Get Free Stuff At Starwood Hotels By Being A Regular And Complaining A Bunch?

According to a Starwood hotel insider, the chain has a super-generous comp policy. Her story, and an expert’s take on whether she’s full of beans, inside… “Most companies empower their employees to make the customer happy by offering discount or coupons – to an extent of course. I believe Starwood Hotel’s is called “Never Say No.” We were given the OK, with manager approval, to spend $1K/day to do whatever it took to make guests happy…”


…So, if a guest requested that their stay would be more comfortable if they had a dvd player, game player, or a different bed – if we wanted to – we could go out, purchase said item and supposedly be reimbursed by the hotel. An in-house myth is that a guest claimed they could only sleep in a La-Z-Boy recliner and an employee ran out and had a recliner delivered that day – whatever, it’s good propaganda.

If you were a bartender or server, this worked to your advantage, of course. I worked as a bartender at the Westin Charlotte for several years and loved it. Many of the regulars at the bar stayed at the hotel every Mon.- Thurs. for months (some even a year) – mostly independent contractors/consultants working for BOA, Wachovia or Lowe’s. They loved to drink and loved to tip. Many times my co-workers and I would comp the majority of a regular’s bill under the “Never Say No” rule. Free alcohol = big fat tip.

Moral of the story? Anytime you stay at a Starwood Hotel – Sheraton, Westin, W, St. Regis, Le Meridian, and their Luxury Collection – make sure you tell anyone and everyone who works there you were unhappy with something. This works best with those that expect a tip like a concierge or food service employee. I would happily comp someone in the hopes of receiving a bigger tip. Managers – the ones who give a shit or are trying to climb the corp. ladder – are another great resource for free stuff. Also, mention to someone it’s a special occasion, and chances are, they’ll comp something if they’re feeling nice that day.

We asked Mark Ashley, blogger behind Upgrade: Travel Better and Consumerist contributor what he thought:

Not unheard of, though I haven’t heard of this at Starwood explicitly. But size matters: if you’re a big enough fish (high-ranking elite in their program, regular guest, etc.) then it is particularly likely that you’ll get some customized comps. Nice hotels will do a lot to customize the guest’s room if that guest is an important enough client. But if you booked a room at the Westin for $50 through Priceline, don’t count on getting a La-Z-Boy delivered. The hotel wants to keep all guests happy, but they’re also making a business decision based on loyalty and perceived future revenue. That’s why the bartender’s story of giving free drinks to *regular* customers is so plausible.

I once worked in a hotel that was asked to bring sports equipment (e.g., treadmill, weights) to a guest’s room, because he thought he was too much of a bigshot to exercise in the very nice attached gym. They didn’t charge the guy for this extra service, though it was a pain in the ass and cost the hotel labor time to move the equipment. (They didn’t have to *buy* anything new, to please him, though. I am suspicious of the La-Z-Boy story, frankly.)

Bottom line: It never hurts to ask for something that would make your stay more comfortable, if it makes sense. Don’t say you can only sleep in a room filled with 206 jelly beans in a Versace porcelain bowl. The staff will ask why you didn’t bring your jelly beans.

And if it really is a special occasion, it can’t hurt to mention it and see what the hotel does. Just don’t expect the world if you’re not a big spender. And don’t be an asshole about your request. You’re asking for a favor.

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. DigitalMariner says:

    We’ve had some excellent results from Starwood’s Customer Service department without even having to escalate the matter above front line reps. 2 quick stories.

    We stayed at a Sheraton in Seattle, WA for 10 days through hotwire not realizing that we couldn’t get SPG “points” for such a stay. After a few conversations with them, we were given a handful a points to cover the money we spent in hotel (parking, food, etc…) It wasn’t as much as the 10 day stay would’ve gotten us, but it was more than we were entitled to under the letter of their rules. We also stayed at a rotten Sheraton near King of Prussia, PA. It smelled, the service was terrible, the room was in disrepair, and management on site didn’t seem to care. One email to SPG after the stay, and we were given enough points to re-stay at a hotel of that level for the same length of time.

    This kind of service from the corporate CSRs turned us from looking to Priceline/Hotwire first to Starwood. And other than the Sheraton Park Ridge experience, we’ve always had 110% level of service from Starwood employees in the field no matter if we payed Priceline or nearly rack rate. It’s a refreshing change from service in other travel related (aka – airlines) businesses.

  2. beyond says:

    I got a gift from an expensive hotel; they double charged me, does that count?

  3. levenhopper says:

    I don’t blame the second interview-ie for not believing the Lay-Z-Boy story…thats why the hotel insider said it’s a myth. And she used propeganda in the next sentence. So obviously it didn’t happen.

    Anyways, it was an EXCELENT story to hear about this. I’ll keep it in mind next time I look for a hotel…

  4. Sudonum says:

    I worked for Hilton Hotels for 10 years leaving in 1998. During that time period they instituted a similar program that they called “Empowerment”. Empowering the employees to do what they had to do to make a guest happy. Well after they had a few employees giving comp meals in the hotels fine dining restaurant (bills in excess of $200 for 2 people) for minor inconveinces like a light out in their room, they started reining it in. First they had to get their managers approval. Then they started a policy where all requests had to go through the Manager On Duty. Department Heads could still do just about anything they wanted to, within reason. I remember I had an AC problem in a meeting room that took over 4 hours to fix. The guest did not want to move to a different room since he had printed material with that room named on it. It was a group of about 20 guys who were petroleum engineers. When I made my last visit to the room after finally getting the AC fixed I asked them if there was anything else I could do for them One guy joked that he sure could use a beer. I went to Food & Beverage Manager and had 2 cases of ice cold Heiniken sent up. The guy who booked the room sent a very nice letter to the GM. My budget got dinged for $150 bucks for 2 room service cases of Heiniken.

  5. ChadSWhitney says:

    I have had nothing but problems with a Sheraton I frequent. On the first such occasion I was going to book a room online however I found that Orbitz was $25 cheaper than the Starwood website. Perfering to book my stay directly, I took a screenshot of the Orbitz price and sent Starwood an email requesting the lower price per the price match policy they have listed on their website. It took them 72 hours to respond and by the time they did, Orbitz was higher. They refused to lower the price and they said a screenshot was not acceptable verification. After I received that email I called the hotel directly and calmly explained to the front desk staff what my problem was however when asking for the price match, they became very rude and refused. I was politely asked for the manager however in the transfer process the line “accidently” disconnected.
    When returning to the same area 3 months later I decided to give the Sheraton another shot. On this visit I was able to book the room with no problems, however the front desk staff was again rude and acted like I barely existed.
    After two such events I will not stay at a Starwood again (unless I have no other options).

  6. k8supergrover says:

    Smaller, non-chain luxury hotels often empower their front office staff to make comp decisions up to a certain amount of money simply because there is no manager available.

    Keep in mind though that most hotels have some kind of internal document that tracks guest complains so don’t try to tell them when you’re checking out that you called 15 times for someone to fix your tv when you never called.

  7. RattlingTheKettle says:

    Starwoods and SPG has always been good to me. After staying at the Sheraton Seattle last winter, I wrote Starwoods a letter politely complaining about the renovation/construction (which, aside from being noisy, closed the lobby, lounge/bar and restaurants) not being disclosed to me at booking. They wrote back with a sincere apology, and gave me a choice of either a 25% cash refund of the cost of my entire stay or a comparable amount of SPG points. That is quality customer service.

  8. RebekahSue says:

    It really bothers me that, if I complain, I’ll get something, but if I thank the staff of anyplace for great service, I almost never get anything. You’d think that hotels, airlines, stores, etc. would want to keep their happy customers happy. Giving me a coupon that I’ll never use – even if it’s for a free night or something like that (I’ve gotten comped rooms before, after rotten service) because I’ll never patronize the business again doesn’t hurt the business I’m avoiding, you know?

    On my last flight, those of us who’d missed a flight because of weather, and were on standby, were ready to board when some people who were late threw fits. Their whole party threatened to get off the plane – which would have let ALL the standbys board! When the late people boarded, I said, “So, you’re rewarding that group for being bitchy? I’m being punished for having good manners. Maybe I should have thrown a fit.” The manager who’d been called over actually hung his head.

  9. MiltyKiss says:

    @RebekahSue: Unfortunately, that’s how it is. I agree with you whole-heartedly that the person being nice and not causing a scene should get rewarded and not the person yelling at the top of his/her lungs.

    To be honest though, I have gotten ‘perks’ (for lack of a better word) after being patient with issues in my hotel room… It’s just rare.

  10. Sudonum says:

    @MiltyKiss:
    @RebekahSue:
    I’ve upgraded people to concierge level when they’ve had problems and they’ve been understanding and nice about it. You want to be nasty about it, sure I’ll solve it and I may even send you a fruit basket or comp a continental breakfast, but what ever I do it will be the bare minimum. If you have a problem and address it like an adult then you get more.

  11. benchman says:

    I know that at Ritz-Carlton hotels this is a big policy among the staff. They can spend $1K on a customer no questions asked. It not only improves customer satisfaction but also improves employee morale because they are more empowered and feel like they have a bigger and more important role in the company, even the housekeepers. This can in turn lead to higher productivity.

  12. minneapolisite says:

    We mentioned to the Don Cesar that it was our honeymoon—nothing. Mentioned it to Thrifty car rental and we jumped from an econo-car to a sporty convertible.

  13. browngt5 says:

    I’m

  14. browngt5 says:

    I’m a gold elite with Marriott, and they treat me really well. Last weekend in San Francisco at the Courytard downtown I used points for an award stay. There were five of us in the room, so I asked for a suite upgrade (which I have, on rare occasions, gotten automatically). The front desk clerk said that it wasn’t a problem, and it certainly made the weekend more enjoyable.

    Marriott has also FedEx’d my iPod and my Ray-Bans to me when I have left both in a hotel room on two seperate occasions. The front desk staff is always attentive and professional, and that’s even before they see my status on their computers.

  15. Alan Thomas says:

    I *just* booked a stay at a Starwood hotel (Sheraton), although I noticed a lower rate at hotels.com. Starwood has a form here to tell them about just such a situation, and, sure enough, they honored the hotels.com rate and gave me an additional 10% off (or 2,000 points)! I also got a response in about two hours!