Kicked out of the inn

by Christopher Elliott on August 24, 2006

Question: I recently made reservations at the Residence Inn Houston Intercontinental Airport at Greenspoint, which is run by Marriott. When I arrived at the hotel, the hotel manager informed me that my reservations couldn’t be honored because other guests had decided to extend their stay.

They offered to send us to another hotel, one that didn’t belong to the Marriott chain. Not knowing what other course to take, I accepted the offer. The substitute hotel turned out to be right next to a freeway overpass, and the rooms were of a much lower quality.

During the past month, I’ve exchanged several e-mails with Marriott over this customer service failure. In all our correspondence, the hotel has reiterated that the circumstances were “beyond our control.” I find this hard to believe.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve had to lengthen my stay at various cities because of extra business meetings and visits. Every one of those times, I was denied extra days at my hotel if it was booked full with incoming guests. So, what’s going on?

— Lewis Gutman, San Diego

Answer: If a hotel confirms your reservation, it should have a room waiting for you when you check in. And if it doesn’t, then the common practice is to send you to a hotel of equal or greater quality — not to some second-rate roadside motel.

I’ve reviewed Texas state laws that concern hotel occupancy. Chapter 2155, which applies to hotels and boardinghouses, does not specifically address the reservations process. So as far as I can tell, no laws were broken.

The terms and conditions on Marriot’s Web site may guarantee you’ll find the lowest room rate on Marriott.com but, paradoxically, they don’t actually guarantee you’ll have a room.

I think this misunderstanding was avoidable. If you had treated your hotel reservation as if it were an airline booking — remembering to call the front desk before your arrival to make sure your room was still there — then you might have prevented your visit to the substandard property. Knowing that the room wasn’t available, you might have been able to phone Marriott’s reservations number and make alternate arrangements.

Then again, the Residence Inn could have, and should have, contacted you before you arrived to let you know your reservation couldn’t be honored.

I asked Marriott to look into your case. A hotel representative contacted you and explained that the visitors who extended their stays were considered long-term guests, and the state classified them renters. The only way of forcing them to leave would have been to evict them, which would have taken some time.

Marriott apologized to you for the way in which it handled your substituted accommodations. It paid for your first night’s stay at the alternate hotel and credited your rewards account with 20,000 Marriott points.

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