Coping: How I Fired a Hotel Chain

imageThis is an important little story.  Not because it is a big deal in and of itself.  But because it serves to remind each of us how much power we actually hold as consumers and how, properly wielded, it can actually make for positive change.

Before I tell you the story (it’s short), a word or hundred on how companies and corporations have personalities.  Although it can be fairly argued that a corporation doesn’t have a personality, the facts speak differently.

Besides, I have no less the U.S. Supreme Court on my side.

There was a case a while back called Citizen’s United.  The Wikipedia summary gives you the general layout of things:

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a U.S. constitutional law case dealing with the regulation of campaign spending by organizations. The United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The principles articulated by the Supreme Court in the case have also been extended to for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.

To put it in a nutshell, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that legal fictions – corporations – have the same rights as people.

This is patently absurd, but that’s how the corporation/fiction-friendly Court has ruled.

While I don’t think the Court got this right – since it clears the way for the balance of the corporate takeover of America to roll forward – and it is – the decision is somewhat empowering in a sense:  It gives us a “legal reminder” that corporations have developed “personalities.”

By and large, the behavior of corporations (as a consumerist) is reasonable and fairly narrow in scope.  Most do a passable job of doing whatever their mission statement and corporate goals are.  Oh, sure, people like to bitch and moan about Wal-Mart, Lowes – the “big box” stores – but during my pony ride on this rock, I’ve been through hardware and general mercantile stores outside the USA and we frankly don’t know how good we have it.

I’ll give you an example of how emerging country consumers are exploited:  Years ago – in my airline VP days – the airline president and I were guests of the national airline of Peru.  We were operating charters for that airline (Faucett) because their right to land on U.S. soil had been pulled.  They were involved in what is called a fifth freedoms dispute and on the other side was American.

To continue operations, Faucett would land it’s planes (DC-8/62s) in Grand Cayman and our airline (KX) would fly them up to Miami on a charter basis.

It was an arrangement that worked out for everyone.  We got more utilization out of our (then) 727s, Faucett continued service uninterrupted to the U.S. and passengers got to stretch their legs a bit walking from one airplane to the other.

Back to the story:  After a clear air turbulence experience on an Eastern L-1011 over Cuba, the airline president and I had stopped in Panama for meetings, then flew on to Lima (after a stopover in Guayaquil, Ecuador) where we got the “cook’s tour” of Faucett’s operation – which was very impressive.  So was riding jump seat in a 737 going into Cusco – a one-way airport – there is no “go round.”

I’d been a big-city/major market news director at that point for more than a dozen years in Seattle and honestly, I thought I was a pretty worldly guy.

On arrival in Peru, driving from the Lima airport to our hotel downtown, I noticed the television antennas.

Back in the days of over-the-air TV,. you may remember the ubiquitous aluminum TV antennas.  But in Lima, Peru, all the antennas had different colors – some very striking.  Brightly anodized this way and that.  All colors of the rainbow.

Having already been through the electronics whiz-kid part of my life, I inquired about the antenna colors.  It made no sense.

Turns out that the hapless people of Peru had never been widely schooled in electronics, or much of anything we’d consider “the sciences.”  They had been programmed by marketing people to associate the performance of their televisions with the color of the antenna.

As a result, the antenna color would indicate not only to people how well an antenna would work, but as is often the case in Latin culture, there was also a kind of machismo attached (or not) depending on what color the antenna was.

A red, antenna, I remember being told the red anodized antenna was passionate and the “color of the blood of the bull” and along with gold a gold antenna was considered the cat’s meow.  Richer color or some such balderdash.

Other antennas, like blue, or green, would indicate something else.  A green antenna would not work as well as a blue one, but the red or gold would outperform them all.  Social status was assigned to each color, too.

“Even if they have the same number of elements on the antenna?”  I was completely overwhelmed by this revelation. “How could consumers be so stupid?”

Our host was very patient with me – very gracious people Peruvians: “Oh, we just don’t know much about electronics, because it;’s fairly new here.  but we’re learning.”

It was a world-changer for me,  but it taught more than innumerable of marketing courses since that  People are programmed to purchase based on habits and beliefs.  Even if their beliefs are stupid, ill-formed, unscientific, or simply wrongheaded.

I have no doubt in my mind that third world countries are still being exploited by this kind of corporate thievery…you just need to know where to look.  But care to bet that a great portion of the third world doesn’t still – to this day – buy on the basis of nonsensical claims such as these?

Back to Point:  Firing a Hotel Chain

As I have mentioned too many times, Elaine and I are off to Lost Wages, Nevada for the youngest daughter-wedding in November and I spent a few minutes Monday lining up our hotels along the way.

I went through the usual online search – to see what the rates would be for our first night on the road which happens to be Amarillo, Texas.  If you’ve never been here, it’s hard to imagine a state so big you can drive all day and still not get out of the place, but that’s the way things are.

My normal process is to find the best deal I can online.  Then call the hotel, talk to a human in reservations and get the same deal on the phone.  That was I don’t have my credit card information on the internet – something I am very shy about.

I won’t say the name of the hotel, but it’s one we have always stayed in previously when we were on holiday in Amarillo.  We like the location of the property – the place is generally spotless – and it’s very close (like two parking lots – from one of my favorite places to eat in Amarillo:  Kabuki Romanza.  The experience is somewhat similar to Benihana…but the closest one of those would be back in Dallas…

I can’t think of a better end to a day on the road that having teppan style Japanese cooking – and either the filet with scallops or any of the other dishes washed down with some hot Ozeki   – it’s just great.  After getting up, writing a column and doing Peoplenomics research, that’s about 4-5 hours of work.  then 8-hours of driving to Armadillo and I’m done – stick a fork in me – by the time dinner’s done.

So there I was – I had picked the dates and the digital bucket shops s were all saying $127 a night.  Satisfied that this was the reigning price for that hotel online, I called the hotel and spoke to reservations.

“Hi.  I found your hotel online and here are the dates we want.  You can price-match the $127 online price if I book direct with you, right?”

“Well, no sir, that’s not the price.  The best  price I have for that night is $139.”

“WHAT???!!!???    I can book the same king room online with, Trivago, Kayak and whoever else for $127.  Your hotel has to pay these people a commission…I’ve been in the travel game a bit.  So your net if I book online with them will be about $120 if that.  And here I an – credit card in hand and ready to save you the commission and you won’t rate-match?”

“I’m sorry sir…I have to use what shows up in the computer here.  You could book online…”

Suddenly, everything turned red.  It was like I was a bull and someone had just waved the red flag in my face.  My head dropped.  So did my voice.  Marlon Brandon-like I continued.

“I’m going to give you one last chance, kid.  You either price match or I will never stay in another one of your hotels forever.  You are going to lose a customer for life…Are you absolutely sure you can’t price match?”

“I’m very sorry sir but $139 is…”? 

[click]  I have no idea what kind of excuse this poor SOB was going to offer.  But here’s the Big Secret of how to keep corporations from doing stupid things:  don’t spend money with them when they do something stupid  or insulting to you.

In  less than 7.2 times 1012 processor clicks, I got us into the Hilton Garden Inn and saved about $23 in the process.  And, depending on how the Hilton’s restaurant on property looks, we may eat there….we’ll see.  Over the course of the year, we usually end up in the Hilton Honors Silver category.  Which offers an occasional free room-night, so all’s well that ends well.

The point of walking you through this, though, really gets back to Citizens United.  If corporations are going to pretend as though they are human, I am now responding in kind.  Corporations have to treat me as a human in return.  Or I will cut off their money.

It insults my intelligence and offends me very deeply when  a hotel will not price-match what others are selling the exact same room for online .

And once insulted, I do the one thing that corporations seem to understand:  I take my business elsewhere.

Thus ended the Parable of the Stupid Hotel.

So join me in prayer and repeat after me: “I do not deal with stupid people or stupid companies.” 

Until total corporate consolidation is complete, which could be any day now, we still have choices. And if don’t use ‘em, we lose ‘em. 

Reader’s Writes

Thought this one was worth sharing:


I have to be honest, I have been cowardly pursuing your column almost from the week after I gave you the Adios so many weeks ago.

Your columns grab me by my brain and gut with the same effect a sensei might have, when at the exact moment of passing knowledge to his Student, give said Student.. The bitter facts of Truth, Beliefs, and Complete Freedom of choosing either!!

You grabbed me hard this morning with your description of how we are each riding ‘The Horse’ of our Rodeo! Mine is getting pretty bruised up and lame, but he/she has carried me through the mountains, valleys, and deserts that you describe as our memories.

Thanks George, your dedication to putting finger to keyboard in the UnGodly early hours of East Texas, is well appreciated by this Cowboy!


From ‘Podunk Iowa’

No problem, Al…and thanks for the note.

There are some pretty good comments over on the feedback side of things – over on the right-hand column there’s a link to comments, too.  Just click on one.  And never be afraid to write.

All comments are reviewed, but we don’t arbitrarily axe anything that disagrees with our views, only things that don’t fit with the decorum around here.

On that note, off to another adventure of Armful of Data trying to make another Fistful of Dollars

Peoplenomics Wednesday:  “Tower of Babel II or is Information the Biggest Bubble Ever?”

Write when you break-even.  And tell all your friends what a wonderful site this is and how they must all visit.  Because if you don’t, I’ll send over Guido and Luigi and they won’t be bringing pizza, capisce?



Coping: How I Fired a Hotel Chain — 20 Comments

  1. I fired a BANK! In ’91, my new Integra GS (’90) was stolen. I paid the deductible; insurance paid off the loan. I went to buy a ’91 Integra GS for the same price I paid a year earlier; no problem. But the bank wouldn’t finance the car because the previous one was stolen. And that’s my fault because . . .? I called the credit union, explained the problem, they financed the car over the phone and now, I’ve been with them 24 years. They even stuck with me through a bankruptcy. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.

  2. Well over here in Scotland I try not to give the poor call centre guy a hard time but his supervisor who I ask for as soon as frontline guy can’t gimme satisfaction. Keep up the good work. Do you have of ocd or some pills that keep you working so hard? Cheers

    • You’re right, of course. But here in America, the companies are wise to that and often you’re switched to a “manager” that isn’t. It’s hard to know who’s telling the truth nowadays.

  3. Many companies do not empower their employees to be able to have the option to offer what is not on the computer in front of them. When you talk to the people in private they would probably be as frustrated as you in not being able to do this.

  4. Surprised you are just now discovering the ‘hotel racket’…I did a few yrs ago, the hotel’s website claimed nothing available for the day I wanted, but go to expedia, got the date! (They obviously farm out reservations to the booking sites, instead of their own website…it was the San Francisco Palace Hotel..where M Twain stayed)

  5. My mother tells me from time to time when we were kids in the 70’s and they raised the price of sugar and meat in the New England area. Well she and everyone else they knew refused to purchase either. Every individual banded together and with a week the prices retreated to their previous rate. It can be done, but a country divided and always looking down won’t come together until the worst of the worst is at their own front door.

  6. George, the only problem with your scenario is that your actions are pointless unless someone further up the corporate chain hears about it; otherwise, you’re merely whistling in the wind. May I suggest that when you return from your trip you write a detailed letter to the HI HQ and send it Certified, return receipt requested. That way you’ll at least KNOW it was delivered to the offices. I too have fired companies before for shoddy service. Pizza Hut comes to mind.

    Short story: it was during the height of the flu season and I witnessed the Dude making my pizza with no gloves on his hands. Then, he turned around and wheeled a trash can next to his counter and swept the scatterings into the can with his bare hand before returning to my pie. I went ballistic and loudly demanded to see the Store Mgr as other customers looked like I was a lunatic. I yelled at that Supervisor for a good five minutes about hygiene and marched out the door. Followed up with a comment on their website when I got home. Less than 24hrs later, the franchise owner [turns out he had four units in my city] called personally and apologized offering the usual free coupons which I loudly refused, especially since his “explanation” was that -since his pizza were baked at such a high temp- health codes did not require his help to wear gloves. When I reminded him that even rudimentary poly gloves were cheap, he had no answer. I hung up on him and followed up with a letter to the PH HQ. For several months afterwards, I would get a periodic letter full of coupons from them which went directly into the trash. The kicker to this story is that Pizza Hut was actually FOUNDED in my city where this took place!

    I can only hope that such corporations will become guests on shows such as Undercover Boss – that is: if they have the courage to do so!

  7. Check with that hotel on the day you would have checked in, and you will most likely find that the hotel is filled, many at the higher rate. Consider that those rooms found online could have been contracted with that hotel sometime in the past, and the hotel is actually losing money on those rooms booked online.

    Americans are always looking for bargains. It used to be a game, but now many are so poor that bargain hunting is a necessity. We have that problem renting our apartments too. Americans are always trying to get a discount, and if you rent to them they turn out to be demanding, unreasonable renters always wanting something. Now, if someone asks about a lower price, we just say “next.” I know my costs, and we simply are not a charity.

    And if you are worried about price, next time you fly on an airline, stand up and ask people what they paid for their airline ticket. Guarantee you that you won’t have the cheapest ticket on the flight. Airlines quake at the thought of some passenger doing this.

    Another thing we have seen in play on Internet travel sites. If you have not been on a site like kayak for a while, they will show you a lower price. Leave that page and explore, and when you come back that price is gone. We resolve that by going to another computer not containing that last visit cookie, and the price will be there, and we make the reservation. Also consider that you might be shown a “loss leader” price because they know that you might also be a customer for a car rental or plane tickets for the same trip, and they may be running you thru an algorithm that puts you in a category where that discount pays off handsomely.

    We had a friend who was looking for a car here in Ecuador. He looked for several months, not finding a car. He finally found one, $5,000, took it to a garage for an inspection. The car needed about $200 in repairs. He demanded the owner make the repairs. The owner refused, and sold the car two days later to someone else. This is so American, to blow a deal or a relationship over such a small thing. Incidentally our friend left Ecuador 3 months later, and we were glad to see him go. His (false) belief in his exceptionality was just making him angrier and angrier.

    It used to be in America, if you could afford it, you just bought it. Now everybody wants a bargain, and damn that business trying to be profitable. You talk to a Chinese in the import business they will tell you that there are high quality Chinese products available. It’s just that there is no demand for them in America. People get indignant with an expensive Chinese product. It’s a meanness of the heart not seen much in America 30 years ago. It’s why American troops can put $1 million of munitions into a hospital and Americans just shrug their shoulders and say, “not my fault, I didn’t do it!”

  8. nothing to say today, except gotcha hooked line and sinker on tomorrow’s comments, our beautiful future dot com

  9. George;
    I think back to delivering newspapers with my father driving me around. He would always say what you’re saying, and this was in the 70s. If you disagree with a corporation, starve them of the only thing that matters to them-money. At the time it was the New York Times that we vehemently disagreed with. So why give them our money through subscription or news stand purchase.
    Starve these corporations by using our individual power to withholding our money.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Travel expert Peter Greenberg says, don’t accept a no from someone who is not empowered to say yes. You were talking to a phone answerer who had no power, no authority, no autonomy. Anger is wasted on him/her. Your next move should have been to ask to speak to a manager, and not a “day manager” who is a manager in name only and cannot say yes to your request. Move up the chain until you reach that yes, or until you get a no that indeed means you take your business elsewhere.

  11. I ‘fired’ United Airlines years ago for abominable customer service that left me sleeping on the floor at SFO for no good reason. When I filed a complaint with them, they tried to bribe me with a $150 coupon… which was less than 10% of the fares I paid from Hawaii. Coupon was chopped up and returned, and I have never flown United since.

  12. George,

    What I have come to see in America today is the guy you talked to on the phone simply does not care. He probably quit thinking about you 2 seconds after the click. Employees today get their check every Friday,and really do not give two hoots how the company gets paid. He does not see the fact that you will never stay there again affects him or his paycheck. I see it at small stores where the employees closed 5 minutes early and will not reopen to make a sale. They simply do not care. It is just another sad nail in the coffin of a country fading into history.

    • Those employees have no stake in the business past the next paycheck and they realize that (today) the business sees them as an expense & nothing more.
      Gone are the days when the workers & employers formed a bond.

  13. Sure, I “fired” Pizza Hut.., just to find out that my dollar spent at Taco Bell went to the same place! I swear.., I think there’s only 5 different companies in the world.

  14. In 1968, my husband was serving in the military. While he was away, I was the only driver of the family Volkswagon. I made all the payments on time, paid exclusively for the car insurance, and never had an accident. When my husband got out of the the military, we got a divorce (long story). Once the insurance company was aware that we were divorced, they refused to insure me on the grounds that “We do not insure single women.”

    I vowed to never purchase their insurance again under any circumstances. It is a vow that I will keep forever.

    So much for not holding a grudge…

    • You go girl! This is exactly the kind of bullshit chauvinism born of actuarial stupidity and a failure of common sense

  15. Amen to the hotel rant.

    I’ve dealt with that issue as well. Told them no f-ing way and at that point I was willing to pay more somewhere else. Not that the person I spoke with really cared. I don’t think they understood my midwestern accent, and I most certainly did not understand their version of “English.” I’d go into it more, but I’m afraid my sense of humor regarding undecipherable english garble would offend several of your readers.

  16. I too fired H.I. years ago for trying to pull a fast one on me. Like your experience, they didn’t care if they lost a customer for life.

  17. There was something I learned years ago about hotel and restaurant chains (and I suppose that it applies to any kind of franchise outfit.)

    While say, the hotel outfit in my town was barely acceptable – and the same brand hotel back East in Louisiana was so-so, the one we stayed at in the south-west was amazingly clean and first-rate – really fantastic . . .

    Even individual places of fast-food shops like McDs and KFCs have their differences – if you pay attention . . .

    Like anything else, traveling is an adventure – personally I like to frequent ‘Mom and Pop’ places where the owners are ‘in charge’. You will find good and bad – but it will be memorable!