Marriott stole my miles

by Christopher Elliott on May 30, 2003

Q: I received a letter from Marriott recently saying that it had discovered “a systematic error in the calculation of your Marriott Rewards credit for any stays occurring between 08/01/02 – 12/07/02.” As a result, an incorrect point amount was applied to my account.

I checked my statement online as the letter suggested and it showed that my account had 611,810 points, as it has had for the last eight months or so. My account statements have also reflected that point value. Then I called Marriott to clarify, and was told that I actually had only 331,109 points.

I have been a loyal and happy Marriott customer for several years. My preferred lodging choice has been Marriott, and as a consultant, I often cite Marriott as an example of a benchmark, excellent, best in class business organization.

I’d like Marriott to honor the 611,810 points that my account currently reflects. I had plans to treat my family to a vacation holiday using those points. Can you help me?

– James Reynolds

A: Stripping you of half your hard-earned awards points – and disrupting your family’s vacation plans – is an unsporting thing of Marriott to do. Unless, of course, the miles weren’t yours in the first place.

After you sent me your first letter, I asked if you had actually earned the miles that were being taken away. You said you had.

Marriott begged to differ. According to spokeswoman Kim Manthei, a glitch in the system that calculates award miles moved a decimal point in your account. “327,440 points were incorrectly credited for a stay for which he should have received 32,744 points. As an apology for our error, and in light of his inconvenience, we have offered to credit his account a total of 30,000 additional points,” she told me.

Manthei says when she contacted you with the offer, you turned it down and threatened to, in her words, “Play this out in the media.”

James, really.

You didn’t earn the miles. I mean, if you discover an extra $100,000 deposited in your bank account, wouldn’t you call the bank to see if someone made a mistake? I find it difficult to believe that you didn’t know these extra points were an error. And I find it even more difficult to believe you though you had earned these miles.

But I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say you thought the miles were yours – you assumed that maybe Marriott was rewarding you with 300,000 bonus miles for your loyalty. And so you made plans to take your family on vacation, only to find out that those miles weren’t really yours.

Should Marriott just give you the miles back?

Absolutely not. A 30,000-point apology is plenty. But after some back-and-forth between you, Manthei and me, Marriott agreed to throw in an extra 10,000 points in order to make you happy. After all, it did wait eight months before taking the points away, and is not entirely blameless. You grudgingly accepted the 40,000 points.

Marriott admitted that it had decimal-point problem in its system, but said the error was confined to one property and that it had been fixed. I think it should have been addressed faster and with a better explanation the vaguely-worded letter you received.

You should check your point-balance more regularly to make sure that the awards you are getting actually reflect the number of nights you stayed at in its hotels. If you see something that looks fishy – on the upside or downside – then contact the hotel chain immediately. Don’t wait for it to act.

It’s the right thing to do.

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