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Christopher Elliott: Rules on occupancy may differ when overseas

  • Published Sunday, May 22, 2011, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, May 22, 2011, at 12:21 a.m.

My reservation was for three nights. When we tried to check in, the clerk said the room had a king bed and could not accommodate us. I mentioned that my kids are quite young and can easily share the bed, as we do this often when staying at properties in the United States.

I was told that the only option I had was to upgrade to a larger suite, pay for an additional room or walk away. I asked for the manager, who told me the same thing.

I pointed out that there was no way I could stay in two separate rooms, as I would be separated from my family. I also pointed out that I have a child who is autistic, who cannot be separated from us, but they firmly held their ground. They said that the only thing they could do was to upgrade me to a suite for an additional cost of 300 Euros. Eventually, the hotel lowered its surcharge to 200 Euros.

They ruined my vacation. Can you please help us?— Hari Doraisamy, Newtown Square, Pa.

A: The hotel shouldn't have forced you to upgrade. I reviewed your correspondence, and it appears that you did almost everything you could to alert Marriott that you were traveling with your family.

Many hotels — and this is particularly true in Europe — only allow two people per room. Maximum occupancy is often set by fire codes, not the property. It's unlikely the Brussels Marriott was trying to pull a fast one. Rather, it wanted to ensure you and your family were in a room that met government requirements.

What got lost in the translation? I blame the Marriott.com website. When you made the initial reservation, you tried to choose four guests but the system would only accept two. You inquired about the problem and were left with the impression that it was a glitch in the system. So you chose two guests, thinking the site was asking for the number of adults — not the total number of people in the room.

In the States, when a room is listed as "double occupancy" it often means you're getting two beds. And hotels don't mind having a few extra kids in the room or wheeling a crib in for a baby. But when you're traveling overseas, hotels sometimes see things differently. Either they want to monetize every guest or local fire codes prohibit them from allowing more than two people from occupying the room. Someone should have alerted you to that.

You followed all the right steps to get this resolved, appealing your case in writing to Marriott.

I contacted Marriott on your behalf, and it agreed to a full refund of the upgrade charge, plus 10,000 points by way of an apology.

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