When Companies Play Internet Trickery – Starwood Hotels and Resorts Edition

There’s a reason that Starbucks refers to their employees as “partners,” or that Disney refers to customers as “guests” and employees as “cast members.”  These companies are establishing a clear, corporate culture that starts at the root of what builds all companies: their staff.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both companies also place a high value on excellent customer service.

No matter how good the product is or how fun the ride is, if you don’t feel good, or feel like you had fun, then what’s the point?

Travelzoo is one of my favorite websites to snag great deals on hotels and restaurants. After realizing that my husband and I were unable to take much time off from our busy work schedules for a 5-year anniversary celebration, I was excited to see a great hotel rate at the Westin in Snowmass, near Aspen: $89 at the Westin Snowmass, plus a $15 resort fee instead of the $30 resort fee. Like most Travelzoo deals, you book directly on the company’s website. And it’s important to note that Travelocity also promoted the $89 rate (keep this in mind as you continue reading).

starwood

Unfortunately after clicking on the link to their website, I was unable to locate the $89 rate (or $15 resort fee), no matter which option I chose.

As a side note, the Starwood Hotels booking system is cumbersome and has never been ideal. Since consolidating their properties into a single system, the program (like most enterprise-level programs), isn’t always the easiest to maneuver. 

I contacted a customer service representative on the phone. Despite her attempts, she could not locate any $89 rate.

I contacted a customer service representative via live chat (I love live chats, it’s easy to save and store those conversations for reference). Again, the customer service representative was unable to locate any $89 rate.

Instead she pointed me here: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/bestrate/submitform.html

Basically if you find a lower room rate on a competitor’s site, Starwood Hotels will not only match the rate, but offer you an additional 10% off.

I filed a claim, and received the following response after 3 days:

Hello Ms.,

Thank you for your interest in the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Best Rate Guarantee program. I welcome this opportunity to assist you.

Ms., I have reviewed the rates for The Westin Snowmass Resort for the dates of your claim on our website and found a rate of 89 USD plus taxes which is the same as the rate of 89 USD plus taxes found through Travelzoo.com.

Upon further review, I have found that the competing rate you have submitted from Travelzoo.com actually redirects you to book on our own Starwood website.  

Kindly note that Starwood guarantees that Starwood branded websites will have the best room rate for any Starwood branded hotels. The Starwood Best Rate Guarantee does not apply if the Competing Rate is found on a Starwood branded Website.

Since the rates are the same and found on our own website, I have denied your claim.

Regretfully the Best Rate Guarantee department is unable to modify rates on existing reservations. Should you wish to book the lower rate, please ensure to review your existing cancellation policy first. If it permits, you may book the lower rate and then cancel your original reservation.

For complete program details, please refer to the terms and conditions of the Best Rate Guarantee program.

Your interest in our Best Rate Guarantee is appreciated and we welcome any claims you may submit in the future. The Best Rate Guarantee form is located here.

Best Regards, 

Laurie Hewitt
Best Rate Guarantee Specialist
eCommunications Department
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

My claim was rejected, but that wasn’t what angered me. What really upset me was that the $89 rate was now available on their website. Two customer service agents as well as myself were unable to locate this rate, and now it’s available? This of course leads me to the conclusion that since receiving my email, Starwood Hotels contacted their IT team (or whomever runs their reservations system) to get this rate up, and thus my claim was rejected.

Then I realized, what stops Starwood (or any site for that matter) for adding the competitor rate to their website prior to responding to any claim, so that they never have to fulfill the terms of their program?

What are the next steps? Not sure. $89 is still a great rate (which I can now secure), but I’m so annoyed by the whole situation that I’m not sure the heavenly bed is even worth it anymore.

My mom might say I’m cutting my nose to spite my face (what is with these old sayings anyway), but I wonder, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, is 10% really worth the internet trickery?