[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)
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