Marriott IT Failures Cost Them Money, Force Them to Blame the Customer

One Mile at a Time writes about Marriott cracking down on people booking hotels that haven’t yet opened — speculatively, hoping for compensation when the opening date inevitably delays — and in particular warning people trying to do this while using credit cards “that will not authorize the forfeiture amount.”

There are really two issues here.

  1. Making speculative bookings you don’t plan to keep, knowing the hotel isn’t likely to open and will wind up offering you compensation. Marriott will rarely be able to ascertain intent, and their failure to open is their fault not the customer’s.

  2. Using credit cards that don’t have enough credit, or prepaid debit cards with perhaps just a few dollars available on them, in order to prevent a hotel from properly collecting a charge when a guest doesn’t show up and doesn’t cancel the booking in time. This is really a problem with Marriott’s IT, even though it’s a fraudulent activity taken by the customer.

Marriott has a history of losing money from customers who provide payment methods that won’t cover the room rate. When they first launched mobile check-in with keyless entry there was a rash of customers in California using invalid cards or cards that wouldn’t authroize the required charges making one night stays and never being charged. My understanding is Marriott had to make good to the hotels because their IT failed to account for this.

Marriott says they’re,

advis[ing hotels] to preauthorize the late cancel penalty amount as soon as the reservations show active in their systems and to cancel any booking where the credit card declines.

This underscores another Marriott IT fail. When you book with Marriott, even on a prepaid rate, Marriott doesn’t automatically charge your card. This is something Starwood was better than Marriott at. Marriott’s system relies on hotels to get their new reservations and manually charge the cards themselves. Some hotels are better about doing this than others.

I have no problem with making a speculative booking at a hotel that hasn’t opened yet. I love visiting new hotels when they first open. There’s often a lot of interest in a new property and I can share the experience with readers. But these bookings are always speculative because I have no way to know if the hotel will open on time. I’ve made bookings, bought plane tickets, and found out at the last minute that the property was delayed. It can be fighting tooth and nail to get a hotel chain to make good.

I do have a big problem providing credit cards that won’t cover cancellation charges. It’s a trick I know many people used to use with Priceline — if you got an error from Priceline’s system that your credit card didn’t work it meant a hotel bid was going to be successful. That revealed something about the price they’d accept, and some people would then go back and make a lower bid. It was a form of ‘free re-bid’ trick but a grey area one at best.

However rather than temporarily disabling customer accounts, Marriott needs to fix its IT and better manage construction projects.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Agreed on the credit card stuff. But it would be pretty easy to identify a pattern of people who book reservations at new hotels hoping for a delay and always cancel them when they actually open on time. Their complaint isn’t about people who book hoping the hotel will actually open, it’s gaming the system.

  2. This is unrelated to the topic of this article, but it is also another example of how bad Marriott’s IT dept is.

    The new Marriott reward chart is sortable by hotel brand and destination. Unfortunately destination sort only allows by City, or by Country. Therefore if you input London, you will find hotels in London Canada or London USA coming up together with hotels in London UK.

    Worse, if you use Nice as destination, hotels in Venice also show up. I guess Venice has “nice” in its name, therefore it will show up.

    Other hotel chains would show you properties in cities not far from the destination searched, but lumping Venice with Nice? What kind of programming logic is used by Marriott IT?

    There are also properties totally missing when using destination sort. Boscorlo brand has changed its name after 5 properties are sold to Dedica Anthology group but they are still showing as Boscolo, when sorted by Autograph brand. Yet, it would not show up when search by destination such as Rome, Prague, Budapest or Nice – all these cities have at least one Boscorlo property.

  3. fll —

    Be thankful that they even gave that capability! When they changed hotel categories in the past, they never provided any sorting mechanism at all!

    Some countries can be sorted but given that the bulk of their properties are still in the USA, you would have thought that they would have provided a sorting mechanism by each US state — sadly, they did not.

  4. Has anyone else had problems with the Marriott mobike app? The lone time I tried using it to check in prior to arrival, on a trip to Denver when my colleague and I would be arriving late, the app said everything was good to go and simply to collect my key card.

    On arrival, my colleague checked in the old fashioned way with no issues. But desk staff said that “someone (probably [my] travel agent)” had “accessed the reservation repeatedly (some thirteen times) and then canceled it,” so no room for me at the ostensibly full hotel.

    A call to our corporate agent’s after-hours number quickly confirmed that no one had done anything with my reservation. After being summoned, the shift manager insisted that since I had “canceled” my reservation and the hotel was “full,” she wouldn’t walk me to another local hotel (which itself would have been mighty inconvenient for getting to meetings with two travelers in two locations and one rental car) – – I was on my own to drive around the Denver suburbs at 9:30 pm and, if I were lucky even to find a room, to pay the walk-up rate somewhere.

    I don’t lose my cool in these cases, and instead showed her how Marriott’s own app indicated that I already was checked in, made the case that this pretty clearly was an IT gltch, and asked her politely if she were prepared to accept responsibility for the costs and inconvenience I was about to incur in the face of the IT evidence.

    A handicapped suite miraculously opened up, and she gave us two vouchers toward a late dinner in the restaurant. Yes, everything worked out in the end, but the experience really left a bad taste in my mouth, and I haven’t used the app to do anything other than to monitor reservations and activity ever since.

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