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100% Satisfaction Guarantees at Hotels: Fact or Fiction?

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Not every travel experience is going to be perfect; the question is what to do about it when you don’t get the service you expect. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at hotel satisfaction guarantees to see whether they’re actually helpful or just lip service.

When you hit the road, you probably have certain expectations of your flights, hotels, and other travel providers. With the explosion of the Internet, it’s easier than ever to draw attention to both good and bad service (take TPG’s hotel reviews as exhibit A). Many hotel brands recognize this, and have implemented 100% satisfaction guarantees to try and appease customers before they broadcast negative experiences too widely. The question is, are these just marketing ploys, or do the policies have teeth? In this post I’ll examine which chains offer guarantees, and what you can expect if (or when) you invoke them to deal with poor service.

What would cause you to invoke a satisfaction guarantee? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
What would cause you to invoke a satisfaction guarantee? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Why have these policies?

On the surface, implementing one of these policies may seem like a bad business decision. After all, how exactly do you define “satisfaction” during a hotel stay? Every person out there has slightly different thresholds for what constitutes a service failure. You may think that a single day of no housekeeping is enough to claim dissatisfaction, while others might require a more egregious offense to prompt a complaint. These policies clearly create the potential for abuse.

However, as you’re about to see, many chains don’t offer a completely open-ended policy that guarantees satisfaction or your money back. Instead, they give the individual property a chance to fix the issue right when it occurs. These safeguards prevent guests from abusing the policy by invoking it at checkout for an issue that was never reported to the front desk.

In addition, many chains use these policies to encourage guests to bring service failures to the attention of hotel management. Gathering this information can be valuable for a chain (as a whole) to evaluate its overall service, but it also allows an individual property’s manager to address shortcomings (or not) when they occur.

Hampton Inn was one of the first brands to institute a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Hampton Inn was one of the first brands to institute a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Here are the brands that offer published satisfaction guarantees:

Hampton Inn
Hampton Inn was one of the first brands to offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee back in 1989, celebrating its 25th anniversary this past October. The policy specifically states:

“If you’re not 100% satisfied, we don’t expect you to pay. That’s our promise and your guarantee.”

I found an interesting article published around the policy’s 10-year anniversary, noting that the guarantee has been invoked for reasons both simple (rough toilet paper) and peculiar (UFO sightings and noisy cows). The article also stated that the first 10 years saw over $6 million in free rooms given away. However, a senior VP noted that the chain was able to track more than $41 million in repeat business over that same time directly connected to the guarantee.

Hilton Garden Inn
Hilton Garden Inn is another Hilton HHonors brand with a satisfaction guarantee, which states:

“We promise to do whatever it takes to ensure you’re satisfied, or you don’t pay.”

While it may not be directly connected to this guarantee, the brand was voted “Highest in Guest Satisfaction Among Upscale Hotel Chains” by J.D. Power in 2014.

La Quinta also provides a satisfaction guarantee.
La Quinta also provides a satisfaction guarantee, though the hotel will try to fix things first.

La Quinta
La Quinta doesn’t get a ton of play in the loyalty realm, but the chain does have a satisfaction guarantee:

“At La Quinta Inns & Suites, your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. If there’s a problem, please contact the front desk for assistance. We guarantee we’ll resolve it or your night’s stay is on us!”

This is another policy that promises free nights when you’re not satisfied, but the hotel will first attempt to resolve the problem, which gives the property some latitude in determining when (if ever) to comp the night.

Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Clairon, or Sleep Inn
Many of Choice Privileges’ brands offer a satisfaction guarantee, though the policy doesn’t specifically mention that you won’t have to pay:

“If you’re not satisfied with our accommodations or service, please let the front desk know without delay so we can make it right.”

On the surface, this policy seems to give each individual hotel a lot of flexibility in determining what “making it right” means. This could include refunds, but may also just be a specific remedy that fixes the problem.

Fairfield's satisfaction guarantee actually limits the compensation you can be awarded.
Fairfield’s satisfaction guarantee actually limits the compensation you can be awarded.

Fairfield Inn
Last year, Fairfield Inn instituted a new guaranteed satisfaction policy:

“We promise you’ll be satisfied, or we’ll make it right. That is our commitment to you. If an issue arises, promptly alert the General Manager or a Front Desk associate so they can resolve it. Hotel associates will make every effort to resolve the problem to the guest’s satisfaction. If compensation is granted, it will be limited to the price of one night’s stay or Marriott Rewards points for a future stay.”

This one is interesting due to its specificity. While other policies simply state that you will not need to pay, Fairfield specifically limits the compensation that a hotel can offer you.

The “World of Radisson” page indicates that these properties, part of Club Carlson, guarantee your satisfaction:

“If guests are not entirely happy with any aspect of a hotel’s offerings, the team will make it right, or the guest won’t pay.”

Here’s another policy that gives the hotel the chance to “make it right” before being obligated to comp you the night.

Radisson Blu
The more upscale brand in the Club Carlson portfolio also includes a satisfaction guarantee:

“Our staff will do everything to ensure that you leave our hotel happy, so if there is a complaint, it is addressed with the utmost of haste. If your complaint remains unresolved or you leave disappointed, any one of our staff can invoke the 100% Guest Satisfaction Guarantee. This means that you will not have to pay for your room or the service in question.”

Yet again, this policy allows the hotel to fix the issue before the guest is no longer obligated to pay for the room.

If the heat in your room isn't working, at what point do you invoke a satisfaction guarantee? Immediately? An hour? A day?
If the heat in your room isn’t working, at what point do you invoke a satisfaction guarantee?

Are these policies legitimate?

Of course, publishing a 100% satisfaction guarantee isn’t worth the paper (or website) on which it’s printed unless the brand actually enforces it. Interestingly, these policies lack many details. Unlike best rate guarantees, you won’t notice fine print, exclusions, or specific parameters for invoking them.

Fortunately, the Internet has made it easy to read about others’ experiences with these policies. Here are some of the relevant FlyerTalk threads for some of the aforementioned guarantees:

Unsurprisingly, satisfaction guarantees are a mixed bag that that varies from hotel to hotel. Many hotels are franchised; for example, if a guest invokes the best rate guarantee policy at a Hampton Inn, the individual hotel owner (not Hilton HHonors) is on the hook for the refund or free night(s).

I have only used these guarantees once, at a Hilton Garden Inn
I have only used a satisfaction guarantee once, at a Hilton Garden Inn.

My experience

Personally, I have only ever used these guarantees once during my decade plus of significant travel. My wife and I spent a weekend at the Hilton Garden Inn Lake Buena Vista/Orlando to attend the International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. When we woke up the first morning, there was no hot water in the room. We called to report the issue, and the front desk said they would send someone up to fix it immediately.

We went downstairs and had breakfast, and an hour later, the problem was still not resolved. We called a second time and were again told that maintenance was working on it. Another hour went by; still no hot water. I called a third time and was given the same “We’re working on it” refrain. We decided to head out to Disney unshowered so as not to waste the day, and when we returned that evening, hot water had been restored.

At check out, I mentioned the problem to the front desk agent, who immediately summoned a manager. He apologized profusely and offered to comp the first night of our stay, which I thought was incredibly proactive and more than enough to make up for the inconvenience. I didn’t even need to invoke the guarantee!

Rabbi Ginsberg outside the SCOTUS after the hearing. Photo by Jonathan Ernst for Reuters.
If you abuse these policies, you could wind up like Rabbi Ginsberg! Photo by Jonathan Ernst for Reuters.

Can these policies be abused?

At the outset of the post, I discussed how these policies have the potential for abuse, especially ones that don’t include a “make it right” clause. However, I would caution you about overusing these policies in an effort to get out of paying for hotel rooms. For starters, since the guarantees typically apply to lower-end brands, you’re not going to make out like a bandit and get hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of free rooms.

In addition, you may wind up getting flagged as a serial abuser and lose the ability to complain when actual problems arise (as in “the boy who cried dissatisfied”). Hotel chains and their accompanying loyalty programs are becoming more and more adept at capturing and using data pertaining to individual customers, and if you’re repeatedly complaining more than is reasonable, you risk having your account closed and points revoked. Remember the case of Rabbi Ginsberg vs. Northwest from last year?

Your thoughts
It seems like these “satisfaction guaranteed” policies are a bit more style than substance, as many allow hotels to “make it right” before offering any type of compensation. However, I’m interested to get your thoughts and experiences with three aspects of these guarantees:

  1. How do you define 100% satisfaction on a hotel stay?
  2. What problems would lead you to invoke these guarantees and request a free night/stay?
  3. What are your experiences with these policies?

Please share your comments below!

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