UPDATED: Courtyard by Marriott Clemson trying to cancel dozens of reservations nine months after customers booked them

[Editor’s Note: I spoke with the CEO of the hospitality group who owns the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson, read his comments here]

There’s just something special about college football; the pageantry, the emotions, epic wins, and crushing defeats.  We’re only 46 days away from a new college football season, which means lots of fans are going to hit the road to follow their alma mater or favorite teams across the country to cheer them on, a sign of home in an otherwise hostile environment.

Unfortunately, college football season also seems to bring out the absolute worst in the travel industry, and that is what this post is about today.  The Courtyard by Marriott Clemson is attempting to cancel dozens of reservations made by Texas A&M fans nine months after they were booked.

Full disclosure here: I’m an alumnus of Texas A&M.  To try and tame my inherent bias, I will split this post into a few different sections: the facts of the situation, what I think should happen to make things right, and a clearly labeled conjecture section where I speculate what happened, and a final summary of the entire ordeal.

I reached out to Marriott’s corporate communications team in advance of this article with an opportunity for them to provide a comment on the story and have yet to hear back from them, I will update the post if I do hear back.

Here are the facts of what happened

  • The Texas A&M Aggies are playing the Clemson Tigers 7 September 2019
  • Dozens of Texas A&M fans (update: and quite a few Clemson fans) made bookings with the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson in September 2018, most for multiple nights
  • The average rate per night was roughly $130, which is lower than is typical for a football game weekend in most college towns
  • In late June 2019, nine months after bookings were made, fans who made the bookings above were contacted and told that their reservations would not be honored
  • Fans were offered alternate accommodations in Greenville, South Carolina, about an hour away (longer on gameday) for roughly the same rates
  • Fans were told that if they accepted the alternate accommodations, their move would be considered “voluntary”, meaning that customers would not be subject to Marriott’s policy for “walking” a guest (usually equivalent nearby accommodations and a refund of the booking to the customer), which seems absurd to me (“we’re going to cancel your room unless you ‘voluntarily’ accept a hotel booking an hour away”)

(Screenshots of email sent to an affected customer, with names removed)

  • Some customers reached out to the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson directly and spoke with a representative who allegedly told them that the hotel had been “overbooked by 100 rooms” (numerous people were told the same, specifically the “overbooked by 100 rooms” part)

Here’s what Marriott should do to make things right

Honor the reservations as booked.  Making a change like this nine months after the bookings were made is unconscionable, as customers now have very little time to adjust accommodations and make alternate arrangements for the non-hotel portion of their trips.  Even if a legitimate mistake was made, don’t wait nine months to tell your customers about it.  And what about customers who happened to miss this email or had it go to a spam filter who show up in September to check in?

I’m trying to give the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson the benefit of the doubt here, but I don’t think the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson should be given benefit of the doubt.  I believe they’re trying to pull the rug out from under paying customers with a very carefully-worded email and hoping people will blindly do what it says.

 

CONJECTURE: Here’s what I’m guessing happened, I have no proof of any of the below but feel it’s at least plausible

  • Rooms were loaded into inventory at the typical rate for a Courtyard by Marriott, roughly $110-150/night, and publicly and widely available for booking across all of Marriott’s sales channels and OTAs like Expedia and Orbitz
  • Before rates were adjusted due to it being a game weekend, Texas A&M fans who were planning on making the trip for a very highly-anticipated game noticed the rates were low and booked at the hotel
  • By the time rates were adjusted upward by the hotel, dozens of rooms (maybe even upwards of 100) were booked at the lower rate

I’m very confident that the above is true, although I have no proof of it.  This happens from time to time in the hotel business.  Let’s continue.

  • The Courtyard realized their mistake.  However, they couldn’t just tell customers that their reservation wouldn’t be honored and have those customers see those same rooms available for booking at triple the price, that would be incredibly blatant and probably violate bait and switch laws in South Carolina.  Instead, they [warning: conjecture and speculation] could have done something far more devious and underhanded
  • Hotels overbook all the time.  Airlines do it too.  What the Courtyard could have done was beyond that (and I have to admire their creativity if so): they reloaded their entire inventory for sale at the higher gameday rates and then waited
  • Nine months later, the Courtyard could have finally sold out of rooms at the higher/gameday rate.  Now that the Courtyard was sold out, they could finally cancel the lower-rate bookings, since customers wouldn’t be able to look and see the same rooms available for sale for a much higher price
  • In those same nine months, the rest of the hotels in Clemson are either sold out or are charging like $700/night for rooms
  • Since “no alternate accommodations” were available locally, the Courtyard could have worked out a deal with hotels an hour away and offered those as the “nearest reasonable alternative”

A random search of Hotels.com today yielded the above result in Clemson, SC for a 2-night stay from 9/6/19-9/8/19

Here’s the thing: whether my speculation is right or wrong, the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson handled this terribly

Regardless of how correct my speculation is (although I imagine it’s within a standard deviation of being correct), it is 100% wrong of the Courtyard and Marriott as a whole to wait nine months to tell customers they’re out of luck.  Nine months is more than enough time for people to make non-refundable plans that were no doubt messed up by the Courtyard’s delay in communication.  I cannot imagine what a customer who happened to miss the email letting them know their reservation would be canceled will feel like when they show up to check in.

A confirmed reservation is just that: confirmed.  A reasonable person would expect that a confirmed booking would be honored.  A reasonable person would also expect to be notified if something was wrong a heck of a lot faster than nine months.  If you’re going to walk guests, walk them to a nearby hotel and bite the bullet.  Otherwise, honor the bookings you accepted almost a year ago.

Some customers with status said that the Courtyard by Marriott Clemson told them that status would be taken into consideration when it came to sorting out which bookings would be honored.  That is also garbage.  These weren’t listed as auctions!  Customers shouldn’t have to worry for almost a full year that some person with status will “outbid” them for their confirmed reservation.

Marriott: do the right thing

Honor the reservations as booked.  This goes beyond the #bonvoyed nonsense.  This appears to be an attempt to cover up a mistake with carefully-worded legalese designed to coerce clients with confirmed reservations into accepting unreasonable alternate accommodations instead of the rooms they booked when they were publicly available for sale.

Do the right thing.  Or do the bonvoy thing, whatever you want to call it.  This is wrong.

 

 

Has this ever happened to you?  What did you do about it and what was the resolution?  Tell me in the comments below!

 

 

(Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia)

58 Comments

  1. Great piece, and I fully agree that they should honor the original reservations as booked. Eat the cost and learn the lesson, and it will never happen again. Sadly I guarantee nothing will come of this.

    Reply
    • Y’all as. Clemson fan I am so sorry that you are having to go through this hopefully the owner of Marriott of has what is coming to him and he gets fired would love for him to just Use his house for accommodations. Best of Luck to everybody and not Clemson fans are like most are like y’all kind and generous. Fill free to call are local news channeled wyff 4 or wspa 7 to get more of the word out hopefully guilt will work but I think you need a heart for that. Best of luck and GO Tigers

      Reply
    • The Inn at Patrick Square in Clemson had the same problem. To their credit, they are honoring the original reservations. They could teach Marriott a lesson on how to treat customers.

      Reply
    • We saw this reported and knew we could help. We live 30 min from downtown Clemson. We have a new completed walkout basement with 1new king bed., 1 full bath, day bed with trundle, large living room, eating area we can rent out for that weekend. 4 people total MAX. For info email Kristieandbill70@gmail.com.

      Reply
  2. This is so typical of Marriott these days… the customer means absolutely NOTHING… Let them get away with it, and they will keep doing it more and more….

    And then it will spread… Airlines next? Book your trip to Australia 12 months out, then they cancel it after 8 months because now they know they can sell it for more.

    Reply
  3. Will be interesting to see what Marriott does here. As explained below, I don’t think the customers have any real recourse so it’s really a matter of whether Marriot wants to force one of their hotels to not be scumbags at a cost of maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars at this point. (How do you find lodging for everyone you are going to walk this late in game? Only way is to spend a fortune)

    Marriott is in the wrong here but the customers are probably without recourse. The conservative tilt of SCOTUS over the years has led to greatly increased enforceability of arbitration agreements and countervailing erosion of consumer protection laws. Here A&M fans can’t use South Carolina courts or class action but would be limited to arbitration in Bethesda, MD. The cost of going to arbitration would far exceed the cost of booking two or three nights at market rate for the game. So if Marriott says too bad, they are essentially without recourse.

    Reply
    • Please don’t bring your biased views of the Supreme Court in here. There are no laws regarding hotels having to honor reservations – they can cancel it at any time. Only airlines have special laws regarding this.

      Reply
  4. I know the University had nothing to do with this(I hope), but as an alum this is kinda embarrassing. The only possible silver lining here is that most A&M fans will likely into and out of GSP which is pretty close to the Marriott property in Greenville.
    However, as you mentioned, getting into and out of the game is a nightmare given how small Clemson(town) is

    Reply
    • Marriott General Manager here. 1 of two things happened: 1.There is a new tool called One Yield2 that takes into account historical data(cancellation forecasts etc) when automatically deciding how many rooms to overbook you by. This is because for dates like these, especially if it happens on the same weekend every year, you’re going to have masses of people inevitably cancel and you don’t want to be stuck with a less than full hotel. However, this is on the on property management and revenue management for the franchisee to keep track of. Or it could be 2 like the writer says and they realized they never bumped rates during a high demand date and are trying to do a bait and switch. If it’s 2 you need to do what every other management company for hotels have done in the past and accept that you messed up, take the low rates rooms and just make sure you are more diligent next year.

      Reply
  5. If you booked with Travelocity, Orbitz, etc., they’re doing you a favor. You could have shown up and they could have just told you then. For those that actually booked through Marriott itself, this would be a pretty big issue they would be happy to accommodate you for. As a Titanium member, I would only be given $100/night and 90,000 points. They still profit.

    Reply
    • Well actually, the cost of 90k points is nearly $1k for the hotel to buy so it wouldn’t be profitable. That’s the point of having that rule in place, it makes it cost-prohibitive to walk a member at or above Platinum.

      Reply
      • The cost of 90k points is nowhere near 1k dollars… source: I’m a Marriott General Manager

        Reply
        • Is it true that you guys can reduce the number of nights I need to regain my titanium status if it looks like I won’t meet the goal that year? I wan’t to keep my status but most of the Marriotts I’ve stayed at lately suck.

          Reply
        • Most churners estimate redemption value of Marriott points as 0.7 cpp. Assuming you can buy at, say, 25 percent of that cost I’m guessing 90K is about 150 dollars.

          Reply
      • Marriott General Manager here too. This isn’t true

        Reply
        • as a Marriott general manager, you should be embarrassed

          Reply
          • ? In what way?

  6. As a premier non-conference game, this has been on the schedule for years. It is completely unacceptable that a hotel would accept a reservation and then cancel it when they presumably can get more money. The people should show up with the reservation, get the compensation for being “walked”, and demand to be put somewhere else.

    Reply
  7. FYI, it is not only TAM fans that are affected. Many Clemson fans(who have a widespread footprint) also are getting the boot to the Greenville location.
    It’s very shady, but it isn’t like the Clemson Marriott is targeting Aggie fans.

    Reply
    • Good point, I’ll update the post, thank you!

      Reply
      • Hey Andy! My name is Allen Devlin and I’m a reporter with WYFF here in Greenville S.C. Id love to speak with you about this situation and get some more details. Please feel free to reach to me via my cell at 864-720-4306. I also sent an email to your media contact from Allen.Devlin@hearst.net

        Reply
  8. It was not just A&M fans that were hosed here. A good number of Clemson fans were similarly situated and complaining about it on Clemson boards like Tigernet.

    Reply
  9. Folks, it’s a software issue. This has happened in multiple locations after the rollout of new revenue management software a few years ago. The software isn’t perfect and has to be watched by the hotel at all times. The hotel didn’t maliciously do anything here based your your description of events; the software picked up on the increased demand and raised rates until the bookings stopped. It also over-authorizes how many rooms are available to sell based on a bevy of historical data and, like this case, isn’t always making the right decision.

    It’s not right, but it happened nonetheless. The travelers should do what is best for them.

    Reply
    • Sure, “Software issue” on the biggest home game of the year, with arguably the most well traveled alumni base in the country and a possible top 10 matchup.

      The only “software issue” was between eyes and keyboard from whomever set the rates.

      Reply
      • Todd, I think it’s entirely conceivable that’s it’s a software issue but the real mistake was no human checking the software until it was too late. Doesn’t change my stance for a second but there is so much software behind the scenes that it’s 100% plausible

        Reply
        • 100% correct. The new software has caused my hotel to oversell by dozens of rooms at times. It is frequently “updated” by Marriott, and any restrictions placed by hotels are wiped out regularly.

          Reply
          • Thanks for chiming in Matt

          • If it were a software issue, they would have reinstated the original reservations to accommodate them and sent the newer ones to the hotel an hour away. This was greed.

      • A&M isn’t the most well traveled alumni base by a long shot. How about Michigan, Notre Dame, BYU, tOSU, Wisconsin, LSU, Alabama?

        Reply
      • I don’t know which story is true, but if there is some problem with the software problem that allows substantial overbooking, you would expect that to manifest itself on the day of the biggest football game of the year, as opposed to some random Tuesday in June.

        Reply
    • Software issue? No. This is double booking and has been around long before computers. If it’s really just a software issue, the software could easily be “fixed” to limit sales to the actual number of rooms. Instead, it looks like Marriott (at the corporate level) intentionally, systematically, cheats people across all it’s hotels. If Marriott chooses to use software to automate that process, that’s still an ethics issue, not a software issue. To label it a software issue implies that it’s an accident. This is not an accident, Marriot is cheating people by design.

      This behavior, whether implemented through software or not, is a serious problem. Double booking handicap rooms is an even more serious subset of the same malicious behavior and should be flat out illegal. We’ve pretty much given up on hotels for this reason.

      Reply
  10. I’ll be curious to hear what the end result is of all this. I hope you’ll post a follow-up.

    Reply
  11. Complete, bullshit, to be frank. Call it what you want.

    Reply
  12. This reminds me of how gas stations (and some hotels) dramatically raised prices after a hurricane. It is called price gouging and is illegal in most states. This is no different.

    Reply
    • It’s completely different. Price gouging is exploitative (eg your example of taking advantage of a natural disaster by raising prices for necessity items) while this is a hotel trying to take advantage of higher demand in the area – no one is being forced to pay. That being said, if Marriott screwed up it is clearly on them to deal with the cost, just pointing out that the practice of dynamic pricing itself is not the issue here.

      Reply
  13. I’m a Clemson alum who booked (directly) way out in advance of the schedule announce. Multiple room options available at the time and I even called the hotel to verbally confirm my reservation (it was confirmed). Now I’m getting asked to leave? Garbage

    Reply
    • Days Inn Albuquerque North did the same exact thing to me during the international Balloon Fesita in October 2018. I booked a year in advance. But they didn’t cancel or tell me anything until I got there. They simply told me they had no reservation. Which I had proof of. They pretty much left us out in the cold.

      Reply
  14. Complete cop out to try and pin it on a “software glitch.” Overbooked by 100 rooms. Very unlikely. Former Marriott GM here.

    Reply
  15. there is nothing new going on here. As a longtime visitor to Tallahassee to watch the Seminoles. This has been going on for over a decade. The blogger is exactly right. Fans tried to game the system knowing full well that if they took down reservations for the whole month of September and ultimately got to cancel for free they would effectively be guaranteed to see this game at well below market rates. this is behavior that has been going on forever as well. The hotel’s rightfully so have the right to charge a premium for special dates meaning Clemson home games. Hotel rooms in Clemson are at a super premium during football weekends just like they are in Tallahassee. This is how many of the hotels are able to stay in business as they collect 70% of their revenue during a 6 weekend stretch in the fall. You may not like it but you all know that the folks that did this we’re getting away with it because of a glitch in the system in an oversight by somebody that didn’t look at the schedule well in advance. I don’t like it but I also don’t like how you are able to block booking reservations knowing full well you’re only going to use one out of the four for the month of September and have no penalty. What would you say if there was a $100 penalty for canceling on any reservation made during a home football weekend or a potential home football weekend? How many people would have booked those for reservations consecutively for every weekend in September? Answer nobody

    Reply
    • Todd, I’m not aware of anyone booking entire blocks of rooms for the entire month. The research I did for this article involved mostly 2-night stays only the weekend of the Clemson A&M game.

      Reply
      • I am a revenue manager and I can tell you 2 things-
        1. whomever at the hotel was supposed to be managing the inventory, completely dropped the ball (no pun intended!). They weren’t looking at their special events 365 days out and managing rates and inventory- in essence, their job.
        2. the idea that they are trying to “pre-walk” guests without paying for it is ludicrous. you have a valid reservation that they need to honor. As long as you have a confirmation number, if they cancel it, then there will be a cancellation number with history that shows who did what in the system. So there will be a digital trail. I would show up at the hotel and make them walk you and pay for the room in Greenville.

        Also…light up TripAdvisor with reviews for the hotel. They will definitely think twice before they decide on this course of poor customer service again. You do have some recourse here.

        Reply
    • Lol…”gaming the system”? Making a legitimate reservation for a listed rate is an example of a consumer taking advantage of a business? The hotel is the victim? You’re kidding right?

      Reply
    • I don’t think Todd understands the issue at hand here

      Reply
    • Todd, This game has been scheduled between A&M and Clemson for years. Everybody has known the date for well over a year. If the hotel get such a huge chunk of its business from only a few weekends, then they should know even better than a bunch of fans which weekends those will be, and should block out bookings on those weekends until they are sure they have the rates and cancellation policies they want programmed. If they weren’t aware of the game date and that it would be a big weekend, they are ignorant and should not be in their current positions. If they knew and just didn’t get around to blocking out the cheap rates and loading the game day rates in time, then they are negligent and shouldn’t be in their current positions. Either way, if they deliberately double booked the hotel to get rid of the cheap rates that had been booked a year in advance, they are committing fraud and should not be in the current positions. Pretty much any way you look at it, Marriott should be looking for a new GM for the hotel because they have done a terrible job handling this.

      Reply
  16. Yeah. I would almost guarantee you that people did it. I used to do it based on the predicted month/weeks we played certain teams. The Marriott’s in Tallahassee caught on quickly and locked you out a year in advance until the actual schedule came out. Do you agree that they should be able to charge a premium rate during “peak times”?

    Reply
    • I think the point people are making is that this is a non-conference game, so the specific date is announced long before the hotel begins accepting reservations. The specific date of this game has been known for more than 2 years, so there was no reason to book multiple weekends when rooms became available.

      For conference games, where the schedule is often released after hotels have already made rooms available, you’re absolutely right: I, and many others, will book a room for multiple weekends knowing that I can cancel my reservations for the weeks that don’t end up being big game weekends. But this isn’t that situation.

      Reply
  17. Again, if the Hotel policy allows for it, it’s not taking advantage. They rightly closed the loophole years ago in the example I gave. The Clemson example was an oversight by the Hotel (my guess is it’s not a corporate property). IMO, they have every right to do what they did. It’s unfortunate what happened; however, I’d much rather stay in Greenville than that tractor town Clemson!

    Reply
    • The schedule had already been announced when people booked. They didn’t book every weekend and then cancel after the schedule was announced.

      Also, that’s fine that you would rather stay in Greenville, great. People booked Clemson for a reason. What if they’re flying into Atlanta?

      Reply
    • I’m not a lawyer but I am not sure if the hotels “have every right to do what they did.” For one thing, we don’t know exactly what they did. What they admitted to do (which may be different from what they did) was this. They (intentionally or unintentionally…they are clearly ambiguous about this) overbooked the rooms and then made the customers who paid less to go to another, less desirable property. What I can’t tell for sure is whether the hotel maintained the reservations for those who paid more. If they actually did that (basically giving the rooms to the “highest bidder”), they have clearly wronged their customers, and possibly broken the law.

      Reply
    • I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think the hotels “have very right to do what they did.” Obviously, we don’t know the full extent of what “they did.” However, they have already admitted to (intentionally or unintentionally) overbooking the rooms, then forcing those who booked earlier last year to a less desirable location not too close to them. It is not clear if they overbooked at a much higher rate and dumped those who booked at a lower rate. If that’s what they did, they’ve definitely wronged those who booked earlier. I would like to think that there is a law that prevents hotels to effective give the rooms to “the highest bidder.”

      Reply
    • Guess we located the real manager of the Clemson Marriot

      Reply
  18. Everyone who has half a brain and has read this article knows that Marriott screwed up by booking rooms on a premium weekend but for the normal rate. This is Marriott’s fault, plain and simple! To hold these reservations for ten plus months while continuing to double book those same rooms at a higher rate is totally unethical. Marriott messed up by not coding the A&M/Clemson game weekend in their computer system when the two schools signed the contract years ago. Therefore, Marriott needs to honor the original reservations and absorb the loss and learn from it so this same mistake is never made again. A top Marriott employee needs to publicly apologize and state that the original reservations will be honored. Sadly, this will most likely never happen. In reality, Marriott will issue a half-hearted apology to those affected and tell them to go to a town an hour or more away, which is exactly what they have already done. Welcome to the land of no accountability when it comes to making money and screwing over consumers!

    Reply
  19. First World Problems – This never would have happened in the Ken Hatfield era.

    Reply
  20. I’d be willing to accept $5K/night compensation for canceling my reservation. Otherwise, the hotel should expect a lawsuit.

    Reply
  21. Clemson has hotels? Who knew

    Reply
  22. Aggies should flood Marriott’s social media, especially Twitter, with tags including #collegefootball, #tailgating, and other sports-related tags. Corporate brands pay attention to their reputations on social platforms, and marketing people are more likely to force a change at corporate level than managers, because they’re aware of the harm done to the brand. Keep it up until Marriott honors the reservations. Tag or call Finebaum and get him riled up about it. Also, contact the Greenville News/Anderson Independent and WYFF TV.

    Reply
  23. This is why a locally owned B&B is a much better choice. Liberty House Inn in Liberty, SC still has limited availability, and we will always honor your reservations, at a much more personal (and affordable) rate. We are just a few miles down Hwy 93 straight into Clemson, and although we are tigers through and through, we enjoy hosting opposing fans, as well. 864-372-5110 We are not an Air BnB! We will make you breakfast, personally. Shame on the big guys for not honoring those reservations!

    Reply
  24. Hotels along the path of totality during the 2017 eclipse were doing this too.

    Reply

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