Marriott Behaving Very Badly in its Handling of Denver Mistake Rate

Airlines Get the Focus of Consumer Protection

People hate airlines, which means it’s good politics to attack airlines. The Department of Transportation, which regulates airlines, has spent a lot of time over the past six years micromanaging how airlines display their pricing and how they display ancillary fees.

There’s even discussion of regulating how flights can be displayed in a search, and imposing mandatory disclosures when an airline isn’t included in search results (such as because that airline won’t pay the fees necessary to be part of the distribution channel).

The DOT implemented rules that required airlines to honor mistake fares, didn’t like the results, and so they essentially ignore those rules.

Hotels Have Been Able to Act Deceptively and Disingenuously With Impunity

There’s a ton of hand wringing and teeth gnashing over airlines, and strangely little over hotels. After all, what is a possibly more dishonest practice than resort fees? Those are mandatory charges not included in the rate displayed at time of booking, potentially buried in fine print and even subject to change between the time a reservation is made and the time of stay. Silence.

Mistake Fares Shouldn’t Have to Be Honored, If Handled Reasonably

I actually sided with United in the recent Danish kroner fare debacle, DOT rules notwithstanding. I am in favor of booking rates that may be mistakes (if an airline wants to send some passengers across the pond in premium cabins for peanuts, I would like to be one of those passengers). But I am not in favor of requiring that fares are honored as long as reasonable decisions are made — such as cancellations coming within 24 hours of booking.

Marriott’s Cancellation of Brown Palace, Denver Bookings Is Terribly Unreasonable

Let’s take a look at Marriott’s actions in the case of the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver $41 rate.

After a month or even longer in some cases they reached out to cancel reservations.

As I mentioned we recently discovered that human error resulted in a number of reservations being made at the hotel for an incorrect rate. Your reservation was one of the affected reservations.

The loyalty of our customers who have been impacted by this error is important to us, and I want to assist you with making an adjustment to your reservation that will address this situation amicably or we can find alternate Marriott hotels in the area.

Your reservation was at $40 per night for ___ nights. The proper rate for the room you reserved is $384 per night. We are unable to honor your reservation at the initial rate reserved; however, as a gesture of good will, I offered you a rate of $209 per night. I have modified the rates on the affected reservation and you will receive an email confirmation reflecting the new corrected rate.

I understand your disappointment, and I will share the details of your experience with the leadership team of the hotel as we ensure this error is not repeated.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Best Regards,

Reasonable Lines Need to Be Drawn

There are obvious mistakes and non-obvious mistakes. There are deep discount sales that can look quite similar. A hotel with a ‘normal’ $250 rate may discount on Priceline for $125. Is a $125 rate there a mistake? Should a customer unfamiliar with the property, but who thinks it looks good for the price, be able to rely on the price?

These are all complicated questions, addressed in the common law, and debated for a very long time.

I do think though that any scenario where a price of this sort isn’t honored has to be one that’s handled expeditiously, and that after a month passes there’s a reasonable assumption that one can rely on the booking that’s been made. That’s why I believe Marriott is acting badly here.

Marriott’s position, based on several conversations, seems to be that:

  • Their terms allow them to cancel any booking at any time if they claim they offered the price in error.
  • There’s no way a consumer can know without asking Marriott whether or not a rate is an error. (It’s not clear Marriott would allow a consumer to rely on statements from a customer service agent if you did call, either.)

It sounds like they’ve spent too much time partnering with airlines.

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 InsideFlyer.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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Comments

  1. Agreed on resort fees. So much anger at airlines for truly optional fees, but mandatory resort fees somehow get a pass. If this isn’t illegal, I clearly don’t understand what fraud is. There is no reason for the fee other that trying to trick you. In Vegas, resort fees can be more than the price of the room. How should it be fixed? I hate class actions, but I’m inclined to join one on this, but it also seems like precedent suggests it would take an act of congress.

  2. Received two e-mails about this. When I turned down the initial offer (listed in your post) and said that I booked a non-refundable airfare (true), I was given a list of other hotels in the area with a list of their current rates. I was told, “Marriott has worked carefully with all customers to offer an equitable solution and is unable to offer additional compensation or adjustments at this time.” Apparently, changing the rate I booked a month after the fact that doesn’t count as an adjustment. Marriott claims the following from their terms of use:

    “10. Marriott Information may contain technical inaccuracies and typographical errors, including but not limited to inaccuracies relating to pricing or availability applicable to your transaction. Neither Marriott nor Ritz-Carlton assume responsibility or liability for any such inaccuracies, errors or omissions, and shall have no obligation to honor reservations or information affected by such inaccuracies. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton reserve the right to make changes, corrections, cancellations and/or improvements to Marriott Information, and to the products and programs described in such information, at any time without notice, including after confirmation of a transaction.”

    I don’t mind a rate being cancelled within a couple days of my booking. That’s understandable. But a month afterwards? No way. What’s to say that if I book a room now at $119 in Minneapolis for January and, if the Vikings make the NFL playoffs and play at home, Marriott won’t e-mail me and say that the rate was now $379 because they can get other people to book at that rate? That’s insane and there’s no way it would hold up to legal scrutiny.

  3. Just send Marriott a letter stating “I have deemed my relationship with your company unsatisfactory” and close your MHG account.

  4. I’m not as sympathetic to the people who booked the $40 nights at the Brown Palace, but I agree whole heartedly when it comes to resort fees (which have now even started popping up in non-casino urban locations! Take a look at Le Parker Meridien in NYC). Frankly, hotels, like airlines, should be required to list their rates as all inclusive prices, including all taxes, surcharges and fees.

  5. The easy question is the following: If the hotels can’t figure out how to tell their systems what an error rate is, and prevent them from selling at below a certain rate, HOW can they expect CUSTOMERS to do so?

  6. Yeah, there’s obviously a lapse in some consumer protections here.

    I think it was only a matter of minutes after you posted this deal that it was pulled. So somebody figured out quite quickly that they were offering a rate that they didn’t want to offer.

    Yet, as you mention, it took several weeks for them to contact their customers (including me) who had reservations.

    That’s obviously ridiculous — especially when it comes to travel. Compare their performance to UA’s where, in the recent Denmark incident, an email explaining UA’s cancellation was set the same day as the reservations were made.

    I’m not sure who has jurisdiction over this (would it be state by state?), but it would seem like a resasonable rule would require notification of mistake and dishonorment within 7 days. If the reservation was made for a stay within a few weeks, obviously that cancellation window should be significantly smaller.

  7. Oh, and that resort fee thing has also bothered me for years. It’s obviously worst on priceline’s “name your own price” reservations where the hotel is allowed to then charge you a resort fee that you had no way of knowing when you booked the room! This practice also encourages competing hotels to start charging resort fees — because you can undercut the competition (taking winning bids at, say, $75 when your resort-fee-free competitors want $85) and then add the surcharge. Given how many insanely frivolous class action lawsuits there have been, I’m amazed that nobody to my knowledge has sued over this insanity.

  8. @iahphx, Priceline’s Resort Fee issue could be solved extremely easily, but they don’t want to do it. Just include any resort fee in the price of the property.

    Example: I bid $100 for a hotel. Assuming it is a winning bid at a hotel with a $15 resort fee, they could easily come back with “Congratulations! Hotel X has accepted your $100 bid ($85 room rate plus $15 resort fee)!”

  9. I booked an NYC hotel for May at $134. Now the rate is up to $295. What’s to keep the hotel from just cancelling my reservation and letting someone else rebook it? But, I’m a diamond guest (lol)?

  10. Two things: First, on mistake fares, if the price charged is not obviously a mistake (like was the case with the UAL Kroner kaper), I think the merchant ought to be bound by it. $41 for the Brown Palace – especially where Mariott hasn’t really explained what the mistake was like, perhaps, leaving off a digit – is a possible but unlikely rate. Second, I’m all for mandatory all inclusive pricing with one exception – taxes. Listing tax out separately acts as a check against government raising taxes. Governments would love to hide just how high taxes are in the overall rate.

  11. @Ben — Right, the obviously “fair” thing for Priceline to do (for both hotels AND consumers) is to include mandatory resort fees in your bid price. Kind of mind-boggling — both from a “fairness” and legal perspective — that they don’t.

  12. @Brian I don’t know the Brown Palace from any other hotel in Denver. As a Marriott customer, I looked for the best deal they offered. Is it my duty to do research as to the regular price to make sure its not a mistake?

  13. I despise “resort fees”, which are really just lying about the prices to get an edge at booking sites. It forces honest properties to play along or get beaten by the scammers. If only people would just say no. Those Las Vegas properties have lots of rooms to fill. On the Denver case, I agree with the rest – bad faith by Marriott to wait so long to react. Make a mistake, fix it quickly, OK.

  14. Resort fees have morphed into what they are now. Originally, they were at beach resorts, and were OPTIONAL package deals. If you wanted watercraft and bottled water and use of the gym, etc., you could get a package for a $15 daily “resort fee.” Then, along came internet, and they decided to roll that in and make the resort fee mandatory, whether you want anything in it or not. Most hotels still list what it’s for, but that’s a crock, b/c if you “opt out” of those items, you still have to pay it. AND taxes on the resort fee, too. What a scam it’s become.

  15. Resort fees are fine at RESORT hotels and if I have a choice to opt out.

    Vegas “Resort Fees” absolutely piss me off.
    I don’t need a newspaper, I have a phone.
    I don’t need wifi, I have a phone.
    I don’t need free local calls, I have a phone.
    I don’t need a pool or a gym (I’m here to gamble and drink, not sit by a pool in 135 degree heat).

    What are these resort fees for again? Oh wait…

  16. If the weather ain’t crappy, then a resort fee is tolerable, IMHO. However, I noticed that even motels a few miles away from Atlantic City want a daily resort fee greater than the room rate. This is in the winter and is anyone swimming in the outdoor pool or sunbathing.

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