By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 10/28/2008 9:11:07 AM ET 2008-10-28T13:11:07
travel troubleshooter

Q: Last year I earned enough Marriott loyalty points to score a cruise with Carnival for my 25th anniversary. I followed all of the rules carefully. We booked a cabin and a certificate was issued for the cruise.

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But four months before the departure, I learned that Marriott has not and will not sign a new contract with Carnival, effectively canceling my vacation.

Marriott is standing behind legal boilerplate language and won't give me the name of a supervisor I can appeal to. Can you help?
— Steve Azadian, Palm Harbor, Fla.

A: If your cabin has already been booked and paid for with your award points, you should be able to take your cruise.

But the terms and conditions for Marriott's award program suggest otherwise. According to the fine print, Marriott and its travel partners have the right to "change, limit, modify or cancel Program Rules, regulations, rewards, and reward levels at any time, with or without notice, even though such changes may affect the value of points or miles already accumulated, the ability to use accumulated points or miles, or the ability to obtain certain rewards."

This kind of broad language effectively lets a company withdraw any offer whenever it wants to, leaving loyal customers — forgive me — high and dry. At least that's how Marriott interpreted it in a series of e-mail exchanges with you, which you were kind enough to show me.

I see this a little differently. I think it's perfectly fair to withdraw an offer like a Carnival cruise up to the day you've booked the cabin. After that, the deal's done, and there's no going back.

Why is it so important that Marriott and Carnival live up to their promises? Because chances are, you've already made additional plans, like hotel reservations, car rental arrangements and airline tickets. It isn't fair to ask you to cancel those, incurring a significant penalty.

Marriott and its partner companies may interpret their own rules differently. But I think their rules are wrong.

You shouldn't have accepted Marriott's decision to disallow your appeal to a supervisor. Finding the name of a Marriott executive who is in charge of its loyalty program isn't difficult. The naming convention for e-mail addresses at the hotel chain is firstname.lastname@marriott.com, and these folks are known to answer an e-mail from a loyal customer.

After I asked Marriott to take another look at your case, it reversed its decision and will allow you to take your anniversary cruise after all.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations” on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2008 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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