Integrity Matters
March 31, 2004

Hotel club leaves guest out in cold

Question: (E-104)

Dear Jim:

I have been a member of an international hotel chain's awards program for seven years, amassing over 35,000 of their "points" for staying at their properties around the world. Recently I was inquiring about a trip for my family of seven to one of their premier properties in Hawaii when I was told my account as a "frequent hotel guest" had been canceled because I had not used my account for a year. I feel ripped off.

Does a company like this have an ethical obligation to highlight to its customers some of the "fine print" before it takes harmful actions? Or does it show integrity to reserve rights, then use them whenever it suits the company's accountants?


Welcome to your new status as an official member of the "now-you-got-it-and- now-you-don't" club. Sadly, your story is not unique. Hotel chains and airlines have found "legal" avenues to ask for loyalty from customers only to find ways to create self-serving loopholes that free them from certain obligations. If not legally "ripped off," your story sounds as if you were at least morally mistreated. Obviously, you will vote with your wallet. The programs that were intended to build customer loyalty, when not honored, will defeat their own purposes.

The real issue here seems to boil down to the path business leaders choose. What a shame when they select the "shell-game" option. They elect to manipulate the "letter" of the law, providing just as small of an amount of benefits as they feel they can get by with, while presenting a potentially misleading face of generous customer service. They design clever and attractive promises, announced with bold print and enthusiasm, and then protect, minimize and defend their downside obligations. They employ "legalese" in their documents and "doublespeak" through their customer service programs, along with enough "use restrictions" that only a minority of those who felt entitled to the rewards can meet the criteria to conveniently utilize them.

The ploys used by airlines and hotel chains may require the same investigation and regulation that finally occurred when the incessant, dinner-hour telemarketing calls were challenged and stopped.

This lack of responsible self-regulation by the telemarketing industry was motivation enough for the establishment of the "National Do not Call Registry," which, as you know, reshaped how one industry was able to do business. Does anyone miss those nightly calls that interrupted reading, dinner, important conversations or simply time to relax? The answer is probably not. Airlines and hotels that employ such practices, take notice: Customers are fed up.

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