Proactive Customer Service Or Polite Way To Tell You To Bugger Off?

I don’t think there’s a hotel chain I have as mixed feelings about as W. I love their properties outside the US — the W Guangzhou, W Taipei, W Singapore, etc., are awesome hotels.

W-Guangzhou-Hotel

However, I can’t say I feel the same way about many of their properties in the US, which I find to be cheaply furnished and provide not-so-great service, all while commanding a price premium over similar hotels — I almost prefer aloft, which is W’s budget brand. Furthermore, I find US W properties to consistently be stingy with elite benefits — it seems they’ll find almost any excuse to deny a suite upgrade.

Many W properties seem to have “brand/member ambassadors,” which is puzzling, since I’m not actually sure what comes of it.

A friend forwarded an email he received about a stay last week at a US W property, which they sent late the night before he was scheduled to check-in:

We are excited for your upcoming visit. I wanted to reach out to you in regards to your approaching reservation. This week the hotel is fully committed and unfortunately we do not have the availability to provide an upgrade from your current room type. Your reservation is booked to a wonderful king room. With that being said, your loyalty is extremely important to us, and I would like to offer an apology as well as 500 points to your SPG account. If there is anything else I can do to enhance your W experience please let me know.

carol-beer

Great, so in theory they’re being proactive. I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, so that’s an ~$11 bonus as an “apology” for not providing an upgrade.

Only when going to the hotel’s website the morning of check-in and searching availability for the duration of the stay, they’re still selling two superior room categories:

SPG-2

And not just one or two rooms, but 13 of each room type:

SPG-1

So what do you make of the email? Is it proactive customer service, or typical W arrogance of denying someone something before they even have the chance to ask? Would you respond to the hotel and make them aware of the “issue?” If they’re being honest, then surely you’d be doing them a favor by sending them an email like the below, no?

Thanks so much for letting me know. You may want to update your reservations systems, which show 9+ rooms available in spectacular and fabulous categories, to avoid walking guests given the hotel is fully committed.

What do you make of the situation — is this good/proactive customer service, or a polite way to tell a guest to lower their expectations and not expect to have elite benefits honored?

Comments

  1. To me W Hotels seem to be nothing more than snobbery sans substance. Aloft is better but it’s still kind of like Diet Snob or Snob Lite. Maybe if I was a twenty something fashion focused trust fund dropout I’d feel differently, but in my experience the W is a poor value with few redeeming qualities.

  2. Hi Ben,

    I worked at a 321-room Sheraton in NYC as a Front Desk Agent in 2013. We had on average 100 SPG Platinums every night, and a good portion of them constantly told us they expected upgrades, which is clearly impossible with that many Platinums. I can’t even tell you the amount of times I said there was nothing available and they shoved their App in my face telling me there was. I would have to chase down a manager to get their approval, honestly those types of guests were never our favorites.

    We were sent list every morning from Starwood with a ranking of the guests for that night. It was ranked from #1, a list of all SPG Platinums, but by rank. Typically the ones at the top were either Lifetime Platinums, or Platinums who have stayed many more nights than a normal Platinum would.

    We were only allowed to upgrade the top 3 people each day. Beyond that, our ability to upgrade was really limited. An e-mail from someone asking for an upgrade like your post would have rarely, if ever, had turned into an actual upgrade, UNLESS there was a huge amount of availability, which was rare.

    Obviously the above example you gave is a bit extreme though 🙂

  3. Please ask your friend to send an email to the hotel pointing out the website availability. This is a regular W Hotel issue and unless we (as travelers) push back for the benefits we are entitled, we cannot expect the behavior to change. I regularly pull up availability on the SPG app while standing at the front desk in order to show staff the upgrade options.

  4. Sometimes when you have an issue of clearcut fraud, it’s better to copy the information to the appropriate regulatory agency. I don’t think it’s being “proactive” to sell people benefits they have no intention of awarding. It’s fraud. Bait and switch. What am I missing here? A sarky email to the person or organization perpetrating the fraud is not going to do anything.

  5. “We were only allowed to upgrade the top 3 people each day. Beyond that, our ability to upgrade was really limited.”

    ^ I think these sorts of limitations should be included in big bold letters on every sign up form and every correspondence. You could even shorten it to “Good luck getting an upgrade, sucker!”

  6. @Justin Wow, if true, and I have surely have no reason to doubt you, they have a long-standing pattern of offering something (upgrades) that they know very well an overwhelming majority of people won’t receive.

  7. @Justin – I see 2 issues here: 1st: the hotel is telling the customer that they are fully committed, therefore no upgrade is available which is clearly not true. I have an issue with that since they are not denying the upgrade/benefit but just stating something that is clearly false.

    2nd: if the conditions of the program state that an upgrade will be provided if rooms are available, then the hotel should do it. Period. If the hotel owner/operator don’t agree with the benefits they shouldn’t be part of that brand.

    I understand some people can be a PITA trying to play the DYKWIA card but I don’t see how you can refuse to give them an upgrade if rooms are available.

  8. Justin – “We were only allowed to upgrade the top 3 people each day.”

    Allowed by whom? SPG is pretty clear on these rules, so if it’s management…that’s an issue.

    “Obviously the above example you gave is a bit extreme though” Why?

  9. Starwood should create a new tier, and remove upgrades from the lower tier benefits. I was a 60 night Platinum last year, and I can count the number of upgrades I got on one hand, with two fingers chopped off.

  10. This is why I don’t bother focusing on hotel programs. The incremental benefit is marginal at best. I’m mid-tier in all the major programs and ignore them all, and stay where I want to stay.

    Makes it much easier when I decide I want to stay at the Peninsula in NYC in a suite that I can get for a better deal than a room at the Park Hyatt, for instance.

    I still need to learn to do the same with airlines, but my UA MM status makes it emotionally hard to give it up (sunk cost fallacy, etc…)

    Greg

  11. Ben, could you see about delving a little deeper into what Justin wrote? Given your sociability, occupation, and living in hotels, you must have many connections to contact. From the number of comments above, a lot of people are interested. I sure am.

  12. I find W to be my least favourite SPG brand and most pretentious staff. As a person with platinum ambassador status, I can tell you that the local franchises at many SPG locations only begrudgingly give upgrades. Sometimes it is just not worth the “fight”. As the former employee states, there are just too many Platinum people out there to make it a real perk. I’d strongly encourage them to have another tier and just leave platinum for the free wifi, breakfast, 2x points and suites.

  13. Agree re: looking deeper into the Justin claim.

    I would ask Justin why it’s so difficult to actually upgrade those who are entitled to an upgrade provided there is space available. Is it literally ‘too difficult’ to push the necessary keys on the computer?

  14. Why would one ask about an upgrade ahead of time? I thought SPG upgrades were provided at time of check in? While I agree that the W chain is generally stingy about upgrades, I don’t think they want to commit to removing inventory from higher category rooms until absolutely necessary.

  15. @Justin – Thank you for providing that insight. I actually stayed at your hotel weekly during the summer of 2011 shortly after you opened. For a New York City property, yours had a great suite upgrade for the few suites that you had. Your hotel is EXTREMELY consultant heavy, particularly for those consultants from all the big global firms working at National Grid, not to mention the bank shared services centers nearby. That is amazing, 30% platinums at the same time. I believe it.

  16. @Justin

    SPG’s terms clearly states for Platinum, “An upgrade to best available room at check-in — including a Standard Suite”

    If your hotel are still selling better rooms, up to Standard Suite, when a Plat at check-in, then clearly it’s available and shall be assigned to said Plat who is checking in.

    I understand there may be VIPs that the hotel may want to reserve suites for, but if that’s the case the suites shouldn’t be shown as available for booking then.

  17. Christian’s suggestion is good. Maybe you could interview the manager since you have a new age publication.

  18. This is an easy one. You are dealing with pure bullshit. Period. I would immediatelty call the Platinum line, tell them about the letter and the fact that upgraded rooms are being sold, let them know that as a (long-time) Starwood Platinum, I’m not only upset but offended and ask their help. Bet they would step up. Suite? Probably not. But upgraded room – I’d bet on it.

    That said, my business partner and I (and our wives) are celebrating out 40th anniversary of our dental practice and going away together to Miami. Had to choose between the W South Beach and the St Regis. I really think the W is better situated but who needs the grief?! We’ll be at the St Regis.

  19. A lot of smoke and mirrors with SPG as many suites now have names. If the suite is named, then perhaps it isn’t a standard suite? It’s all semantics. SPG should be more transparent. I spent 75 nights at SPG hotels last year, yet upgrades to suites were not as often as expected, and upgrades to more features rooms or suites showed availability, yet they were unavailable to me, lifetime Platinum. Wow SPG. I know you care more than Hilton, but wow. Super nice employees at check in? Fine, but it’s your JOB to be considerate to all of us. Don’t lie to us. We don’t spend 75 nights in hotels because we’re lazy and unmotivated, and we chose SPG for a reason. Don’t take us for granted and label us as entitled because we chose you. Many of us are running out of patience with the smoke and mirrors.

  20. I am also interested to know about Justin’s comment regarding only a certain number of Platinums being upgraded every day.

    SPG should simply allow us to apply SNAs at the time of booking like Hyatt.

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