So before anyone accuses me of being angry, petty and spoiled, let me flat out say that I cop to all of those things.
But here goes.
I am Starwood Platinum — Starwood’s highest level of loyalty in its frequent stay program. According to Starwood, this means the following:
Our highest level, Platinum, is reached after completing 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year.
As a Platinum member, you’ll receive all the benefits of Preferred, plus much more: upgrades to best available room at check-in, including Standard Suites.
Our signature Platinum Concierge service to help you arrange just about anything regarding your visit. It’s service tailored to your needs.
Now let me tell you about my last stay at the Beijing Sheraton Great Wall.
I booked three rooms. One for co-blogger Steve Dickinson, one for me, and one for Matthew Dresden, another China lawyer at my firm. When I arrived, I learned that neither my room nor Steve’s room had wireless internet. This was not a problem for Steve because he has a MacBook Pro and so could use the wired network. I travel with a MacBook Air (I love it; it truly has 14 hours of battery life!) and it has no ethernet port. This meant that I needed wireless internet. I was told that to get wireless internet I would need to pay about $100 a night more to upgrade to a suite. I pointed out to them that if there is a suite available I am supposed to be upgraded to it for free in any event, but they wouldn’t budge. So I signed up for the suite. Not an auspicious beginning, and one that turned out to be rife with foreshadowing.
Matthew came a few days after Steve and me, and he brought his wife and his three year old. Steve and I ran into the three of them while they were incoming and they looked exhausted. Flying from Seattle to Beijing with a three year old (heck, even without a three year old) can do that to you. It was about 7 pm and Matthew went with his family to his “non-smoking” room. The room reeked of cigarettes so Matthew requested a new room, which he was given.
Matthew and his family were soon asleep. Big mistake.
Maybe two hours later Matthew heard what sounded like someone coming into his room. He looked up and standing there was a Chinese businessperson, in a suit and tie. He mumbled something in Chinese (Matthew is fluent in Chinese but not so much in this sort of situation) and then scurried out. Matthew got up, double-locked the door and went back to sleep. His family did the same.
Maybe twenty minutes later, a peeved front desk person called Matthew to tell Matthew that he didn’t have a reservation for his room and that he didn’t belong there. Matthew, in late night Chinese, made clear that neither he nor his wife and kid would be moving.
I have never heard of anything like this, have you?
But we’re not done yet, as this is the Sheraton Great Wall….
On check-out day (Steve and I stayed five nights, Matthew and his family stayed three), Steve left early because he needed to go to Shanghai to meet with a client. Matthew and I sought to check out at around 9 am because we had a late morning Shanghai flight. I sought to pay for all three rooms but asked that the hotel not cancel access to Matthew’s room until noon (check-out time) so that his wife and kid could stay there until then. A relatively simple request, one would have thought.
But no, this is the Sheraton Great Wall.
The front desk person looked at me like I had asked him for his first born. He said nothing. For a long time. Finally I asked him to check us out as we had a plane to catch. He said that he was concerned about keeping the room open because of the mini bar. I then looked at him like he had asked me for my first born. But instead of waiting a long time, I rather quickly pointed out to him that if Matthew’s wife should go crazy on the mini-bar during the next three hours, the hotel could charge the plunder to my credit card. He again gave me a long look. This time rather panicked. His look was one of not knowing what to do and not really having the authority to do anything. Should he take me up on my eminently sensible suggestion or should he follow orders and treat a guest like pond scum? I made very clear that we didn’t have all day and that we had a plane to catch.
He then called on someone with apparently greater authority and she came up with the brilliant idea of letting Matthew’s wife and three year old stay in the room a few more hours, but on the condition that the mini bar be locked. I was in too much of a rush (checking out by this time had already taken more than 15 minutes) so rather than pointing out how crappy the service had been and how ridiculous this was, I assented, then paid and left.
When I got back to the US, I wrote Starwood and ranted about the treatment we had received. In response, I got an email from someone at the Sheraton Great Wall, offering her apologies and asking that I stay at the Sheraton Great Wall the next time I am in Beijing. No mention of why they had charged (overcharged?) me for my room and no mention of any sort of freebie.
I wrote her back and asked her why in the world I would stay at the Sheraton Great Wall ever again when the service is so bad there and all they offer me to remedy that is an apology. She then wrote me and offered me an upgrade the next time I go. In other words, after all this, they are offering me exactly what I deserved all along.
So why did I write this post. Two reasons, actually. One because I am angry, petty and spoiled.
The other to highlight how China still has trouble getting things right. Good hardware, bad software, as people always like to say.
Now before anyone points out how ridiculous it is for me to use one hotel to describe an entire nation, I should say that I virtually always experience a number of things like this every single time I go to China. I should also say though that the number of these things does seem to decline with every visit.
Oh, and in all fairness to Starwood, its American side eventually felt compelled to step in and make things right by giving me a bucket-full of points.
What do you think?