Aug 11 2004

Ripped off at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans

Jeff Nolan’s post Blogs as Early Warning Systems inspired me to try a similar approach with a recent disappointing experience that I had at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.

I love staying at Ritz-Carlton’s and – while it’s often an expensive experience – I’m willing to pay a premium for the service and comfort provided. Before I left for Alaska at the end of June, I went to the annual EDS / NMCI Industry Symposium where I was on a VC panel with Captain Christopher who runs NMCI for the Navy. The conference was at a sold out Marriott so my assistant put me up in the Ritz down the block. In addition to being a magnificent hotel, I ended up in a room on the Club Level (which I’m sure I paid more for) which included a nice concierge service and a bunch of free (and very good) food.

I only stayed one night, but had a very pleasant stay. I went to check out at around noon and everything was going smoothly until I looked at my bill. I was shocked by the total (which is usually all I look at) and quickly looked over the bill. I wasn’t surprised by my room charge (which was actually pretty reasonable), nor did the state tax, city tax, or occupancy charge both me as I’ve become immune to all the extra “taxes” we pay for travel. However, the “phone – long distance charges” totalled up to over $230 which blew my mind.

I asked the person checking me out why the long distance charges were so high. My recollection is that he indicated that Ritz-Carlton policy is to charge $15 for the first five minutes of the call and then $2 / minute thereafter (or something close to this.) I was speechless. My room had FREE high-speed Internet access. The Club Level had FREE gourmet food. But – my long distance phone bill was $230? I’d made a few short calls and had one long conference call – but $230? Maybe $23, but not $230.

Normally I’d have used my cell phone to make all my calls. However, in my room, my cell phone didn’t get a signal (it worked everywhere else in New Orleans, including in the Marriott Hotel.) So – I used the phone in the room. It didn’t even occur to me that there would be long distance charges, but if there were, I figured they’d be nominal since long distance service is now less than $0.05 / minute.

I asked the person checking me out if this was for real. I told him that I accept responsibility for not reading the fine print, but this seemed outrageous. He responded that “this is the policy – if you don’t like it you’ll have to take it up with Ritz-Carlton Corporate.” I asked one last time if he was serious – I’d told him that I’d recently stayed in a Marriott somewhere and had paid $10 for high speed Internet and unlimited long distance service. He responded, “We aren’t the Marriott.”

I paid my bill and left, the entire wonderful experience of the preceeding 24 hours completely obliterated by the last five minutes of my stay. As I stepped out into hot, muggy New Orleans afternoon I was baffled, frustrated, and amazed. I thought of all the stuff I’ve read from Seth Godin in the last few years and how he’d be rolling on the ground laughing at how the Ritz blew it.

So – I’m going to give the Ritz-Carlton a chance to redeem itself. I’m not interested in my money back. However, I am interested in the Ritz-Carlton changing their long distance pricing policy. While I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to suggest what they should charge, I suggest they consider pricing it similar to their high-speed Internet access.

I’ve forwarded this post to Simon Cooper (President and COO) and Debi Howard (Managing Director Customer Relationships) at Ritz Carlton Corporate. I’ll keep you posted on their response.