The Starwood Platinum Chronicles, Part 3: W Santiago

One of the best benefits of being a Starwood Platinum member is unlimited upgrades to the best available room, including standard suites, based on availability.

While that’s the generous corporate policy, a majority of hotels are franchised, and many like to set their own rules. The hotels do have to abide by the corporate policy, and sometimes it leads to a bit of a fight at check-in. Hotels will claim they don’t have any suites available, even though they’re still selling them online. If they’re selling suites online then I think it’s safe to assume they’re available, so obviously they’re playing some kind of a game.

Which brings me to my stay today at the W Santiago. I checked in this afternoon and asked nicely about the possibility of a suite upgrade. The hotel was still selling “Marvelous Suites” online. The agent said “we’ve upgraded you to a Cool Corner Room, though don’t have any suite upgrades available.” I pointed out to him that they were still selling Marvelous Suites online, and he rebutted by saying that wasn’t actually the case.

Okay, in fairness I had loaded the list of rooms available while at the Grand Hyatt since I don’t have international data, so it could have been that the room was reserved in the meantime.

We went up to our “Cool Corner Room,” which was anything but “cool” and I would’ve probably preferred a standard room. I can appreciate the idea between W hotels, but this place is totally style over substance.

The “Cool Corner Room” has a bathtub right in the middle of it. What the…?

And the shower wasn’t at all enclosed and was open to the rest of the room. I’ll never again complain about the shower at the Grand Hyatt Santiago. Maybe it’s just me, but I like the steam from the shower to stay in the bathroom area and not fill the whole room. I like bathrooms/showers warm and rooms cold — am I that far off base?

These aren’t life and death “defects,” but it completely blows my mind that you can spend tens of millions of dollars building a hotel without considering the practicality of the features. These are the kind of things road warriors notice, in my opinion.

I quickly logged online and checked whether the Marvelous Suite was in fact still available, and it was. So I went back down to the front desk where I was helped by another associate.

Let me say this upfront — if I had asked for the second time and the associate were to just look at availability and tell me the suites weren’t available and it was an availability glitch, I’d take it at face value and move on. But almost every time they seem to dig themselves a deeper hole when confronted about upgrade availability.

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi, I just checked into room 5XX, and was wondering if you maybe had a suite available as a Starwood Platinum member? I just looked at spg.com and it looks like you’re still selling Marvelous Suites for tonight, so they should be available, no?”

He typed for a minute.

Agent: “How long are you staying for?”
Me: “Just one night.”

Okay, at this point I’m thinking they must have something available for tonight, since he asked how long I was staying. I don’t think he’d ask that if they didn’t even have suites available for that night.

Agent: “It looks like your rate was $248, is that right?”
Me: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Agent: “We don’t have any suites available.”

Okay, this is the point at which I knew I wasn’t going to drop it. I booked the rate using a “Best Rate Guarantee” since I found a lower rate at a website other than spg.com, though that still entitles me to elite benefits. So at this point it was clear I was being denied the upgrade because of my rate, which was about $50 lower than the prevailing rate. These are the same games some hotels play with those on points stays.

Me: “But the website is still selling suites, so what would you do if I booked one of them?”
Agent: “We will have a suite available late tonight, so the guest would have to wait.”
Me: “How late?”
Agent: “Probably around 10PM. They have late check-out.”
Me: “It’s already 5PM, isn’t 4PM the latest check out goes?”

This guy must think I’m really dumb. He thinks he can push me away by giving me an unreasonably late time when the suite would become available.

So at that point I did what any reasonable person would do — I tweeted @spg!

SPG has the best hotel Twitter out there, in my opinion, though I hate getting them involved because I feel bad for them. I feel like a kindergartener tattle tailing on my classmate to my teacher. I imagine it must be awkward for corporate to have to contact the hotel and say “um, can you please upgrade this guest like you’re supposed to?”

But they do so time and again for just about anyone, and have such a great attitude. In this case I tweeted SPG and 13 minutes later got a call from the front office manager, and 15 minutes later the following tweet from SPG:

God bless Twitter!

This is where it gets funny, because how does the front office manager justify the lack of the upgrade previously? In this case she said “we heard you were interested in a suite, and as it turns out we just had a cancellation, so we would be happy to give you that suite. Just give us 30 minutes to prepare it.”

Riiight, of course you just had a “cancellation.” 😉

And in the end I got a very nice suite on the top floor (vs. my previous room which was on the lowest floor), though it still has the flippin’ bathtub in the middle of the room!

Anyway, kudos to Starwood and thumbs down to the W Santiago for playing games. And if you’re a Platinum member, keep the hotels honest!

Comments

  1. The “W Hotels Insider” (their Twitter rep “Talent) at W Doha is excellent.

    Any issues? Politely ask @wdoha, problem goes away.

  2. It is possible that a guest was checking out at 5pm, 6pm , 9pm or later. Perhaps the guest was a 75 night platinum with the Your24 benefit – check in at your preferred time and checkout 24 hours later. I’ve used the benefit about a dozen times now.

  3. Looks like the suite I just stayed in. For four nights. Luckily, I was upgraded with no problems what-so-ever.

  4. I am also here at the W and thank God I have no bathtub in my “Spectacular” room as a lowly Gold:-)

    Let’s get together so I can help you travel more by bringing me some fresh cc apps…planning to do the amex30k soon:-)

    May go for a coffee at the Juan Valdez cafe at the corner of Starbucks down the street early sunday morning or may decide to pay for an overprice cup of coffee at the W over breakfast (us lowly Golds do not get free breakfast, boo!)

    Will hit the downtown area and walk all over it & return early evening/late afternoon and spend the rest of the day at the hotel.

    If you have time in your schedule let me know.

    I agree about the W here…I put on my BEST ever charm to squeeze an upgrade,including contacting the GM!! I was offered a Corner Cool room but decided to go for the Spectacular since it had a balcony which is the best part of the room.

    I always felt as SPG Gold that I am being offered a favor to stay in their hotels while as HH Gold I have always felt more welcome and appreciated (and upgraded!!). The attitude of SPG is killing me….I guess I don’t feel that bad that even Plats like you get the treatment once in a while:-)

  5. Just shows you what hotel management thinks they can get away with…and why corporate needs to mystery shop these properties…or else they will loose out on goodwill towards the brand, and not know why.

  6. this is why i really do not care for W Hotels. You hit the nail on the head, style over substance. When i was in Santiago last month after my Machu Picchu/Easter Island journey, i got a very nice suite upgrade at San Cristobal on a C/P booking without asking. The W has a better location, but i found taxis in Santiago inexpensive, and they have a good rapid transit as well.

  7. Sorry to hear you are having a bad stay, and shame on the hotel for trying to pull a fast one over on you.

    However, I have to say that this is one of my favorite W hotels. The have some incredible balcony rooms (perhaps a suite, can’t remember the room type). The gym and spa are fantastic, and they have some cool restaurant options as well, though surely the outdoor option is closed at the moment.

    My favorite part of the hotel is how well they’ve integrated their space with the community. I felt like the space was really alive and thriving. There’s a great market/deli (also can’t remember the name) on the bottom floor with some delicious food and across the way is a nice (overpriced) Cigar shop.

    Hope the stay gets better from here – mine was fantastic!

  8. Yes, to make its most valued guests fight them, regularly, for benefits they are “promised” is really beneath contempt and indicative of a company that has lost control of its brand and product.

  9. These type of repeated “games” that a top-tier elite (for the example lets just ignore the 75 night folks) has to play in order to get something in the terms and conditions of the program is beyond annoying.

    When you add in the lame BRG process Starwood uses where you book and then wait for them to confirm your competitor find versus doing it while you’re on hold like Hyatt, or the fact that the earn rate for staying at SPG stinks, or that their top tier redemptions cost an absolute fortune is it just me or is the actual hotel part of the SPG loyalty program a joke.

    Love Starpoints, and the cash & points is a great benefit, but overall the SPG elite level really lacks compared to Hyatt. At least in terms of consistency.

    Look at the previous SPG promotion they ran where you had to be an accountant to determine which earn would be better for you – these guys like playing games which is not what I’m looking for.

  10. @VeryGoodPoints, I disagree. If the room is available for reservations, then it’s available. I don’t know of any hotel that puts rooms up online but says you can’t check-in until 10 PM because some super elite is invoking a 24-hour check-out policy. Lucky may have had to whine to Twitter (I hate it as much as he does) but he was very much in the clear on this one.

  11. Yes Ben, beating up the poor agent who was probably under orders not to upgrade if possible is a great way to impress your blog readers.

    You claim to work in travel and have an understanding of how the travel game works, yet you don’t understand that agents in this situation probably are not allowed to help you. Either you are ignorant about hotels and hotel loyalty programs or you’re just a sadist an enjoy harassing poor agents.

    While I feel for you and the plight of hotel upgrades everywhere, you look like a jerk.

  12. i’ve used twitter this year to complain about the Westin Las Vegas (same situation regarding suites being available) and the New York Helmsley Hotel denying 4pm late checkout .. all the responses were very fast! Less than a 5 minute response time

  13. @colpuck Ben just asked for what he was entitled to, nothing more, nothing less. I don’t think he did anything out of place…If you are going to have the program, follow its rules. Thats all we ask.

  14. @colpuck – Shouldn’t you be preparing your opening statements for when you sue United because they denied you a free trip to Hong Kong?

    The irony and hypocrisy in all your posts makes for a good laugh. Keep it up! Laughter is the best medicine!

  15. Colpuck: are you trying to be controversial or do you really believe what you wrote? As Ben related the story he hardly “beat up” the agent. He also was not getting personal with the agent. Whether the hotel instructs their agents to disobey loyal customer benefits or it is just plain ignorance, the W owes Lucky an apology for their shameful behavior. I would go so far as to suggest that they comp his stay.

  16. @Scottrick @VeryGoodPoints … I agree with @VeryGoodPoints. It will show up as a salable room in inventory even though there is a late checkout on the room which could be at anytime of the day with the P75+ 24 hour program. If you arrive at the property at 3PM, they are going to offer you the best they have for immediate checkin. How would you react if they informed you that you could not checkin till 10PM when the suite becomes available? They cannot easily ask a P75+ to depart early so that another Platinum can checkin…even if it is Lucky.

  17. @Scottrick – I had to wait until almost 9pm to get a suite at the Sheraton Park Lane because the platinum member in before me had a late checkout. It happens.

    As much as I hate it, and complain about it, when I don’t get upgraded by SPG, I realize it’s a benefit and not an entitlement.

    The T&C say
    Subject to availability at check-in for the length of the stay, provided the room was not booked through a prepaid third-party channel. Specialty Suites such as, but not limited to, premium view, Presidential, Honeymoon and multiple bedroom suites are excluded. This benefit does not apply to all-suite hotels. Best rooms are identified by each property and may not include upgraded Towers-level accommodations unless Towers-level accommodations are booked originally.

    Maybe the hotel didn’t consider his booking eligible for some reason, or maybe they didn’t have anything available at the time of his check-in. Maybe the hotel considered the suites “specialty suites.” You can’t just assume Lucky was in the clear because he says he was.

  18. I’ve had a Westin in the states deny me a suite upgrade as an Ambassador, so they’ll play shenanigans on anyone. Fortunately, a call to the Ambassador desk fixed it, but I used @spg until I got an ambassador last month. It’s so frustrating to get to a hotel and then have to play hardball to get something you’re entitled to. I must say it’s even more frustrating to have to do it after your Ambassador has sent an advance memo to the hotel asking for an upgrade. 🙂

  19. Doesn’t seem like much of a benefit when you have to argue with the front desk, than message some people on twitter to get a suite for one night.

    I prefer the Fairmont/Hyatt model where you have certificates that you can use to confirm an upgrade in advance instead of argueing with the front desk on arrival.

  20. I’ve had to rely to twitter when hotels don’t honor SPG benefits and I always get a prompt resolution. I don’t have a blog or website so I would say they respond regardless of who you are.

  21. Why reward this behavior by patronizing the W? The San Cristobal is well known to take very good care of Platinums—heck, I’ve even been upgraded to one of their (fantastic) suites as a Gold. And it sounds like their rooms are more your style, anyway.

  22. Same issue yesterday checking in to Le Meridien Monaco. ‘No upgrades available’ despite availability online (shocker I booked on cash+points), and I got placed in a low floor view of a wall. After raising hell, an upgrade on a high floor magically appeared. Amazing.

  23. Thanks for this post. We will be staying at this hotel next month so it’s good to know we can tweet @spg to get the upgrade if it doesn’t come through…

  24. No more starwood hotels for this and many reasons more; I actually like Hilton better for their honesty and standard delivery of benefits

  25. @VeryGoodPoints-A good theoretical discussion but it was very likely a ruse by the front desk in this case.
    @colpuck-exactly who was he suppose to talk to if not the front desk agent?

  26. Too many companies are more interested in taking advantage of the customer rather than doing what they can (realistically) to keep them.

    There are cases where I would side on the company. A few recent blog posts by other bloggers who tried to get a suite for nights they didn’t deserve, etc.

  27. Great work, this brings back up some issues I have encountered.

    I hate when they decide based on your room rate what sort of benefits they will provide. Your program makes the rules, perhaps you should be more honest in your selling tactics.

    I’m a platinum in multiple programs, but most of my personal stays are BRG’s. So I get the royal treatment when I stay on my corporate rate but as soon as I do a BRG on a personal rate I’m scum? The thing is I’m more interested in an upgrade on my personal stay.

    Both Marriott and Starwood systematically undersell their own website on 3d party sites.
    Perhaps as part of the BRG they should automatically upgrade you one level of room at BRG confirmation.

  28. I wonder how many hotel guests upon entering the room think “I wish there was a bathtub in the middle of this bedroom”. Not many I would think. I’ll bet most people think the way you do about it Lucky. For those who do not wish privacy and don’t mind the bedroom being heated up with steam, just leave the bathroom door open when using it.

  29. Are you sure the Marvelous suite is the standard suite set aside for Platinum upgrades?

    Having stayed at the W a number of times, this is a hotel that usually goes out of the way to upgrade Platinum members, so I side with @Verygoodpoints in this case.

    This is a beautiful hotel in a lovely neighborhood.

  30. I have noticed that hotels which are franchises and managed by a third party RARELY follow SPG/Starwood guidelines. Sadly, this reflects badly on the starwood brand. Starwood managed & owned (even rare-er!) usually do a good job complying. One thing I noticed recent is that on the morning of my arrival, I recheck my reservation in SPG.com and check the room type to see if there has been any change made (upgrade)….then I know what I’m up against.
    One line I just love is when I stay at a Sheraton Hotel, as a platinum level member I am usually upgraded to a corner suite. however at some franchised Sheraton they just give me access to the club lounge and no upgraded room…. saying “we’ve upgraded you so you have access to the club lounge”…..to which I reply: “yes that is what I get as a Platinum member anyway ….what about an upgraded room?” The reply usually is: “I’m sorry sir, we don’t upgrade at this hotel …”
    So much for Starwood quality standards!

  31. One final thought about the poorly designed showers in the bathroom of W Hotels……It’s all about the look!
    I’ve stayed many times at the W times Square and the first couple visits after they opened the bathroom with literally flood every time I took a shower. I shared my thoughts with the front office manager and they told me that the hotel had to change and redesign all of their bathrooms because of that existing problem!

  32. Hmm. I’m not sure why this post is seen as controversial by some. Lucky mentioned a problem he encountered and gave his solution. If you don’t approve of his solution then you’re still free to solve it however you would prefer if and when you encounter such a thing. Let’s face it, most of what Lucky has to say about his travels is generally positive or at worst neutral. Some of his reviews are so glowing that they scarcely resemble anything I’ve ever seen when traveling. For me it’s important and informative to see how Lucky handles adverse conditions when they do arise. It’s also kind of refreshing to see a negative comment once in a while, to be perfectly honest. Otherwise it starts to feel a little to much like advertising copy.

  33. Isnt this the typical SPG game ? In at least 50% of my stays I need to complain about non-upgrades. With mixed success – this is way I dont care about my SPG Plat anymore.

  34. I must have gotten lucky last week! Stayed at W Santiago and was upgraded (SPG Plat) to the amazing Presidential Suite on the 4th floor.

  35. @uly @Zz – I have tweeted to SPG in the past with hotel problems and they always respond and resolve the issue within minutes. And, no, I don’t have a blog or any other reason for them to show me preferential treatment.

    Most recently, I was denied free Internet (or any benefit) as a gold on an award stay. Tweeted @SPG and within minutes the hotel GM knocked on my room door with an apology, offer of a free drink at the bar and dinner coupon. And they knocked the $9.99/day for Internet off of my bill at checkout. They went above and beyond but quickly fixed the problem!

  36. I hadn’t actually considered the late check-out via the new benefit as of March, though I doubt that’s the case given that he claimed it wasn’t available *after* he verified my rate.

  37. and to think, just when i start thinking of switchpging from hyatt to spg, i read a report like this!

  38. Good stuff… if you wanted to see how they help a “guest”, you should maybe tweet from a different account that isn’t associated with your name/blog.

    You’re obviously publishing their mistakes and reactions on your blog. You should try it out when there isn’t the same fear of negative publicity…

  39. Not sure why anyone is defending these lame tactics? Why stay loyal to a brand that tries to screw you over? Having to resort to tweeting to get basic benefits does not make for a pleasant experience and would make me walk. There are plenty of other options with more substance than this.

  40. Last fall I had to tweet SPG to get 4pm checkout at Sheraton Kona. They contacted hotel and 5mins later confirmed my late checkout as Gold….

  41. Typical W shenanigans.

    I booked via Virtuoso the W Barcelona as Virtuoso had advertised a pay 2 stay 3 promotion. Anyhow when I check in the clerk says nope we are not honoring that and to email the W manager. Email W manager – nothing. Email Virtuoso agent, and he informs me that W has decided to not honor the Virtuoso promotion and nothing they can do about it even though W had originally said yes.

  42. This is kind of why I told Carol that I retired from flyertalk, and I no longer readily admit that I am a flyetalker.

    While I realize that you were trying to “keep the hotel honest” there is a point where it starts getting embarrassing. For you.

  43. One of the agents at the Kris Lounge in SIN gave me one of those cardboard cutouts to take home cuz I practically begged her, and that was awesome…..until I got to L.A., where the the United rep wouldn’t let me take it on the plane……sheesh….

  44. The @spg is fantastic. I have about 100 twitter followers and most of them are spam I assume. But when I was checking into the Frankfurt Sheraton they told me I had been “upgraded” to the Club Floor which is just a regular room. I said that it looked like suites were available and she just gave me a blank look. I tweeted @spg and about 10 minutes later they found me in the Club Lounge (which is fantastic by the way) and said they had a suite for me. I don’t even know how the guy knew who I was. The suite was about three times bigger than the regular room.

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