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Not So Rewarding

Sonja Haggert

WE TRAVEL A LOT, so I try to read up on new places, new deals and what to watch out for. This year, I’ve made two new discoveries—not pleasant ones.

I admit it, I love hotel points. I know I’ve paid for those points, but seeing a “free” hotel bill makes me feel good.

Hotels started their rewards programs when I was traveling for business. I signed up right away. In fact, my rewards account number with one hotel chain starts with 000. My employer at the time let us keep the points we accumulated. Between the hotels and the airlines, my husband and I had some great trips.

We generally have our vacations planned out at least a year in advance. Now, I’m learning that—when you’re using points—planning ahead can have unintended consequences.

Taylor Swift performed in Philadelphia in May.  A woman from another part of the country had reserved a room four months before the night of the concert using points from a hotel loyalty program. A month before the event, she received an email from the hotel informing her that it was canceling her room reservation due to “system availability.”

How can a hotel cancel a guaranteed reservation, especially one made so far in advance? If you prepaid for a room, the hotel is under contract to honor it. But it seems a confirmed reservation made with points doesn’t carry the same legal obligation. The Pennsylvania lodging laws were written in the 1950s, before points existed, so the hotel was able to cancel her reservation.

It seems obvious what happened here. Once the concert was announced, the hotel knew it could make much more from the room. You can read an account of the incident here. After the situation received some publicity, the hotel backtracked and reinstated the reservation.

That isn’t the only item that recently caught my attention. Whether you pay in points or not, check your bill before leaving the hotel. The Wall Street Journal reported on an incident at an Arizona resort. A man received an email receipt that included a $10 bellman gratuity, a $22 credit card processing fee and a $3 daily maid gratuity—all this after he’d left the maid a generous cash tip.

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