Starwood Made a Mistake, Admits It, Fixes It — Hotels Must Offer Double Occupancy Award Rooms

On Saturday I raised some alarms over Starwood apparently allowing a handful of hotels in Europe — such as the Pulitzer in Amsterdam and Hotel Des Indes, The Hague — to make rooms available for standard points redemption that fit only a single person — and charging more points if you wanted to have two people stay at the hotel.

The Starwood Preferred Guest terms and conditions say that award rooms are “for single or double occupancy rooms” but SPG representatives had explained that these hotels were unique, and that they were complying with Starwood’s rules because they only have to offer redemptions for single rooms or for double rooms, and they were offering single rooms.

I called that a pretty tortured reading of the rules of the program and suggested that the better approach would be — if they really wanted to allow these hotels to offer just single rooms — to change the terms and conditions to exempt these hotels.

It turns out though, despite what Starwood’s representatives had posted online, that the hotels in question were not considered compliant with the program terms and conditions. And that when program leadership saw my post they began working with the hotels to see what’s going on. It was a mistake, a training issue, and it’s getting fixed.

Here’s what I heard from a Starwood executive this evening:

Since your post, I personally have been working with our European Division to resolve. We did not change our T&Cs…hotels are not allowed to put single occupancy rooms up for redemption as the only option. If they have single occupancy rooms (as many in Europe do), they can put them up for redemption…but they also must have double occupancy rooms. We simply had new people at some hotels who didn’t understand correctly.

Over the past few days we’ve worked with the 2 hotels in Amsterdam (Pulitzer and Sheraton), as well as the Bristol in the Ukraine to fix the situation. We are still working with our hotel in The Hague.

Mistakes happen, it’s unfortunate that there was some initial mistaken information about what was going on, and I’m glad to see Starwood step forward and fix the issue and make clear where they stand. So kudos to Starwood Preferred Guest for owning it and solving it.

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. I understand that at the Bristol, at the moment, everyone gets an upgrade to the Presidential Suite (although probably a good idea to decline the offer).

  2. When you pat yourself on the back, please be careful not to hurt yourself. We wouldn’t want you injured.

  3. @ Mark – One would need a spine in order to pat one’s own back my friend. So it might be rough goings for ol Gary there. Smugness, Gary be thy name.

  4. Thanks Gary! I’m almost certain SPG wouldn’t make much effort in investigating it if you didn’t write about it.

  5. I hate to be an ugly american but the things I hate seeing on my bill on check out is a charge for wifi or for a “double” occupancy rate….. Kudos to SPG. Let’s not lie, it’s more of a Pain in the ass to explain to our spouses why they can’t stay somewhere because of those two things.

  6. Gary: Appreciate the attention that you brought to this issue. It’s amazing how things were shaping up on ft that starwood was standing behind this until it got the bad PR by you! Of course it was an error by new people….wink wink

  7. This is why Starwood and hyatt are well-run responsible companies trying to do right by their customers. An airline would cry “loophole!” and start ripping out beds across Europe, then declare bankruptcy because they couldn’t sell all those single occupancy rooms.

  8. @ avi – you cynical devil. But you’re right. Starwood was giving everyone the middle finger and would have continued had not Gary publicized the problem.

    Sure wish Gary would write about all the misposted Amex bonus points in December-February at grocery. Amex knows about the problem, but unless you call, they won’t fix the problem. They probably shorted people tens of millions of MRs, yet because nobody of prominence has publicized the problem, Amex won’t go back and remedy the mistake for everyone – in effect Amex are knowingly defrauding their customers. It’s the same “middle finger” to their customers.

  9. It also raises the issue of how much stock to put into what a “social media specialist” says. That seems to be the source of the original response identified as from Starwood. I’ve seen so many cases where information that gets out fast from a company rep on social media isn’t right. Isn’t the front line responder on social media really about as well informed and authoritative as the customer service rep you’d reach by phone? How many times have we known to HUCA with them? A lot of people seem to think that if there’s a tweet from someone employed by (name of firm) it is more authoritative than speaking to someone on the phone. Is it really? Am I misreading this? I think it’s entirely possible upper management really wasn’t aware of the matter at a couple of isolated properties, and the initial response was from someone more interested in being fast than accurate.

  10. I don’t claim credit for this change. My guess is that SPG was going to stand by its T&C and would have fixed it whether I posted or not. Is it possible that this Starwood exec read my post directly and that got it escalated more quickly? Sure. But I do also know that even when I wrote about it there wasn’t universal backing for the position explained on Flyertalk — the issue was already bouncing around and there were folks trying to figure out what was going on. I genuinely have no idea what role if any I played in this, the quote from the email I shared above notwithstanding.

  11. @Paul–OMG I was just going over my Rewards earning on my Amex (which is very diffecult) and noticed alot of points from groceries have not posted. This is the first I have seen anything mentioned on this issue. Thanks!!

  12. How about updating last week’s post ala dans deals noting the change? Would avoid grief if people found that post via Google and also be appreciated by the spg folk

  13. @paul @johnnie first I heard of a problem with amex bonus points. What card do you have? I have the premier rewards gold and I just checked my account, to my surprise they have a new link that pops a window that very clearly shows all the bonus points you earned for groceries, gas and flights. Not seeing any problem on my account??

  14. @DaveS – a tweet might be considered more definitive because you ‘have it in writing’ and may find it easier to hold a company to it than if someone tells you something on the phone and you cannot prove it.

    Recall that in late summer when American was accidentally adding fuel surcharges to Malaysia Airlines award tickets, AA agents and social media were confirming that fuel surcharges would be added to award tickets going forward, and this was mistaken (a total misunderstanding of a change to pricing that prevented fuel dumps on certain carriers).

  15. I think the Pulitzer must be infamous for trying to evade SPG benefits. I was there this past summer and not only did they refuse a Platinum upgrade (and put is in an attic room) but they insisted that we vacate the room in the morning and refused to honor the 4PM late checkout benefit for Platinums. We had been counting on that late checkout and made some plans accordingly. The Pulitzer is a beautiful hotel in a great location, but if you want an “SPG experience” (or even a friendly welcome) pick some other property. (BTW, I am a huge SPG fan and have had great experiences at most of the other Luxury Collection hotels. The Pulitzer really stands out as an exception.)

  16. To all of the haters, I didn’t sense any smugness/excessive back patting in Gary’s post. He is simply reporting what happened and applauding Starwood for acknowledging it and (hopefully) correcting it. If he didn’t report on this, who would hold Starwood accountable? You? We all would be the lesser for it. Not sure what you were expecting, but I for one, appreciate Gary’s efforts in this.

  17. Despite your comment in post #16, it does seem like you took some credit in the blog post:

    ” And that when program leadership saw my post they began working with the hotels to see what’s going on.”

    William was supposedly working the issue (see post #31, #41, #44, #105, etc, even after Christine Zhou posting as SL III previously claimed it was compliant). Then in post #143, Christopher Carman, an unknown “Starwood Social Media Specialist” using the shared SL IV account, posted that hotels offering only single room occupancy for standard award rooms were compliant, probably undermining the investigation initiated by William (my guess on that last part.)

    SL IV is a multiple person account apparently (I never really paid attention to that, but apparently anybody from SPG can probably post as SL IV) It was a surprise to me to see that other person post that. Usually the info would generally come back from the person working the issue.

    I think your attempt to take credit for this in the post (and that is what you did .. you said “And that when program leadership saw my post they began working with the hotels to see what’s going on.” despite you disavowing it in comment #16 above) was a bit of a sham.

    I think William was probably working the issue from day 1. And as usual, he gets very little credit for what he does.

    That said, I had stopped reading the thread, so I didn’t know that they reversed their decision until I saw your blog post in feedly, so for that I thank you for posting it.

    In fact, other that your blog post so far, I haven’t seen anything official posted by Starwood on this issue. Maybe I haven’t seen it yet?


  18. @LIH Prem – I quoted what this top Starwood exec emailed to me, was just repeating the narrative, lots of things may have gone into the decision or pressure or awareness and I have no direct knowledge of what — only the email I quoted directly. I think the impression comes from my quoting the full paragraph, I suppose I could have cut that out. Wouldn’t much matter.

  19. I think this is awesome that Starwood hotels are being held accountable for not following the rules. I’m so glad that you wrote about it. My family has experienced a problem with Hyatt not following the rules. We have 2 small children and we are not elite members, so we really like redeeming at hyatt house or hyatt regency cat 1 and 2 for free night suites. Hyatt House North Hills Raleigh, a category 1 hotel, doesn’t allow you to redeem points for suites (which the gold passport website clearly shows you can do at Hyatt House for a 2 bedroom suite). Phone reps at gold passport say that we should be able to redeem and they don’t understand why the system prevents them from booking the suite reward at that hotel, but I was later contacted by Hyatt and told that an individual hotel can choose to not participate. Hyatt needs to come clean and state clearly that redeeming points for suites is not allowed at all hotels.

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