant and helpful. They did what they could with hobbled systems. Plenty of people were demanding to check in and I never once even heard them say, “Sorry, check-in time isn’t until 3pm.” They just needed folks to have patience when they wanted rooms at noon.

The room was not >exceptionally large for a standard guest room, but it was arranged as a junior suite with a piece of furniture separating the living area from the bedroom and a swiveling television in order to share it between both rooms.

The bathroom was fairly standard, a curved shower curtain rod for more room in the shower, but the light in the bathroom didn’t really illuminate the shower well.

These are the details I normally share in a review. I couldn’t have cared less. I had power and air conditioning! I had internet! For $71. I was even earning stay credit, sure I’m more than halfway towards requalifying for Hyatt Diamond status but this would still be of help.

The room service concept here is that you can do “to go” or “delivery” from the hotel’s “NoVa Market”.

I certainly think myself fortunate for being in a position to pick up and head to a hotel, but I realized as others in my neighborhood were fretting where to go and what to do that for many folks similarly-situated it doesn’t even occur, because hotels aren’t a part of ‘normal life’ and heading to a local hotel isn’t the first place their mind would go. Maybe power will come back! Indeed, maybe it would. But with temperatures headed north of 100, and with a desire to salvage some productivity for my weekend, it was an easy decision and one I was glad I made early while rooms were still available.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hi Gary, dinner plans? I’m close by; join me and girlfriend if you are free. Write me back at this email. Thanks,

  2. I live in the hampton roads area and I just happened to find the only hotel in the area with a generator and that is always helpful to know in the event of these types of events as well.

  3. Great planning on your part!! Getting stay credit is icing on the cake.

    We live in Southern Calif (dry heat). The power was out for an extended time and we took a road trip to coastal Orange County. (not very far from our house). The temps were north of 100 (only up that high on occasion) and we have no AC in my wife’s 1950’s built house.

    My wife liked the road trip. We went sightseeing, out to eat, shopping, etc. We confirmed that our house had power and many hours later, we returned to our house with power restored.

    Glad you were able to get some work done in reasonable comfort.

  4. .
    Yeah, we are under one of those large red 2500+ dots. I was looking around at local (and even Baltimore) hotels with the thought of finding my son a pool, but did not find much availability on my phone. Went to an early dinner (5:00) at TGI Fridays assuming it would be packed, it was, and just got back to find our power back on. Hooray! Probably going to sleep downstairs where it is cooler tonight, 81 upstairs. Hoping the fridges/freezer kept things cool, probably OK for 20 hours. I hope. Enjoy the hotel!
    .
    Ike

  5. You should submit it to your homeowners insurance for reimbursement. You could not cook, no lights, a/c and no hot water. You should have a zero deductable for alternate lodging since you have to “evacuate” an uninhabitable structure.

  6. Crystal City – what bleak soulless places. Spent nearly a month there all in all. dispair!

  7. @Gary

    Haha. Two weeks ago, I booked to rooms for this Saturday night at the Country Inn and Suites IAD. Living in Reston, this was a mattress run for the promotion Radisson is running for the BOGO.

    So, when my power went out last night (slept at the apartment) and was still out this morning, I didn’t have to scramble. They are full tonight, and are turning away many walk ins.

    The only question for me is whether I keep the room for Sunday night (they want to know by checkout) at a good rate, or whether I use cash or points for a Hyatt. I’d rather have Hyatt points than Carlson points… Starwood is a decent option, but I’d rather not pay for internet.

  8. Are we really in a place as a society that we need to have internet in order to have a “productive” weekend? A productive weekend to me is mowing my lawn, changing the oil in my car, going to the gym, or taking my wife out to dinner. Sure, I’ll go online to catch up on the news or read sports scores, but the internet is about the last word I would associate with weekend productivity.

  9. wonder how many people from vulnerable populations died because of the power went off. People with critical illnesses, the very old living alone, etc are often the first to die in such conditions. Sad how resources are so poorly allocated. Oh well, I guess is shows how the advocates of Social Darwinism will always have room service.

  10. I love this blog and it is a daily read for me…but, it is amazing how long your posts are to say so little.

    1) Power out, 2) we stayed in a hotel, 3) we booked one day rate plus to additional days.

    Done. 🙂

  11. @Andrew – there’s not much difference for me between weekend and weekday productivity, which you might consider sad

  12. Our power went out 10:30pm on Friday night in F’burg. I booked a hotel shortly after midnight for Saturday night, just in case. I still needed to stay at a Country Inn for the BOGO promo, so booked a room at one nearby. Thankfully they had power when I checked in around 4pm (they said it came back on around noon). They were fully booked and turning people away, so I was grateful of my foresight to book when I did. They upgraded me to a suite and I was able to help some friends still without power by providing them a place to cool off and shower for a few hours as well. Like you said, the thought of staying in a hotel never even crossed their minds. Power at home came on this morning around 5am, apparently. Hope yours (and everyone else’s) is back on soon.

  13. @ Gary, no, I understand you have your award consulting business and I’m sure that takes up weekend time…it’s just more a comment to society in general, and how an ever increasing ability to access the internet whenever and wherever has started to really blur the lines between work time and personal/family time, in my opinion. I have colleagues who send work emails on the weekend, and even if I happen to read them on my blackberry on a Saturday, for example, I never respond until Monday morning. I work enough M-F, and keeping some semblance of a work-life balance by keeping my weekends focused on other things is sacrosanct to me.

  14. Had the same problem…but was able to stay at the Crystal City Hyatt no problem…they said they never lost power. But you got the better rate deal in the end.

  15. Thanks for the heads up! I spent last night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Courthouse at $110 MVP rate, after the Hyatt, Starwood and Club Carlson sites all showed no avail; I should have been as smart as you and called rather than assuming they were full.

    Booked the Hyatt Fair Lakes for tonight at $71 (which is surprising for a Sunday night – usually the business travel crew is back), but hoping Dominion finally gets their act together and I don’t need it!

  16. I’m constantly surprised at the number of these big name hotels in the “first world” that do not even have a single backup generator. In Africa, most hotels will have AT LEAST two generators capable of powering the entire property (to allow one to be shut down for maintenance in case of multi-day power outages). They also store at least a week of water in their own tanks and have backup satellite internet systems in case of ISP failures. And that’s the lower end ones!

  17. Nice save. As for me, I had booked a $80 rate at the Radisson at Reagan for my 50000 points. The place was bedlam. And my neighbors who sweltered without power in Arlington will never tease me about matress running again.

  18. Finally have power tonight. May go dark again tomorrow. Glad you find a hotel. All of my local hotels are full.

  19. Stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City. Was able to snag a couple of nights via phone at the weekend rate before they pulled it. Moved to the Embassy Suites in DC during the week. Plenty of rooms if people need.

  20. For “Oh No”:

    Vulnerable populations have been well cared for during this massive outage.

    Local governments opened free “cooling centers” with A/C and water. Power companies know where the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are and prioritise them for early power restoration, and provide on-site temporary generators in some cases where restoration takes a long time.

    The one assisted-living facility unknown to Dominion reached out to local media and local government, at which point they were added to the priority list.

    News reports from all sources say that no deaths in “vulnerable populations” occurred. There were a total of 5 deaths as of July 4th — for example someone stepping on a live power line.

    The power also caused a massive 911 outage on the Virginia side. This led to delayed Rescue response in a few cases, but even there the victims made it to the ER for treatment.

  21. A few years late to the party on this one but saw an article that made me question your statement that “clearly they weren’t actively managing their inventory if they offered up nearly last room availability at the $71 price point.”

    An Econolodge in NJ just settled a lawsuit that they were “price gouging” during Sandy by raising rates: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/atlantic_county_hotel_accused_of_sandy_price_gouging_to_pay_nearly_65k_to_settle_allegations.html

    Maybe these guys just figured that under a force majeure event, it’s better to lose some revenue than to be accused of raising rates.

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