Should Marriott apologize for this purse-snatching incident?

All Jim Gissy ever wanted from Marriott was an apology.

An apology for allowing thieves into the hotel his wife and daughter were staying in, he says. And an apology for the way the hotel staff treated them after their purse was stolen.

Gissy wants it to mean something, too — not one of those “I’m sorry for the way you felt” mea culpas.

His wife and daughter recently checked into a Marriott property in Little Rock, Ark. His daughter, Katie, was participating in a soccer tournament. On a busy Saturday night, his wife’s valuables were pilfered from their room under regrettable and completely avoidable circumstances.

This feature is called Should I Take The Case? and in it, I ask you, dear readers, if I should get involved in a completely unvetted reader problem. I have to make hundreds of similar decisions a week as I triage consumer queries, so your comments and votes are very helpful.

Let me hand the mike to Gissy’s wife, who describes what happened:

Katie left the room about 10:10 p.m. to get something quick from the vending machine and left the door slightly ajar.

I was lying on the bed against the bathroom wall so I didn’t have a view of the door and thought Katie was coming back in when I heard the door open.

Then I heard a man’s voice say, “We got it!” and turned to see a man’s back as he raced out of the room with my purse. I think he had someone holding the door open for a quick getaway.

By the time I got up, the door had closed and when I opened it I heard the door to the nearby stairs slam. I opened it and yelled, but they were gone and I wasn’t going to confront two thieves in an isolated stairwell.

By then I was locked out of my room because the door had slammed shut behind me and I had to go down 14 floors in the elevator to alert the front desk.

Gissy’s wife contacted the hotel’s management and filed a police report. But according to her husband, the hotel “didn’t seem concerned” about what had happened.

“No one from the hotel asked how she was or if they could help her in any way,” says Jim Gissy. “The security officer was nice but in over his head. The local police were very good.”

Marriott didn’t really need to be worried. A review of Arkansas lodging law, suggests it isn’t responsible for thefts that occur on the property.

The only thing to fall back on is Marriott’s commitment to exceptional guest service, which, Gissy might argue, it didn’t meet.

Eventually, they found Gissy’s purse four flights down in the stairwell with her wallet, checkbook, and prescription sunglasses removed. There were no cameras in the hall or stairs.

Gissy thinks there’s a valuable lesson for all of us.

“I think you should warn travelers who are staying at a hotel,” he says. “I think most of us think that when we are in the room no one will just burst in and grab our belongings and run out. But we need to be reminded of that fact.”

Definitely true. I travel with a family of five and it’s often impractical to close and lock the door when a child leaves to run down to the ice machine. Now I’m going to think twice.

Should I ask Marriott to review this case? Technically, I think the hotel is right. I don’t believe it has any liability beyond the Arkansas lodging laws. A meaningful response — assuring Gissy that steps are being taken to make the hotel safer — would help a lot.

“Her money was stolen,” says Gissy. “They could have offered breakfast or even a free night.”

They didn’t. Should they? I don’t know, but I can find out.

Should I take Jim Gissy's case?

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Beware of travel industry doublespeak

It’s for your own good.

Travelers are hearing these words more often than ever, and they are being applied to increasingly unwelcome scenarios. The latest example: being unable to access WiFi in your hotel without incurring an added charge. In August, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Marriott filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission asking the government for permission to block wireless devices in hotels.
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What does Marriott owe me for a reflagging nightmare?

When Donna Larkin booked a room at the Hotel Ashbourne Marriott near Dublin last year, she had no way of knowing it was about to change owners. Or that some of the information on the hotel’s former website was less than accurate.

But that’s exactly what happened when she and her family arrived in Ireland for a two-week visit. The hotel was no longer a Marriott and it wasn’t as close to Dublin as promised. And that’s not all.

“Upon arrival at the hotel, we were informed that the hotel was not 10 minutes from Dublin but 40 minutes from Dublin,” she says. “It was not near any public transportation and it did not have rooms that would accommodate our party as requested on our reservation. Of course, we were told that no room was guaranteed, even though we booked well over two months in advance so that our party could be accommodated in a comfortable manner.”
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I’ve been ‘walked’ to a motel

Question: I made a reservation at a Fairfield Inn in Philadelphia earlier this year. I prepaid for two nights and received a confirmation.

The day before I left — six months after I made the reservation — I got an email from a manager at the Fairfield, saying that they were moving us to another hotel due to a “situation beyond our control.” It turns out there was a convention in town, and my room had been given to a platinum customer.

Fairfield promised to move me to a hotel with the same amenities. I was further told that a Fairfield Inn could cancel confirmed reservations any time in order to book platinum customers.

The motel they moved us to was inferior by any standards. No complimentary breakfast, no airport shuttle (we nearly missed our outgoing flight), farther from the airport, smell of paint as they were under construction, and no working phones in the room.

I have written to Marriott, which owns Fairfield Inn, and the Pennsylvania attorney general, as well as the manager of the property. I have only received an email thanking me for writing them.

I would like a refund of our stay at the hotel. Can you help? — Karen Johnson, Gering, Neb.

Answer: You were “walked” to another hotel, which is a fairly common practice in the hotel industry. Hotels sometimes accept more reservations than they can accommodate, anticipating that some guests will cancel. But on a busy weekend or holiday, when everyone shows up, a property has to turn guests away.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Two extra kids equals a 200-euro surcharge?

Question: I need your help to resolve a situation that I encountered recently when my family and I stayed at the Brussels Marriott.

I generally book directly on the hotel’s website. So in this case, I went to and entered the number of guests — my wife, two young children, and me.

My reservation was for three nights. When we tried to check in, the clerk said that the room had a king bed and could not accommodate us. I mentioned that my kids are quite young and can easily share the bed, as we do this often when staying at Marriott properties in the United States.

I was told that the only option I had was to upgrade to a larger suite, pay for an additional room, or walk away. I asked for the manager, who told me the same thing.

I pointed out that there was no way I could stay in two separate rooms, as I would be separated from my family. I also pointed out that I have a child who is autistic, who cannot be separated from us, but they firmly held their ground. They said that the only thing they could do was to upgrade me to a suite for an additional cost of 300 Euros.

Eventually, the hotel agreed to lower its surcharge to 200 Euros for a three-night stay.

We had a miserable time in Brussels and had to cut short our sightseeing activities to somehow compensate for this extra expense. In short, they ruined my vacation. Can you please help us? — Hari Doraisamy, Newtown Square, Pa.

Answer: The hotel shouldn’t have forced you to upgrade. I reviewed your correspondence, and it appears that you did almost everything you could to alert Marriott that you were traveling with your family. Something may have gotten lost in the translation.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Help! I paid twice for my all-inclusive vacation

Question: We recently made arrangements to go to visit the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino through a company called Cheap Caribbean. The hotel has an all-inclusive option, which includes meals, beverages and activities, and quoted us the price of $5,701.

Imagine the absolute horror we encountered when we got to the Marriott and were told that our reservation with them was for the room only — no all-inclusive. Since we booked an all-inclusive we took only a small amount of cash, which would not have been enough for a week’s worth of meals and liquid refreshments.

When we called Cheap Caribbean Customer Service from the Marriott check-in desk, they wanted another $3,000 to make it an all-inclusive. After many, many phone calls between Cheap Caribbean, Marriott and my daughter, Cheap Caribbean and the three of us agreed to split the additional cost just to get the matter resolved and behind us. We had already lost what equaled a whole day of our vacation and wanted to get on with enjoying the short time we had left.

We feel that we were ripped off by Cheap Caribbean. We were quoted a vacation deal and they should have honored it. We wrote to the president of Cheap Caribbean but never received an answer. Can you help us? — Esther Mikula, Tinley Park, Ill.

Answer: You shouldn’t have to pay twice for your all-inclusive vacation. Cheap Caribbean and Marriott should have honored your reservation without charging you more.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Oh no, my hotel rewards have been downgraded!

Question: My husband and I have been members of Marriott’s loyalty program, Marriott Rewards, for decades. We’re also Marriott Vacation Club owners. We have a problem with a rewards stay we were hoping you could help us with.

About a month ago, I contacted the Marriott Vacation Club office to make a reservation for a vacation stay next year, and I asked the employee to check on a seven-day hotel award, which I thought was about to expire in a few months. I was informed that the award had been converted into 25,000 points and credited to our account.

I asked to speak with a supervisor, since I preferred seven days to 25,000 points. The supervisor said the only thing he could do was to offer us a five-day award. He said some mass emailings went out last year notifying readers that our type of seven-day hotel award would expire at the beginning of the year. I expressed my disappointment in having to accept his offer.

I searched the Web and my saved mail messages for the announcement of the hotel awards expiring in January. I found nothing. So I went to the Marriott’s customer service website and emailed from their site a note asking them to please send me a copy of that mass email announcement about the awards expiration. I also expressed my concern that we did not receive a personal call, letter, or email notifying us of a change in the expiration date. After two weeks, I mailed a letter. I still have received no response. Can you help? — JJ Mortensen, White Rock, NM

Answer: Can Marriott arbitrary downgrade all of its seven-day awards to five-day awards? In a word, yes.
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Can this trip be saved? A lost sweater — and now, radio silence

When he checked out of the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Cruise Port Hotel last month, Joe Gagnon left a favorite sweater draped over a chair in his room.

Gagnon has booked plenty of Renaissance and Marriott properties in his 17 years as a travel agent, and he knows the chain’s reputation for excellent customer service. So he assumed the hotel would help him find the blue V-neck pullover and send it to him.

He thought wrong.

“I’m getting nowhere,” he says. “This seems like something that should have been pretty easy to fix.”
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Is this too much compensation? Men’s room mixup nets guest $200 gift card from Marriott

This column is usually called, “Is this enough compensation?” because frankly, the travel industry often doesn’t have a clue about customer service.

Then again, maybe I’m clueless.

Here’s why: Back in April, I received a note from Mark Gross about an uncomfortable incident at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel. I didn’t think it was worth bringing it to Marriott’s attention. Neither did a majority of my readers.

But apparently Marriott disagreed with me about the seriousness of the problem, and compensated Gross very generously.

Did I misjudge this case?
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A reservation and a charge — but no room

Question: My family is a member of Marriott Vacation Club International and we have a timeshare with them. As part of that purchase, we were told that we have the ability to purchase “getaways” for either a week or a weekend. (A getaway is simply a low-cost way to rent an unsold timeshare condo like a hotel room.)

My wife contacted Interval Travel, which handles reservations for Marriott, to purchase a getaway at a Marriott Vacation Club resort in Orlando. Interval told her that there were no Marriott properties available for getaways at that time, but instead suggested another property called Westgate Vacation Villas in Kissimmee, Fla.

We paid $339 for four nights at Westgate. We received a booking confirmation by mail the day before the getaway was to begin and it appeared to be in order. It wasn’t. When I reached the front desk, they advised me that they had no record whatsoever of our reservation. Eventually, they offered us a “spare” room but only after sitting through a sales presentation.

Once I opened the room, a strong smell of mold and mildew blew out at us. The room had clearly not been maintained, the air conditioning was not on and the air quality was intolerable. With the added complication of severe allergies in our family, there was no way that we could possibly stay in this room.

I was told that there were no other rooms available and that nothing could be done. I told the desk agent that we could not stay in that room due to its condition, and she apologized and said that the only option would be to leave the resort. She then printed me a “zero balance” receipt to show that I had not stayed, and told me that I needed to seek refund from Interval for this experience. I’ve called Interval repeatedly since then, but it has told me there are no refunds for its getaways. Can you help? — Mike Ray, Bradenton, Fla.

Answer: If you had a confirmation, you should have had a room. It’s as simple as that.
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Smoked out of my hotel room

Question: My wife and I checked into the Marriott Grand Flora in Rome on a reward stay. (I’m a Platinum Elite member of Marriott’s rewards program, which means I’ve stayed in its hotels more than 75 nights a year.)

One of the benefits is that my room type is guaranteed. My wife and I are both affected by cigarette smoke, and the ability to guarantee non-smoking rooms is welcome.

When we checked in, the front desk clerk waxed on about how we had received an upgraded room, but was in retrospect unclear about whether it was a non-smoking room.

The next day, we both felt sick; although there was no obvious smell of smoke, we looked around and finally noticed an ashtray tucked away on a table.

I immediately requested a room transfer. At first we were told the hotel was full. Eventually, after speaking with a manager, we were given a different room, but were told that we had to vacate our room as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I did not pack everything.

After discovering the problem, I asked the hotel staff to let us back into our previous room. This request was refused, and repeated requests to the housekeeping staff to search the old room did not find anything left behind.

Several items of clothing (including a good portion of my socks and underwear) were left behind. Because we had been assigned to a smoking room in error, I asked the hotel to make good on the Room Benefits Guarantee for elite Marriott members. I was planning to use the money from the guarantee to purchase clothing so I wouldn’t have to do laundry in the bathroom sink on my vacation.

Marriott has refused to honor the guarantee, even though I escalated the complaint to the hotel manager and Marriott customer care back in the States. Is there anything you can do? — Matthew Gast, San Francisco

Answer: I feel for you. I just spent two days in a “non-smoking” room that happened to be next to a room occupied by a chain smoker. I smell like the Marlboro Man.

If Marriott guarantees a particular room type, and backs up that promise in its contract, I don’t understand why it’s stonewalling you. This is no way to treat a guest, let alone a frequent guest.
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