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).
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.
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.