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 Marriott.com 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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No refund for my canceled vacation?

Question: My wife and I booked a long weekend at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. We have always enjoyed the service we receive at Marriott properties, so we used the Marriott website to make our lodging arrangements. A link on the Marriott site took us to Marriott Vacations, where we booked a prepaid, three-night stay for $1,041, which we charged to our Visa credit card.

The morning of our departure, our son, who has Down syndrome, woke up with the flu. We can’t leave our son with caregivers when he is sick, so we immediately called the airline and the hotel to cancel our reservations.

The woman who took the call at the hotel canceled the reservation and gave us a contact number for the customer care department to confirm the cancellation. But after two months, the credit did not appear on our Visa card, so I called the hotel.

This started a very long process of several phone calls and hours on the telephone, until I spoke to someone directly in the Marriott corporate accounting department. They informed me that a credit had been issued to Marriott Vacations’ travel agency, and that I needed to contact the agency. I did, but I haven’t heard back from them. Can you help us get our money back? — Kelly Strong, Ames, Iowa

Answer: If Marriott promised you a refund, then you should have received one. I’m not convinced it ever offered one, though.

When you called the hotel to cancel, and it passed you along to Marriott Vacations, someone should have advised you that your hotel room was nonrefundable. So are your airline tickets. Here are Marriott’s terms and conditions.

It’s possible that someone decided to make an exception because of your son’s health, but simply referring you to the refunds department at Marriott Vacations doesn’t mean your refund is a sure thing. (I’m not going to get into the politics of whether this was a Marriott booking or a Marriott Vacations booking, which technically is handled by a third party. As far as you’re concerned, the buck stops with Marriott; and I would agree.)

Marriott Vacations should have recommended travel insurance, particularly since you have a child with special needs. You could have made a claim and received a full refund from your insurance company. At the time I worked on this case, the only mention of insurance on its site was in its terms: “We recommend that you contact an independent insurance carrier to protect your travel investment.”

I hope the representative you spoke with also told you about insurance.

You also spent a lot of time on the phone when you probably would have been better off writing to Marriott with your request. A brief, polite email sent through its main site would have started you down the right road — not to mention saved you lots of time. An email allows you to succinctly state your case and it is easily forwarded to a manager, if your request is rejected the first time.

It was generous of Marriott to offer a full refund of your vacation, but it would have been even more generous if it had actually issued the refund to you. I contacted the company on your behalf. A representative contacted you, apologized for the delay and refunded $1,041 to your Visa card.

(Photo: Shaya/Flickr Creative Commons)

Can this trip be saved? There was a meeting in the ladies room

Mark Gross was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Specifically, it was a room at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel in Tampa that no man should ever enter. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

The question we’re presented with this morning is the following one: What does a hotel owe a guest when there’s an honest misunderstanding that leads to profound embarrassment? Is an apology enough?
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