Am I owed a refund for this disastrous stay at the Courtyard?

By | December 7th, 2015

When Diane McMillian checked into the Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia, S.C., she’d endured ten sleepless nights helping victims of the South Carolina floods as a disaster relief inspector.

Little did she know she was about to get a front row seat to a disaster of a different kind.

This is the weekly feature where I ask you if I should get involved in a case. Today, McMillian needs to know if her experience was so awful that she deserves a full refund — and also, if I can help her get it.

Let’s set the scene. It’s three hours after her check-in, and McMillian is getting ready to take a shower. She’s taken off her clothes when …

“Two young guys open my door and walk in, seeing me naked,” she says. “As they back out of the room apologizing, I call the front desk. They say someone is coming upstairs. No one ever came.”

It turns out the young men were members of a swim team who were in Columbia for a competition. McMillian went downstairs to complain. But instead of an apology, an employee told her she’d have to vacate her room.

“She said I was supposed to be in room 810 and room 804 belongs to other people,” she recalls. “I showed her my key which clearly had 804 written on it. She continued to tell me that I had to get out of the room because they needed it.”

(Note: Magnetic key cards don’t normally have room numbers on them. I’m sure she meant to say that her key was coded for room 804.)

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“I reminded her that I had unpacked, lain in the bed and I am sure that no one else wants to just move into a used room,” she says.

McMillian reminded the employee that she was a Marriott Rewards member and that she had been working with flood victims. A swim team member standing near the desk intervened and said he would be happy to accept room 810. So she got to stay in room 804.


Problem solved? Not quite.

“At 8:05 a.m., I had another intrusion,” she says. “The maid knocked twice very lightly. I woke up, not sure if I was dreaming or if it was across the hall. Lo and behold, the door opened with the maid trying to get in to clean my room.”

She went downstairs to complain, but an assistant manager “brushed me off,” she says.

“I expect either a refund or enough points to get a complimentary stay,” she says. “I have gotten neither.”

So, should we help McMillian get a refund or enough points for a “free” stay?

The real question is: Did Marriott offer her something it didn’t deliver? And if so, what’s the remedy?

Its own business conduct guide addresses a situation like this:

Customers should be given what is promised and at the promised price. Misrepresentations about Marriott’s products and services may lead to costly legal action. A false claim, a small untruth, or even a perception of dishonesty can jeopardize the loyalty and satisfaction of our customers.

McMillian was promised room 804 and an incredibly restorative sleep experience. She got one, but not the other.

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And yet, as I read her side of the story, I can’t help but think that there may be another side to this story that might make Marriott look less like the villain. Also, she got a room. The unwanted 8 a.m. wake-up call was on the house.

Should I take Diane McMillian's case?

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  • Frank Clarke

    Absolutely, take this. If a hotel is going to rely on technology to guarantee I’m the only one with access to my room they had better effing well make sure they do it correctly.

  • MarkKelling

    Does she not know how a door lock works when you are in the room?

    Every Marriott property I have ever stayed at has the metal thing on the door you flip over and then no one can open the door to enter your room. There are also knobs to turn on the fully electronic locks that will keep even housekeeping out. Now if she used those locking mechanisms and someone still entered, there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

    The confusion over who was supposed to be in what room is inexcusable. Once a room is given out, there should never be additional keys issued to others. This is especially easy to control with the electronic door locks if the persons using the system know what they are doing.

  • Jake S

    What happened on the first day is definitely inexcusable. As for the maid entering at 8:05 am, that seems to be not a very uncommon practice, so I usually make sure I have a “Do not disturb” sign whenever I don’t want to be disturbed.

  • Jeff W.

    Magnetic keys do not have the room number printed on them, that is true. But upon check in, that key is usually placed in sleeve and the sleeve will have the room number written on it.

    As indicated in another post, there is a thing called a lock on the door. But still, the room should not have been assigned twice. 8 AM is not unheard of for housekeeping, but that does seem a bit earlier.

    It is not clear how many nights she stayed at the hotel. It was ten nights helping victims in SC.

    Marriott should probably throw some points into her account for the first incident, not so much for housekeeping. A full refund is probably asking for too much.

  • KennyG

    I am a bit confused about something. Did she stay at this Marriott property for 10 nights, and not get any sleep? That at least seems to be what the headline is saying, but its not really clear from the text of the article. She certainly deserves some compensation for the mistakes the hotel made in issuing room keys to 2 different parties for the same room. I agree she could have prevented the walk-in by double locking her door and the maid by putting up a do not disturb sign, and/or also double locking the door, but still that does not excuse multiple keys for the same room. If she is looking for 10 days of her room bill being comped, she is way off base.

  • sirwired

    Okay, the room number screwup was bad, but mistakes happen. But the ensuing behavior of the desk clerk was inexcusable.

    But what was the problem with the maid? If there wasn’t a DnD sign on the door, 8AM seems on the early side, but not unheard of.

    On another note, the OP should probably learn to use the deadbolt on future hotel trips. This is basic Travel Safety 101, on the order of remembering to lock your car.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I don’t know… I feel bad for her. Seems like 2 honest mistakes that the hotel handled really poorly. I also know that in those situations, guests tend to get (rightly) frazzled. But a free stay? that seems like a little much.

    If you are looking for privacy, remember to use the “do not disturb sign”. Not trying to shame or blame, just saying it is there for a reason

  • amystery726

    The room mix-up was bad, and they should at least comp her some points. However, if you don’t want your sleep disturbed, put out the do-not-disturb sign!

  • Pocahontas

    Key to this one is whether the Do Not Disturb sign was up. If YES and housekeeping ignored it I would say it’s a real problem – had staff at one hotel completely ignore it and try to barge in with a key in the early AM. A real pet peeve.

  • John Baker

    I had sympathy for her until I read her demand… and she completely lost me.

    Is it unfortunate that there was some confusion on the room assignment, YES!
    Is it unfortunate that the maid walked in the next morning, yes!
    Is it unfortunate that she can’t figure out how to use either the privacy lock or the deadbolt, yes!

    Maid thing happens a lot especially since people don’t check out anymore. About the only way they know you’ve left is to knock on the door. If you don’t answer the door, they’re going to assume you left.

    Should the hotel do something for her, yes. Has she probably been placed in the “unable to be pleased” pile based on her outrageous demand, yep.

    If there’s no way to make you happy, they’re not going to try. Make sure that your recovery requests are proportional to what occurred. If she’d requested a smaller amount, she probably would have received it.

  • Alan Gore

    The heart of her complaint is the initial room mixup. Good for some loyalty points, I’m sure, but it’s hardly the disaster she paints it as being.

    And when was the last time anyone complained that Housekeeping was too attentive? Did she have the Do Not Disturb sign out? Or did she sleepily turn it to the Make Up This Room Now side?

  • Ribit

    For sure, advocate for a refund.
    – “Screw-ups happen” is not an adequate defense against incompetent and indifferent front desk management regarding the duplicate room assignment.
    – “Do not disturb” signage is meaningless. Anyone walking down the hall can flip over the sign to “Please clean”.
    – Someone that is dog-tired is not necessarily on top of using the security lock.
    – Patrons should not be expected to barricade themselves in a room for privacy unless previously notified that the hotel is unsafe and such measures are recommended.

  • Regina Litman

    This is the 2nd day in a row with a complaint about housekeeping barging into a room too soon. I voted No because this was an avoidable situation – the letter writer should have put up a do not disturb sign. (I did vote Yes yesterday because a lot more went wrong in that case.)

  • JewelEyed

    Also, sometimes the do not disturb sign slips off the doorknob. They keep making it harder and harder to make sure those signs stay on and it is frustrating.

  • KennyG

    I missed where someone turned the DND sign around in the article, perhaps you could point out where that was stated? To be honest, throwing the dead bolt, or chain or whatever “cant get in from the outside” lock exists on the door is not the same as moving all the room furniture in front of the door to “barricade” oneself in the room. I suppose when you fly on an airplane you typically don’t throw the locking mechanism on the lav door because barricading yourself into the planes toilet at 40,000 feet is a tremendously exhausting and unnecessary step to take to protect your privacy. Just my 2 cents.

  • Bill___A

    I am confused about a few things. First of all, it is my understanding that when a new set of keys are issued that the previous set of keys will not work. I’d like an explanation of that, if possible. Secondly, the hotel doors all have internal locks and latches. Particularly a lone traveler should use them. Thirdly, there are door cards for “do not disturb’ which I’ve seen at pretty much every hotel I’ve stayed in.

    The hotel made some mistakes, but so did the guest. And quite honestly, if a hotel asks you to move to another room, unless it is a downgrade, why not just do it? They aren’t going to ask needlessly as they have to clean the room again, etc. Situations like this are frustrating, but I don’t think they merit a free stay. Ask for 10,000 points, you’ll probably be able to get that as a compensation. Even if the points are of questionable value, it represents a cost to the hotel and thus tallies economically for them that they made mistakes.

    Hotels aren’t perfect. If you want to have a full refund if they make the slightest mistake, stay at a hotel that has that guarantee.

  • Carchar

    I have been in a room which had no DND sign and the front desk said they were short and couldn’t give me one. Now I did think about stealing someone else’s, but I resisted temptation.

  • Bill___A

    They don’t put “please clean” on the other side anymore. And I’ve only known the do not disturb sign to be yanked down when the people inside the room happened to come in at 3 am disturbing everyone and then put the sign up so they can sleep in. Besides, there is an internal latch you can do up. It is very easy, tired or not. Standard issue at a Courtyard and many other hotels. She could have prevented this easily, 10,000 points and an apology is merited.

  • Carchar

    The room confusion is more than just “unfortunate.” I think they had no business telling her to vacate the room she already occupied for someone else. This deserves something, if not a refund.

  • sirwired

    I prefer the kind that goes into the key slot. You are correct that the hanging kind inevitably wants to fall off.

  • sirwired

    Write “Do Not Disturb” on a sheet of the free notepaper and stick it in the key slot; it’s always worked for me.

  • Carchar

    I can understand forgetting to bolt the door initially, especially if one is tired and just not thinking straight. What really bothers me about this on is that they asked, more than “asked,” her to vacate her room after she had made herself comfortable in it.

  • cscasi

    So, if you had completely undressed in preparation to take a shower and two women waltzed into your room (they were given a key card to it and thought it was their room), you would not be upset or the least bit embarrassed? That in itself, is something the hotel should make up for and not with just an apology, IMHO!

  • DChamp56

    Oh come on!
    On our honeymoon, another couple accidentally got assigned the same room as us, and tried to get into our room at around 11pm. Luckily, we had the little sliding bar locking the door so it opened only an inch or so.
    We had a laugh about it the next day, and it’s something we’ll always remember.
    I don’t see this as being SO bad to get an entire refund. An apology might be nice.

  • Stephen0118

    “And quite honestly, if a hotel asks you to move to another room, unless it is a downgrade, why not just do it?”

    Well, if she’s already taken the time to unpack everything, then it’s a hassle to clean up and repack everything.
    Every time I go to a hotel and I intend to stay more than 3 days, I unpack my suitcase. I put my toiletries in the bathroom and put my clothes in the dresser or hang them up in the closet.

  • Bill

    Agreed … any time we stay at any hotel anywhere, we put the locking bar across the door … it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Of course, it is put on when we go to bed and doesn’t get unlocked until we are leaving the room for the day. That way if we forget the DND sign, no worries.

  • Patricia Ann

    THIS has happened to us…2 x in the last 6 months. WE were the INVADERS: Once at Silverleaf resorts in Tyler TX. We (2 disabled sisters, old PLUS) waited in line 20 min. to get our key and unit . Drove 2 miles more to get to the unit ..and found it to be furnished with FOOD, Clothing, etc. We backed out, called the desk and were told to drive BACK to the desk, stand in line again, etc. No apologies, nothing. Then again in an Iowa hotel..we apologized. It’s a matter of SECURITY. It’s hard not to empathize and sympathize with a woman who’s been exhausted by disaster work for 10 days , AND 3 hours after check in to be naked ( or EVEN not!), and then INVADED by two young men. Holy Trauma BatMan! THIS should NOT be happening. The desk data entry or the systems are at fault. PLEASE advocate before anything more serious happens…

    This is not to be dismissed as a “laughable situation ” and that an apology “would be nice”. IT is not . And an apology is/was NECESSARY.

  • Carchar

    Well, that’s what I tried to do. There was no key slot and so I pierced the paper with the door handle, which took up most of the little square of that paper. Either it worked or they didn’t come around to my room till later.

  • Mel65

    The first sentence says “When Diane McMillian checked into the Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia, S.C., she’d endured ten sleepless nights helping victims of the South Carolina flood,” so, no, she checked in AFTER working to assist flood victims.

  • JewelEyed

    I’ve had the key slot ones go flying too. Is there a reason it would kill them to just have a clip on the door with a sign you can unclip and turn over…?

  • MarkKelling

    Well, if someone walked in on me in my hotel room and I was completely undressed, it would not bother me that they saw me naked in the least, but it would really bother me that they were able to get into the room!

  • MarkKelling

    Or did someone else turn the sign? All it takes is one prankster.

  • MarkKelling

    The electronic keys are set to expire right after your expected checkout time when you check in. Issuing new keys does not automatically cause the previous ones to stop working. When you extend your stay, your room keys have to be recoded to the new check out.

    Given this, it is possible to overlap. Say you asked for a late checkout of 4 pm and the hotel agrees. You then leave early anyway, housekeeping cleans your room, and because it is such a desirable room it is given to the next person who checks in lets say at 2 pm. This leaves a 2 hour overlap where both keys will work. I would hope this is a rare occurrence. And you most likely left the key a the front desk when you checked out, so finding that key card and using it is highly unlikely.

    (The above is the general way these keys function. Some hotels may take a different approach (Had one in Italy that had a permanent key card for each room. Never expired, but they never issues additional keys either.) Some new key systems may actually communicate with the front desk computer to know you have left early or got a replacement key and so on.)

  • MarkKelling

    One Marriott property I stayed in (think it was San Francisco) had a set of light switches in the room by the front door. One was for “Do Not Disturb” one was for “Maid Service”. No sign falling off the door, no pranksters changing them.

  • MarkKelling

    Nothing was mentioned about the DND sign at all in the article. It was just mentioned as a possibility that it was flipped as to why the maid entered.

    Since the OP apparently didn’t even lock her door, it is very possible the DND sign was not placed on the door at all.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I think that the OP should get points (i.e. 10,000 to 20,000) for her experience.

    When Iwe need to sleep in, check out late or etc., I will contact HousekeepingFront Desk to inform them not to clean our room until this time or etc. We do put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign out but they can overlook, taken out, etc.

    Using the privacy lock or the deadbolt will prevent unauthorized guests while you are in the room.

    I have stayed over 750 nights in Marriott branded hotels and I had very few problems. But when I had a problem, I contacted the General Manager of the property to discuss the problem if the front desk managerpersonnel can’t solve the problem to my sanctification. If the GM isn’t available, I will call Marriott Rewards to report the problem. In this situation, it seems like the OP didn’t talk to the GM.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I have noticed in the past year, more ‘lapse in security’ such as the front desk personnel announcing the room number publicly. Since the room number is written down on the inside of the ‘room card holder’, there is no need to announce it. The employees that are making these lapses in security are young (under 25).

    Personally, I put the reason for these ‘lapses in security’ on the helicopter generation because these young individuals don’t have a clue about security and etc. Recently, I was at the grocery store and I noticed at the checkout that one of my items, a container, was opened…the cashier and bus boy (age 22 and 18) didn’t want to exchange the item…”hey dude, there is nothing wrong with it”…an older cashier (over 40) ended up telling them to exchange it and totally agree with me that she would not have taken it.

  • Mel65

    I stay at Marriott a lot because they often have a government rate within per diem and I find them almost always clean, pleasant and (most important) they usually have a bar! Anytime I’ve had even a minor complaint, they’ve given me points or done whatever needed to recitfy the issue. I find it odd that they blew this woman off not once, but twice AND were rude? I feel like … something’s missing? Maybe in the delivery of the complaint? Just…something’s off.

  • JenniferFinger

    I don’t think she’s entitled to a full refund, but I do think she’s entitled to an apology from Marriott for the room number situation and perhaps some points.

    But if she didn’t put her Do Not Disturb sign on the door, the maid’s coming into her room at 8:05 am isn’t Marriott’s fault and they don’t owe her anything for that. If she did put the sign out and the maid ignored it, then Marriott should apologize for that as well.

  • Altosk

    Free stay. Double renting a room was grounds for termination when I worked in hotels (late 90s).

    Take this case. But be warned…I’ve stayed at this property and it’s a dump that the manager/owner could care less about.

  • KennyG

    You are absolutely correct, My initial read of the article was obviously not as precise a read as I should have done. That being said, I said in my post and will repeat, she DOES deserve some comp for the mistake the hotel made in issuing 2 keys to the same room.

  • ChelseaGirl

    If she didn’t want the maid to come in, she should have placed the Do Not Disturb sign on her door. I agree the first incident was very upsetting, but not sure about a refund…points would be a gesture of goodwill.

  • Mel65

    Didn’t disagree with you. Just clarified that she hadn’t been there for 10 days.

  • E_Woman

    Generalizing about the “helicopter” generation based on anecdote helps no one. My daughter has worked since she was 16 and now at 21 has been in the hotel industry for the last two years. I assure you she knows her job and takes security and privacy very seriously.

  • pauletteb

    Does she not know how to set the deadbolt? The first time she didn’t secure the door could be chalked up to fatigue, but the second time? I’ve never stayed in a place that didn’t at least have a chain bolt on the door. I also carry a hard-rubber door stop that I wedge under the door for additional security.

  • Chris_In_NC

    I would hold off on taking this case for now.
    What McMillian needs to do is to write the General Manager of the hotel as well as the Marriott Corporate office detailing her experience with the intrusion by the swim team. Leave the 8AM housekeeping intrusion out of it. See what he reply is. If she is then brushed off, then its time to intervene.
    I had a similar situation recently, except I was the one that walked into a room that was occupied. Fortunately, the other guest as fully dressed, but it was an uncomfortable situation for both of us. I immediately went back to the front desk, and strongly suggested that they contact the guest of the “occupied” room. I have no idea if compensation was offered, or what transpired. So these things happen, and I personally did not ask for compensation.
    As others have said, latch or bolt your door. That will prevent an intrusion. Back to the original question, please hold off on mediation until McMillian does some more “work.”

  • 42NYC

    Not the hotel’s fault for the maid knocking on the door at 8:05. If you want to sleep in, use the do not disturb sign.

    As for other’s barging in to her room. Yes, it was awkward and embarrassing and an unfortunate error with the front desk accidentally assigning 2 parties to the same room (this has happened to me before but fortunately did not involve one party seeing the other in a state of undress). And fortunately it seems like the members of the swim team were polite gentlemen, and not worse.
    The front desk should have immediately apologized for the mix-up and not assumed a defensive and angry tone. A full refund may be a little much to ask for yes, she is owed something. Personally I think in this situation a meaningful apology would have been enough, but since the hotel staff opted to be jerks about it, I’d think a partial refund is in order.

  • Patricia Ann

    Those puny “above the door” locks are relatively useless. If a person enters in error, it will provide a warning that something is amiss, let alone that the room is occupied. IF a person truly wishes to enter, they are nothing more than a 10-20 second delay.

  • Ann

    I work at a hotel. With our system you have to actually use the new set of keys on the door to deactivate the old keys. Additionally, the keys expire on the day of departure an hour after departure time. You cannot simply make new keys to deactivate the old keys at my hotel.

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