Q: My wife and I checked into the Marriott Grand Flora in Rome on a reward stay. (I'm a Platinum Elite member of Marriott's rewards program, which means I've stayed in its hotels more than 75 nights a year.)
One of the benefits is that my room type is guaranteed. My wife and I are both affected by cigarette smoke, and the ability to guarantee non-smoking rooms is welcome.
When we checked in, the front desk clerk waxed on about how we had received an upgraded room, but was in retrospect unclear about whether it was a non-smoking room.
The next day, we both felt sick; although there was no obvious smell of smoke, we looked around and finally noticed an ashtray tucked away on a table.
I immediately requested a room transfer. At first we were told the hotel was full. Eventually, after speaking with a manager, we were given a different room, but were told that we had to vacate our room as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I did not pack everything.
After discovering the problem, I asked the hotel staff to let us back into our previous room. This request was refused, and repeated requests to the housekeeping staff to search the old room did not find anything left behind.
Several items of clothing (including a good portion of my socks and underwear) were left behind. Because we had been assigned to a smoking room in error, I asked the hotel to make good on the Room Benefits Guarantee for elite Marriott members. I was planning to use the money from the guarantee to purchase clothing so I wouldn't have to do laundry in the bathroom sink on my vacation.
Marriott has refused to honor the guarantee, even though I escalated the complaint to the hotel manager and Marriott customer care back in the States. Is there anything you can do?
— Matthew Gast, San Francisco
A: I feel for you. I just spent two days in a "non-smoking" room that happened to be next to a room occupied by a chain smoker. I smell like the Marlboro Man.
If Marriott guarantees a particular room type, and backs up that promise in its contract, I don't understand why it's stonewalling you. This is no way to treat a guest, let alone a frequent guest.
Part of the problem may be cultural. Europeans tend to be far more tolerant of cigarette smoke than Americans, so when you complained to the manager at the Grand Flora, I imagine one of the reactions was, "Come on, what's a little smoke?"
But you have a right to a smoke-free room, and Marriott, as a hotel chain, has taken a pretty aggressive stand when it comes to smoking. According to its "smoke-free policy," it is committed to providing a smoke-free environment in the United States and Canada. Alas, Europe is exempt.
What I'm trying to understand is why they did this to you. You've concentrated your business with Marriott, earning a "platinum" designation as one of its best customers. They should have made extra-special sure that all of your needs were being met — not hesitated before giving you another room. And they should have helped you recover your lost items.
At the same time, I'm sure the hotel had its reasons for handling your case the way it did. If the property was full, then accommodating a special request that may have seemed frivolous to the staff probably didn't rank high on their priority list, despite your protests.
If Marriott sent your case back to the Grand Flora's manager for resolution, I think that may explain the lack of action. You see the hotel as failing to meet Marriott's high customer-service standards. They probably see you as a whiny American who can't handle a whiff of cigarette smoke.
If that's the case, then you're right, and they're wrong. It comes down to this: You're the customer — and not just any customer — and they made a promise.
I contacted Marriott on your behalf. A representative contacted you and offered a $100 check, in accordance with its elite benefits guarantee. That should buy you a few pairs of socks and underwear. In addition, Marriott's corporate office sent you a $100 gift card by way of apology.