May182012

Club Carlson Bad PR for Radisson Big Night Giveaway

Radisson Big Night Giveaway II repeats a similar PR fiasco as Radisson Big Night Giveaway last November. Hotel loyalty programs and their PR reps want to create social media buzz about their offers prior to revealing the promotion’s full “official” details. Without full disclosure and transparency the buzz often stings.

Update May 19, 12 noon California time: Club Carlson has decided to change the terms of the Radisson, Country Inn and Park Inn promotions to allow reservations booked prior to May 15 for stays within the respective promotion periods to count for the bonus points. There were communications errors made last week regarding this term of the promotion and Club Carlson has rectified the error by changing the promotion terms to count existing reservations. This is a fine resolution to the issue. Thanks Club Carlson.  

Let me say that over the past three years I have personally met and talked to dozens, if not hundreds of staff and management with the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. This seems to me to be a good company with a positive social image and conscience while operating a thriving hotel chain. The Carlson Rezidor folks have invited me to attend their Global Summit meetings the past three years and this has really helped advance my knowledge of the hotel industry.

Bottom line though is they are a corporate business seeking to maximize customer profit on hotel stays and I am a consumer analyst working social media for travelers to minimize consumer spending for hotel stays.

My positive social media buzz on the Club Carlson promotions:

Club Carlson currently offers three of the best hotel loyalty promotions we will likely see for 2012 taking place for the next two months.

  • Radisson and Radisson Blu is launching the Radisson Big Night Giveaway on May 15, where the first 100,000 people to register and stay at least one night at any Radisson or Radisson Blu hotel or resort worldwide between May 15 and July 15, 2012, will earn 50,000 bonus Gold Points – enough points for a free stay at any Radisson or Radisson Blu hotel or resort worldwide. After the 100,000 spots are filled, guests who register for the promotion will earn 15,000 bonus Gold Points after completing a one-night stay at any Radisson or Radisson Blu hotel or resort by July 15, 2012. Beginning on May 15, travelers can register at RadissonBigNightGiveaway.com. In addition, travelers who sign up for the Radisson Big Night Giveaway will have free Wi-Fi access for the duration of their airport visit at Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports; New York’s JFK airport and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.
  • Country Inns & Suites By Carlsonalso kicks off its SO GO! (Stay One, Get One) promotion on May 15, offering the first 35,000 guests to register and stay at least one night at any Country Inns & Suites hotel, through July 15, 2012, 44,000 bonus Gold Points – enough points for a one-night stay at any Country Inns & Suites property. After the 35,000 spots are filled, guests who register for the promotion and complete a one-night stay at any Country Inns & Suites hotel by July 15, 2012, will earn 15,000 bonus Gold Points, enough for a free night at select hotels. Beginning on May 15, travelers can register at SOGOCountry.com
  • Park Inn by Radisson will launch the 1+1 Stay One, Get One offer a week later on May 22. The first 20,000 guests to register and stay at least one night at any Park Inn by Radisson hotel, from May 22 through July 22, 2012, will earn 44,000 bonus Gold Points – enough points for a one-night stay at any Park Inn by Radisson hotel. Once the 20,000 spots are filled, guests who register for the promotion and complete a one-night stay at any Park Inn by Radisson hotel by July 22, 2012, will earn 15,000 bonus Gold Points, enough for a free night at select hotels.Travelers can register at ParkInnOnePlusOne.com

 

Now for the Social Media Stinger

This blog post is my stinger for smacking Loyalty Traveler and other Club Carlson members upside the head with inaccurate information last week.

I was contacted by a Club Carlson PR representative on May 9 with Club Carlson promotion details I had not previously seen anywhere on the web. And I was asked if if I would like to interview Heather Passe, VP Marketing, Loyalty and E-commerce for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group to have any promotion questions I wanted answered prior to the May 15 release.

In my head I thought that Heather Passe has better things to do than block out her time to answer my questions directly, so I just sent two questions I wanted answered regarding the loyalty promotion to the Club Carlson PR representative.

Here are the email responses I received on May 10 from the Club Carlson PR representative:

1. Points + Cash award nights do qualify for this promotion because the cash portion is point-eligible

2. Stays booked prior to the promotion launch are eligible as long as the stay lands within the promotion window. Member just needs to register for the promotion before check-out.

On May 10 I wrote this Loyalty Traveler post with what I assumed was accurate and company-provided information that had not previously been published on the three Club Carlson promotions.

Club Carlson gave this Loyalty Traveler a head blow May 15

I was shocked to see the official Club Carlson Radisson Big Night Giveaway promotion terms when released with the promotion launch May 15 at 12:01am Central time.

The Big Night Giveaway Promotion (“Promotion”) is available only to Club CarlsonSM members.

Promotion is not valid on existing reservationsand is subject to availability.

To be eligible for the Promotion, members must register online for the Promotion at http://www.radissonbignightgiveaway.com/ (“Promotion Registration”), provide their Club Carlson member number at the time of reservation or check-in of the Qualifying Stay, and then complete one Qualifying Stay at any Radisson® or Radisson Blu hotel worldwide (“Participating Hotels”). Guest must check in for the Qualifying Stay on or after May 15, 2012 and check out must be completed no later than July 15, 2012 (“Promotion Period”).

This post is where I deconstruct what happened this past week with the Club Carlson misinformation regarding existing reservations counting for the Radisson Big Night Giveaway promotion.

Sorry, your reservation was a pre-existing condition!

Are we talking hotel loyalty promotions or medical insurance loopholes? This is the analogy that comes to mind by denying existing reservations for these current Club Carlson promotions. This restriction seems designed to extract more money from consumers, many of whom purchased prepaid nonrefundable bookings prior to May 15 based on what seemed reliable information posted on Facebook and by Loyalty Traveler.

Not allowing reservations made prior to a hotel loyalty promotion is actually a common restriction for a hotel loyalty promotion. The purpose of most promotions is to drive new business with new hotel reservations.

What’s the Buzz, Tell Me What’s Happening?

This Club Carlson promotion term would be a non-issue if not for the fact that prior to the May 15 promotion launch a couple of supposedly official sources leaked the statement that existing reservations would count for the Club Carlson promotion bonuses on Facebook and to me for Loyalty Traveler blog.

The social media fallout on forum sites like FlyerTalk, MilePoint and blogs like Mommy Points and Deals We Like and Loyalty Traveler here are due to the fact that Club Carlson posted on its Facebook page that existing reservations would count and then later edited the Facebook post to remove that statement.

Club Carlson Facebook page comment from Thursday May 10.

image

This Facebook screenshot is from thehustleblog.com May 10. 

image

So on May 10 Facebook fans of Club Carlson receive the message that existing reservations will count for the Club Carlson promotions, less than five days before the official promotion launch on May 15.

Thursday, May 10 was also the same day I received an email reply from a Club Carlson PR firm representative stating existing reservations will count for the Radisson, Country Inn and Park Inn promotions. That is the information I posted on Loyalty Traveler blog. I assumed my questions had been directed from the PR rep to someone inside the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group for these responses.

My apologies to Loyalty Traveler readers and other social media bloggers and forums where this inaccurate information was disseminated.

I try to limit speculation on my blog since credibility is the primary quality a social media blogger needs to maintain.

I feel burned by Club Carlson.

Here was my reaction on the Club Carlson Facebook page today.

image

The Club Carlson comment shown above is the May 11 edited version of the original Facebook post indicating existing reservations would count. The original comment wording is circled in red in the previous screenshot from thehustleblog.com.

 

Sound Advice for hotel loyalty promotion staffers and PR firms

Hotel loyalty promotion staffers should heed some great advice from Tim Winship, one of the original loyalty program analysts for consumers.

When Should Hotels Announce Upcoming Promotions?

Tim Winship of FrequentFlier.com wrote “When Should Hotels Announce Upcoming Promotions?” (Feb 6, 2012), a piece I consider to be one of the best commentaries for the argument that hotel loyalty programs should release official promotion terms at least two weeks before a loyalty promotion begins.

My recommendation? Hotel promotions should be widely communicated at least two weeks in advance of a promotion’s start date. That means:

  • Program members should be alerted at least two weeks prior to the promotion’s effect date via email.
  • A landing page on the hotel’s website with complete promotion details should be live at least two weeks in advance.
  • Registrations, either by phone or on the hotel’s website, should be accepted at least two weeks in advance.
  • A news release with complete promotion details and a web link should be sent out to all legitimate media at least two weeks in advance.

There’s nothing magic about two weeks. It just seems to me that anything less is a disservice to the traveling public in general, to a hotel’s loyalty program members in particular, and to the media who cover the industry.

– Tim Winship (February 6, 2012) – FrequentFlier.com

 

 

The Solution: Club Carlson should rectify this situation by allowing members the opportunity to cancel  prepaid, nonrefundable reservations purchased last week, prior to the May 15 promotion launch, with no penalty and rebook their stays so as to qualify for these promotion bonuses.

The May 10 Club Carlson Facebook post indicated existing reservations would apply to the May 15 promotion and I was given the same misinformation that I published and disseminated from Loyalty Traveler on May 10.

This is an easy case-by-case solution that is in the best interest of the consumers who feel cheated after booking nonrefundable reservations when official Club Carlson representatives leaked information last week that existing reservations would count for these bonus points offers.

And Club Carlson’s promotion objective to generate new bookings will be met by only allowing those nonrefundable reservations in the May 10-May 14 booking dates be eligible for the penalty free cancellation.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. I would love to hear your “interview Heather Passe, VP Marketing” if you could call now and what she thinks about all this and your post!Thanks for all you do – René

  2. @StvR – Bye-bye.

    I thought this was damn insightful information. There are people who paid money for nonrefundable reservations last week based on inaccurate information provided by representatives of Club Carlson.

    I don’t see this as whining. I see it as trying to get restitution for people who were misled about the promotion terms.

    $100 may not be much money to you, but it is to me and many other people. And I think there are likely dozens of Club Carlson members who booked nonrefundable hotel stays based on inaccurate information from the Club Carlson representatives working in the social media sphere.

  3. Ric – This type of post is exactly the kind of incredible value bloggers like yourself bring to the travel world. A legitimate voice that will be heard and try to bring Club Carlson around to fix the mistakes they made. Without bloggers like you we are just angry customer ‘noise’ on some travel forums. Thanks!

  4. I had read a post about this elsewhere and frankly responded a little cattily in saying stop whining. But as ever you do a better job than most of laying this out, and given that a) they told you directly that existing reservations would count, b) they posted that on Facebook, and then the smoking gun of c) they then went and edited that comment on Facebook to try clean up the brown stuff… then it is clear they really did wrong here. And of course it is so stupid when the whole point of the promo is to promote loyalty (which I can say works – last years promo is what introduced me to Carlson hotels, and since then I have stayed maybe 30 nights at their properties, business that otherwise would have gone to SPG)

    That said I don’t agree with your fix of allowing cancellations of existing bookings. Rather they should simply change the T&Cs to include bookings made before the promo was announced, thus making those bookings that people made still qualify

  5. I agree with Phil. They don’t need to allow for cancelations of prepaid reservations. They simply need to amend the T&Cs of the promotion to allow these stays.

  6. Rick, I think it is a well written and valuable post. Doesn’t seem like they thought this through all the way.

    One question that I would love your input on – I did email them about this so we will see but do you think that CC Business accounts(I have a valid one) will be paid the bonus if they are registered for the promotion? If so that would make the promotion worth around 414000 total points(with my wife being registered as well as me and our business). Thanks!

  7. They already emailed me back. I forgot to read the business T&C which does exclude it. Too bad.

  8. @Phil, Colin Z. – As I stated in this post, it is common for hotel loyalty promotions to not allow existing reservations to count for new promotions. The purpose of promotions is to drive new bookings.

    But after further reflection on my post’s solution, I think a good resolution would be to make any reservation from May 10 on eligible for the promotion bonus. As far as I can tell, it was only from May 10 when Facebook and my blog showed statements indicating advance reservations would be allowed to qualify. Therefore I think reservations from May 10 on should count.

    It is a frequent hotel loyalty promotion restriction to not allow existing reservations to count for new offers.

    SPG is the hotel loyalty program that comes to mind for regularly allowing reservations to count for promotion prior to registration.

    I have no objection to Club Carlson’s term of not allowing existing reservations to count for the promotion bonus. My complaint is that there were indicators in the social media world in the week before May 15 launch that existing reservations would count with Club Carlson Facebook and some travel blogs like mine.

    I am not arguing that someone who booked a June 1 hotel stay in February should get the bonus; although that would be nice. My argument is that people who booked May 10 to May 14 should be eligible for these bonuses after there were social media statements from official Club Carlson representatives (either PR firms or Carlson Rezidor employees) on Facebook and through me as Loyalty Traveler and satori on FlyerTalk indicating existing reservations would count.

    My case is for these people who were following this offer closely and received the go-ahead to book reservations from May 10 when the word went out that existing reservations were eligible. These are the people who were cheated.

    There might only be a handful of people affected or there may be dozens of Club Carlson members who booked rooms during that time frame from May 10-14. I don’t know. Still, they should not be stuck with a reservation they made in hopes of earning these bonuses that was possibly made due to information they received via Club Carlson Facebook or me when there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information.

    I titled this post “Bad PR” because somehow things went wrong last week. Stuff happens. Club Carlson can ignore it or they can address the situation.

  9. Nice article Ric. Thanks for the heads up. Not surprised to see a backlash when companies wait until after the promotion starts to release the details.

    My travel partner and I took advantage of this deal last year and walked with 100,000 points with no problems at all –actually stayed a $42 Radisson in Orlando.

    Hoping this year works as well. Let us know if you hear anything about cash+points being valid please.

  10. Excellent post, Ric. I sent them a twitter message a couple days ago about this and was completely ignored.

  11. Very much agree Ric, and it is actually so much worse that they also provided you with bad info directly. While it still could be just one confused person, it was one confused person that was really disseminating information that would reach a bunch of folks. I seriously doubt it would cost them much to do the right thing here, at least on a case by case basis. No reason for such a great promo to have a cloud over it like this.

  12. Interesting stuff, Ric.

    I have a hard time believing this was intentional. I bet either that the T&C were changed after you got your info and one hand didn’t know what the other was doing so didn’t give you a correction, or a decision was made to permit existing reservations to count but somebody forgot to take it out of the T&C.

    It will be interesting to see if CC responds in any way. Based on no information whatsoever, I have a feeling that pre-existing reservations actually will credit for the promo. I just don’t see how this is even feasible from an IT standpoint.

  13. Interesting stuff, Ric.

    I have a hard time believing this was intentional. I bet either that the T&C were changed after you got your info and one hand didn’t know what the other was doing so didn’t give you a correction, or a decision was made to permit existing reservations to count but somebody forgot to take it out of the T&C.

    It will be interesting to see if CC responds in any way. Based on no information whatsoever, I have a feeling that pre-existing reservations actually will credit for the promo. I just don’t see how this is even feasible from an IT standpoint.

  14. I am the one who got affected too! I registered their promotions during my tight transfer time in Tokyo, so I did not read the terms at that time. I thought Club Carlson would honor it as it stated on FB and discussed on many blogs. However, I just found this “breaking” news according to your article. I am so shocked but it is too late for me to do anything because I already completed these two stays! These stays are my first time staying with Club Carlson. Come on, Club Carlson, how can you do this to your new customers!

  15. Love the post, Ric
    I found this is very disturbing. This issue has been posted in many sites from different bloggers since May 15. And as far as I know CC, a big hotel chain, has not event tried to reply or comment on the issue. At least, they can clear the air and help those who booked a non-refundable purchase between May 10 – 14, 2012

    If they can get away with something that was read and posted publicly on the internet, what make us so sure that we will get the 50,000 pts after completing one qualifying stay? They could say, well you are NOT registered in the promotion or blame the
    software for sending the wrong 50,000 promo.

  16. The T&C were in the wild over a week before the promotion officially began. They stated that existing reservations would not qualify.

  17. Ric, could you expand upon your “Not allowing reservations made prior to a hotel loyalty promotion is actually a common restriction for a hotel loyalty promotion.” and “The purpose of most promotions is to drive new business with new hotel reservations.”

    I’m familiar with Choice, Best Western, Hilton and Priority Club allowing existing reservations to qualify for their promotions. Though I’ve only dealt with small promotions, mainly more points, free nights or gift cards. More rewarding loyal customers than a big one like Club Carlson’s that do seem more designed to drive new business. Though, thinking about it, Best Western’s free night promotion last year saved 36,000 points for us. That’s almost as good as the 44,000 Country Inn and Suites offer and I don’t think it had a limit on number of registrants, though it did require more nights to earn.

    Are you only talking about big promotions, or have you seen little promotions that don’t allow existing reservations to count? Examples? What am I missing?

    I agree that they could “fix” this by allowing reservations after May 10th to qualify. Though, if it is based on only allowing reservations made after registering to qualify (which it isn’t clear to me from the T&C whether they mean before registering or before the promotion started), it wouldn’t necessarily be an easy fix because you would be checking different data.

    Well written argument and mea culpa, as usual.

    Kris Ziel’s point is well taken, though those T&C’s weren’t official, but from an HTML comment. So, are they more valid than a reply from a company employee or two?

  18. @Charles Clarke – The statement I made about hotel promotions not applying to reservations made prior to promotion registration is just my observation over the years.

    I think it is commonly a term of hotel promotions to not allow reservations booked before a member registers for a hotel promotion to count for the promotion bonus.

    The purpose of most hotel promotions is to drive new reservations is something I have heard hotel loyalty managers say.

    Kris Ziel – I have a copy of the wording from the Radisson html code when the promotion countdown first appeared.

    ” Promotion is not valid on existing reservations and is subject to availability.”

    This term was in that html code.

    The html text was removed a couple days before I was contacted by Club Carlson’s PR rep to write about this offer prior to the launch.

    We exchanged some emails and I was asked if I had questions regarding the promotion. I asked two questions. A few hours later I received an email response to my two questions which I posted here in their exact wording.

    “1. Points + Cash award nights do qualify for this promotion because the cash portion is point-eligible

    2. Stays booked prior to the promotion launch are eligible as long as the stay lands within the promotion window. Member just needs to register for the promotion before check-out.”

    Why should I doubt the response from the Club Carlson representative, regardless of the html wording from the promotion page that had been removed a couple days earlier?

    The PR person’s job is to be the intermediary between the press and the company and supply accurate information so the public gets accurate info.

    This post is titled Bad PR since I had to try and figure out where the bad information came from regarding existing reservations. And it happened in two places with my blog and the Facebook response and these were likely two different people.

    This really is not a big issue in the grand scheme of the promotion with probably far fewer than 1% of promotion registrants affected. The promotion offers are great and only a handful of the thousands of people participating in the promotion were affected by this “existing reservations” term.

    But it is a significant issue for those people who did see Facebook and my blog and other blogs where it was posted that existing reservations would count and then made a reservation based on that inaccurate information. Some of these reservations were likely nonrefundable reservations.

  19. @Frieda – Club Carlson is a good loyalty program and you shouldn’t have any concerns about the promotion being honored. Tens of thousands of us got 50,000 points last fall from the first Radisson Big Night Giveaway.

    This whole issue regarding “existing reservations” is a small hiccup in the whole promotion.

    My main reason for even writing about this is to advocate for hotel loyalty programs to follow Tim Winship’s advice and get all the promotion terms and conditions out prior to a promotion launch so hotel guests can plan their travels in a timely fashion.

    The hotel loyalty industry trend lately seems to be keeping members guessing up to the day a hotel loyalty promotion starts.

    This Club Carlson issue is an example of why it is not a good idea to leak out bits and pieces of the promotion terms prior to the promotion launch.

  20. Ric,

    Given that pre-existing reservations now do not qualify, has their stance on points and cash reservations changed, as well?

Comments are closed.