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Many parents had to be relocated upon discovering that the Sheraton had overbooked its rooms, and some had their refund requests rejected. According to the hotel, the problem happened due to a glitch in its system.

Credit: Julio Sosa

In May 2015, Nicholas Memmo, the father of a current College senior, eagerly booked a room at the Sheraton University City Hotel for Penn’s graduation weekend in 2016.

Memmo knew that hotel rooms on campus filled up almost a year in advance of graduation weekend, and he wanted to be a convenient walking distance from campus. To be extra cautious, Memmo booked his room on the first day the hotel opened up bookings for May 2016.

However, on the evening of March 7, 2016, 10 months after his reservation, he received an email from the Sheraton. The hotel had overbooked rooms for the weekend of Penn’s graduation due to a problem in the system, the email said.

“We recently discovered an issue with our reservations system that affects your reservation with us in May 2016,” the email from the Sheraton said. “A glitch in our system allowed more rooms to be booked well above our available inventory for your selected dates. We want to sincerely apologize for this problem and alert you well in advance of our efforts to take care of you when you visit Philadelphia in May.”

Memmo called the hotel that same night, but was only able to get in touch with a representative the next day.

“I talked to the manager, and he told me that I was not the only person this happened to — there were about a 100 rooms that were overbooked,” Memmo said. General manager of the Sheraton University City Hotel Joe Kelly declined to confirm the number of cancellations due to privacy reasons.

According to the email, the Sheraton hotel had rebooked Memmo to its sister hotel, Le Meridien Philadelphia, a member of the Starwood family of hotels. Le Meridien had promised to honor the same rate, $374, that Memmo had paid for per night for his Sheraton Hotel reservation.

“I specifically booked the Sheraton so that we could be a convenient distance away campus, and Le Meridien is all the way at 14th and Arch,” Memmo said. “This is a long-time operating business and all of a sudden, in one day, over a 100 rooms are overbooked and no one notices — come on!”

Kelly said that the overbookings were only found in March 2016 after a routine check that the hotel conducts within its reservations system. The Sheraton Hotel had rebooked these reservations to either Homewood Suites in University City or Le Meridien Philadelphia. However, other parents expressed similar frustration and disbelief over the cancellations.

The mother of a current College senior, who requested to be anonymous, said that after her June 2, 2015 booking was cancelled this past March, she immediately reached out to the hotel, but wasn’t able to talk to the manager.

Soon after, she called customer service for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

“I spoke to a woman from customer service, and she was appalled because she had never heard of that before,” she said. “The woman told me that she was going to open up a file on the Sheraton Hotel so they would ‘never do this to anyone else.’ She told me, ‘They don’t like when we open up a file because that means they have to pay, so they’ll probably give you points or something.’”

The customer service representative promised that the hotel would call her back within five days. However, she never received a message back, and after contacting the Sheraton again, a representative informed her that someone from the hotel had emailed her already.

“I never received that email, and they refused to do anything after,” she said.

The hotel also refused to answer her concerns over the timeline of her reservation. She asked if very few people had booked after June 3, 2015, as she believed that her reservation was extremely early, but the representative declined to answer.

“Whatever they did was not motivated based on reservation order,” she said. “It’s [hard to believe] that I was one of the last few people to book when I booked almost a year in advance.”

Kelly said that the Sheraton Hotel cancelled reservations based on the timing that people had booked and also based on their arrival date.

“The last folks who are arriving this Saturday, May 14, are the ones who got relocated,” he said.

After the lack of response from the hotel, the mother of the current College senior filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in Philadelphia.

“I heard from the Better Business Bureau that they reached out to the hotel twice and they heard no response,” she said.

A few days after, she wrote a letter to Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel of Starwood Hotels Kenneth Siegel. She said that the response she received was inadequate, and they essentially just apologized for the inconvenience. The hotel also failed to give her back any points or other rewards.

“They gave me nothing back. They took my money and didn’t refund it until March, so they essentially had an interest-free loan on my money for 10 months,” she said.

She had also specifically booked a club floor room at the Sheraton, but her new reservation was only for a regular room at Le Meridien.

“The reservation at Le Meridien was non-refundable and could not be cancelled, but Le Meridien showed a lot of class and said ‘yeah, no problem’ and refunded me the money.”

Memmo also attested to the lack of transparency in the booking and cancellation process.

Although he had prepaid for the hotel, Memmo said that the manager he spoke to denied that the hotel withdrew any money from his card. Instead, he added, the representative said that the hotel only held the card number and billed people in the case that they do not show up on the day of their reservation.

However, Memmo said the information he was given by the manager was not accurate. He had checked his account and noticed that the hotel had actually deposited the prepaid amount back to his card this March.

Parents did not believe that the Sheraton Hotel had to rebook rooms simply because of a glitch in the system.

“It seems too coincidental that this error happened specifically on the weekend of graduation,” Memmo said. ““I don’t know if because Biden’s granddaughter is graduating or Trump’s daughter is in the class so they needed to bump out a bunch of people to make room for them — I don’t really know.” Kelly said that the hotel had cancelled these reservations only because of the glitch and there had been no other circumstances.

The mother of the current College senior also expressed similar suspicion and disappointment regarding the Sheraton’s response to the situation.

“They tout themselves as a company that wants business, wants to treat you nicely and cares about you,” she said. “We’ve been staying at that hotel at least three or four times a year for the past four years, and they showed absolutely no loyalty whatsoever.”

Memmo also agreed that the situation made him hesitant to book a room in the Sheraton Hotel in the future.

“I have a daughter graduating next year, and I just can’t help but think about how this could happen again,” he said. “I think the question that needs to be asked is, how does a business overbook 100 rooms especially for this specific, critical weekend?”

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