How to make sure you get an accessible hotel room if you need one
After a 20-hour journey, an exhausted Emmett Yee recently checked into the Marriott Cincinnati Airport hotel. He was looking forward to a hot shower and a cold beverage before getting some shut-eye. Unfortunately, the shower part of these simple plans turned out to be impossible.
Yee, a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum member, is battling a brain tumor and uses a wheelchair. Months before this trip, he had reserved a room with a roll-in shower. Yee had even called the property days before his arrival to reconfirm this basic necessity.
In the end, none of those efforts made a difference — the hotel assigned him a room where he couldn't bathe.
With no roll-in shower rooms available at the hotel, Yee's plans for the night took an unpleasant turn. He had no choice but to go to bed without washing up after his full day of travel.
However, for Yee, the lack of a usable shower in his room wasn't the worst part of the experience; no, it was the insensitivity to his plight.
Since he wasn't given the room Marriott had confirmed, he complained and applied for the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee compensation. For his troubles, as a Platinum member, he expected to be eligible for the $200 and 90,000 points outlined in the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee terms.
A customer service representative, however, inexplicably told Yee that Marriott considers a roll-in shower as an on-request amenity, not a guaranteed feature. As a result, Yee's request for Marriott's Ultimate Reservation Guarantee compensation was summarily rejected.
Unable to believe that Marriott could really view an accessible shower as a negotiable amenity, especially after the lengths he had gone to when booking a specific room type, Yee reached out to TPG for help. He hoped we could shine a light on his situation and recommend hotel brands that honor confirmed reservations for guests with limited mobility.
As it turns out, that same week, another TPG reader sent a similar tale to firstname.lastname@example.org about her experience at a Hyatt hotel. It's one that, unfortunately, suggests this insensitivity to guests with specific needs might just be a widespread issue in the hotel industry.
Contrary to popular belief, not all hotels in the United States are required to have any accessible rooms. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates lodging facilities constructed after 1993 must comply with the regulation.
Older hotels may not have modern-day accessibility elements. The good news is that many hotels have voluntarily complied with the ADA even if the property isn't required to do so. However, it doesn’t mean that hotels, even newly built ones, have tons of ADA-compliant accommodations or those with accessibility features they rely on, so travelers with specific needs face hurdles with every single stay.
The issue goes beyond Marriott
Dr. Jayne Fortson was a 19-year-old student at Albany State University when an ill-advised adventure with friends altered her life forever. While exploring Thatcher State Park in Upstate New York, the group entered a cave that collapsed on them. A gravely injured Fortson was trapped under a pile of rubble inside the cave for nearly 24 hours.
Rescuers were finally able to extract her, but the damage to her body was permanent. Since that time, nearly 50 years ago, Fortson has been paralyzed from the waist down.
Still, she never let this tragic accident interfere with her life plans. Just weeks later, she returned to Albany State University to continue her studies. Fortson developed a new goal: to ensure that students with mobility challenges could freely navigate campus.
Fortson graduated on time, went on to medical school and, in her free time, became an accomplished Paralympian. She married, raised a family and is a world traveler.
There's almost nothing Fortson hasn't been able to do despite the twist her fate took that night all those years ago.
So, imagine her surprise when she recently hit a hurdle she couldn't navigate at an unassuming Hyatt House in Morristown, New Jersey.
No way to shower at this Hyatt hotel
After traveling all day from Alaska to the East Coast to attend a family wedding, Fortson arrived at the front desk of the Hyatt House. Although she had alerted the staff that she uses a wheelchair and requires a fully accessible room with a roll-in shower, she was given a standard room.
When she brought this issue up to the staff, they informed her that the property only has two accessible rooms with roll-in showers, and both were already occupied.
Things went from bad to worse when she entered her assigned room. Not only did it not have a roll-in shower, but it had a raised bed, which made it much more difficult for her to transfer herself from the bed to her wheelchair and vice versa.
For the next two days, Fortson and her two daughters tried to make do.
"It was terrible, and of course, we couldn't leave since we were there for a wedding. We were with a large family group," Fortson told TPG. "The only way I could get into bed was with the help of my daughters and the strength of my arms."
"But a raised bed like that would be impossible for a wheelchair-dependent guest to use without assistance," she continued. "And since the bathroom had no roll-in shower, I could not bathe during my stay. It was demoralizing."
Despite complaining to the front desk and reminding management that she had confirmed a specific type of room to accommodate her needs, the hotel had no other rooms to offer her and told her nothing could be done.
"In all my years of traveling, I have never experienced such a terrible situation at a hotel," Fortson told me during a phone call from her home in Alaska. "I always try to stay at a Marriott because that brand is consistently attuned to the needs of their guests. If something goes wrong, they make it right."
Fortson went on to relate her experiences at various Marriott hotels in which the staff went above and beyond to ensure she could easily access all areas of her room. She told me that, in her opinion, Marriott is the gold standard for mobility-challenged guests.
This made Yee's Marriott complaint, which was sitting there on my desk as I chatted with Fortson, rather ironic.
Marriott customer service: A roll-in shower is a request not guaranteed
When I went through the paper trail Yee included in his emails, I shared his view that the Marriott customer service representative he had been dealing with needed some sensitivity training.
Here was the initial email response Yee received from Marriott customer service after his stay:
"I reviewed the Confirmation email that you sent in. It states the Guaranteed Request: Mobility Accessible Room with Roll-In Shower.
Per Marriott terms and conditions, under Section 4.3.c.vii. Guaranteed Room Type may have applied in this situation.
As a Platinum Elite member, you are entitled to this benefit compensation. However, the only room type that was guaranteed was the King bed. The Roll In shower was a request, not a guarantee.
In order to guarantee this room type as required, it is best to contact our Customer Care agents when booking so that we may coordinate with the proper team to ensure the room type is available at the hotel for your stay and to make sure that it is specifically set aside for you.
You have been given 10,000 bonus points for the situation. You can see these points on the Activity section of your account.
Emmett, thank you for choosing Marriott for your travel needs. We look forward to assisting you with new adventures and travel memories in the future.
Happy and safe travels.
Marriott Bonvoy™ Case Resolutions Specialist"
This "Case Resolutions Specialist" seemed to be ignoring what Yee had already explained to them: He had called the hotel several times before arrival to remind the property of his needs.
Also, their closing signature, which most certainly came from a template, was more than a little tone-deaf.
Yee certainly did not need the assistance of Marriott in the future to create the type of travel memories it had created during this "adventure."
Asking Marriott if an accessible shower is really on-request only
Not willing to give up, Yee continued to correspond with this Marriott “specialist,” who remained unswayed. So, Yee turned to TPG for help.
After speaking with Yee and reviewing his documents, I was confident that Marriott would want to make some sort of amends for this situation – including addressing the specialist’s repeated declaration that a roll-in shower is a request-only feature, like extra pillows, a bucket of ice or a specific view.
I reached out to our executive contact at Marriott. This is not a customer service-facing person. This is someone I can contact as a consumer advocate and member of the media.
As I wrote:
"Emmett is very disappointed with what happened at the hotel, but he is even more disappointed by Marriott's response. [******] response makes it appear as if he complained about something trivial -- not that he had no way to have the basic necessity of showering.
[*******] also told him that the Marriott Ultimate Reservation Guarantee doesn't apply to requests for accessible rooms.
This response seems insensitive to the feelings and needs of a person suffering with a brain tumor and who is trying to continue to live his life and travel for as long as possible.
Could your team please have a look at this case and see if he actually does qualify for the Platinum Reservation Guarantee compensation?
Thanks! Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Advocate"
It wasn't long before I received a response.
The good (and common-sense) news from Marriott
Very quickly, Yee received the good news from Marriott. Of course, an accessible shower is not an on-request amenity. It’s a requirement for a traveler in a wheelchair.
The Marriott executive office contacted Yee to offer an apology and compensation that went beyond the Marriott Reservation Guarantee terms.
As in another Marriott case I recently wrote about, the individual property provided the generous resolution. (Note: Many Marriott properties are independently owned, franchised hotels. As a result, sometimes Marriott corporate’s intervention can only accomplish so much.)
Yee wrote to tell me the good news:
"Hi Michelle, I just got off the phone. **** (name redacted for privacy) said the [Marriott property] offered 80,000 points, refunded our stay charge, plus $500 to cover what should have been a roll-in shower room somewhere that night.
I told her that's more than what the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee states. She knew, and said the hotel wanted to make up for all the troubles. Also, she put me on a list related to internal ADA training programs they are working on.
I don't think any of what's occurred in the past few days could have happened without your intervention. THANK YOU VERY MUCH! Emmett Yee"
With Yee's problem successfully addressed, I turned my sights to the Hyatt House to find out what had happened with Fortson's reservation.
What about that Hyatt House?
I wish I could say that things went similarly well for Dr. Fortson, but they didn't.
I sent multiple requests to the executive team at Hyatt over the course of several weeks but did not receive a response concerning Fortson's experience. For its part, this Hyatt House, which is an independently owned and franchised property, did issue Fortson Hyatt points as a goodwill gesture after her stay.
In response to an email from Fortson’s sister, who was hosting the wedding, the property’s manager wrote at the time:
“Thank you for bringing this important issue to our attention. I apologize that your sister's experience with our front desk team, and in her suite, was not a positive one and that we were unable to provide the room type that she had initially booked. While we did our best to make up for this on the day by providing her a shower chair so that she could use the shower in her suite, I understand that it was not an ideal solution. As a token of apology, I would like to provide her with 24,000 World of Hyatt points to her account. Enough for [two] free nights at a similar category hotel.
(Hyatt House Morristown, spokesperson)”
Fortson wasn’t after compensation, though. As was the case when she first became a paraplegic as a college sophomore and immediately set out to be an advocate for others in the same situation, Fortson’s goal in contacting TPG was to share her experience so that others might learn from it and be able to avoid the same. After this trip, she’ll be sticking with Marriott, she says.
While investigating this story, I learned that Avion Hospitality took over the management of this Hyatt House franchise in March 2023, well after Fortson’s incident occurred. I was able to reach a spokesperson for the company, who told me that they intend to use this situation as a training opportunity for the staff on how to handle these situations better in the future “with a refocus on ADA procedures.”
(Editor's note: Several days after publication, a public relations representative from Hyatt reached out with the following comment from Hyatt House Morristown general manager, Michael Barrett, who said, "We sincerely apologize for this guest’s experience. When we have not fully lived up to our purpose to care for people so they can be their best – like in this case – we hold ourselves accountable to do better. We addressed this situation with our team in an effort to prevent similar situations in the future.")
However, those two ADA-compliant rooms with roll-in showers remain permanently occupied, so it’s unclear what plan of action the hotel will be able to take.
How to avoid ending up in an inaccessible room
Unfortunately, I know from my case files that the experiences of these two TPG readers aren't unique. Due to poorly trained staff, sloppiness in the hotels' reservation systems, or franchise property owners who are unaware of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, travelers with mobility challenges can easily end up in inaccessible rooms.
Here are some tips to reduce the chances of getting assigned a hotel room that can't meet your basic needs.
Confirm that the hotel has accessible rooms
The first step to finding out if a property can fit your needs is to determine if the structure was built after 1993. If it wasn’t, contact the hotel and ask if they've refurbished to comply with the ADA. Even if your hotel was built after the ADA was passed, you should probably still get in touch directly to learn about the accommodation options and property features.
Based on ADA regulations, there may be only one or two rooms at the property that meet your needs. Travelers who need mobility assistance should be especially cautious of smaller properties (fewer than 50 rooms) as these aren't required to have any accessible rooms with roll-in showers.
Even if you do ascertain that a hotel has rooms with the features you need, you’ll need to dig deeper to determine if you can stay there comfortably.
Find out precisely what an accessible room means at the hotel
There isn't a national definition of what an accessible room means in the United States, leaving it up to the traveler to confirm if the hotel will meet their needs.
Some hotels will satisfy the requirement for a specific number of accessible rooms by creating accommodations that may or may not make things accessible to your situation. For instance, if you need a roll-in shower, booking an accessible room is not enough to be sure you'll get what you require.
It's critical that you find out from the hotel what types of rooms they have and what specific amenities each offers. Don't forget to ask about the public areas of the property. You can’t assume that an accessible room means the same thing across the travel industry. It doesn't.
Ask the hotel about your room — and get it in writing
In Yee’s case, he had the roll-in shower confirmed in writing from Marriott. However, in Fortson's case, the hotel staff told her things they never noted in her reservation. In both cases, the rooms they were assigned lacked what they needed.
Before you book any hotel, make certain that the room you're booking can accommodate you. When you discuss your needs with the hotel, note the name of the person you're speaking with and let them know you're taking notes.
Unfortunately, phone representatives sometimes say things that might not be accurate, and after you disconnect from that person, you have no record of what was said. So, take your notes and ask for a summary of your conversation to be sent to you via email. Most reputable companies will comply with this request.
Reconfirm via email and phone several days before your stay
Call the hotel and remind the staff you'll soon be arriving and what your specific requirements are. Most hotels start blocking off and assigning rooms several days before a traveler's arrival date. It's crucial that before their scheduling team gets to work, you give them that reminder.
Frequently reminding the property of your impending arrival and needs isn't you being a nuisance – it's you making sure that you receive what you require.
I'm happy we could help Yee in this situation. I am surprised that Hyatt refused to comment on Fortson's experience, though the property did attempt to make a goodwill gesture in the form of points. Readers with specific mobility needs may wish to consider those responses in their future travel plans.
Remember, if you find yourself in a battle with an airline, cruise line, car rental agency, vacation rental company or credit card, send your request for help to email@example.com, and I will be super happy to help you, too.