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Q. After much hunting around on the Internet, I thought you might be the best person I could consult about the issue I am having with Marriott. In June of 2007, my son checked into the Marriott Residence Inn in Pittsburgh to wait for a double lung transplant. Funds had been raised by family and friends to pay for his stay, which was estimated to last 6 to 8 weeks following transplant. For reasons beyond anyone's control, the stay actually lasted about 11 months. At some point during his stay, he signed up for the Marriott Rewards Program, and amassed many points. About six months into the stay, his travel funds ran out and his father and I paid for the rest of his stay, with the points, of course, accumulating on his account.My son passed away in December 2009. In going through his records, I found his Marriott rewards card and contacted Marriott to have his points transferred to my account. I was informed by a rather rude customer service person that since I was neither his wife or child, I was not eligible to have those points. I was unhappy with this news and followed the phone conversation up with a letter sent to the corporate office, explaining why I thought an exception should be made (we had, after all, paid for 5 months of his stay). I received NO response. I called customer service again, and sure enough, there were notes on my record that I had indeed written, and the decision had been made not to make an exception. I followed up with another letter, and again I have heard NOTHING. I am unhappy with Marriott on two counts: I think we are entitled to points we paid for, and I am surprised that Marriott would not have the courtesy to respond in writing to a customer who had spent in excess of $15,000.00 in one year.
What do you think? What should I do next? Am I beating a dead horse, or should I continue to barrage Marriott with letters? Do I have any recourse?
A. First of all, I'm so sorry for your loss. What do I think? I think that policies are in place for a reason, but there should always be room for exceptions. And if ever there was a time for one, it's now.
So I called Marriott, and in particular, Laurie Goldstein, who works in their communications department (full disclosure: I blog on openforum.com, a small business site that is sponsored by Marriott). She offered to reach out to the company's operations department for us, to see what's going on here. It took a while, but finally we have an answer for you: The company has decided to bend the rules a little here, and the points have been transferred into your account.
That said, I wanted to find out a little more about how this process typically works. Goldstein tells me that the program's terms and conditions state that points are only transferable upon death to a domestic partner or spouse. So the information you were given when you called customer service was correct. The company likely created this rule to avoid getting involved in legal disputes or a contested will after a death. If you want to pay for a room for someone, and you want the points to go on your account instead of theirs, you should give the hotel specific instructions to credit your Marriott rewards number for the stay. Of course, this was understandably the least of your worries at the time, which is why Marriott made an exception here.
Finally, Goldstein gave me a good piece of advice: If you have an issue with the rewards program, don't contact hotel customer service – use the phone number that is specific to rewards. That number is (801) 468-4000. They are better equipped to solve your problem.
Consumer Ally problem solver Jean Chatzky is the "Today Show" financial adviser, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.
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