Hotelier Remedies Decimal Debacle

Six Continents sets up hot line to resolve problems caused by credit-card snafu

By: Jerry Chandler

Holiday Inn may have a terrific product, but it’s not worth $10,000 per night. That’s how much some bewildered guests were charged when they checked in Oct. 24-27.

Approximately 26,000 Visa and MasterCard cardholders were affected by the snafu, according to Francie Schulwolf, vice president of corporate communications for Six Continents Hotels. That number comprises approximately 1% of the guests who made charges that were processed Oct. 28. All of the properties affected were in the United States at Crowne Plazas, Holiday Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses.

Some cardholders were affected almost immediately: When they tried to use their Visas or MasterCards, they found themselves over their limits. Debit cardholders had a similarly nasty surprise.

Those were in the minority.

“Reversals were put into place, and it didn’t hit the credit cards of the majority of people long enough for it really to affect them,” Schulwolf said.

Agents themselves should be unaffected by the snafu, Schulwolf said. That means you shouldn’t count on that $100 room you booked resulting in a $1,000 commission.

“The reversals happened so quickly that it didn’t get into the commission process,” she said.

Operator Standing By

Six Continents set up a 24-hour hot line to resolve problems created by the error. Travel agents should advise their clients to call 800-621-0555 and ask for Operator 28.

Schulwolf said the fault lies with First Horizon Merchant Services, a third-party credit-card processor; First Horizon accepted the blame.

“We submitted all the charges correctly,” Schulwolf said. “Somehow [during processing] the decimal point was dropped, therefore people were charged 100 times what they should have been.”

Those who were affected called Six Continents immediately, trying to figure out what was going on. The reason all reversals didn’t instantly click in was communication, Schulwolf said. First Horizon had to contact Visa and MasterCard; and the credit card companies had to notify the issuing banks, “hundreds” of them, according to Schulwolf. “Some guests were calling before the issuing bank even realized what was going on,” she said.

Guests paying with American Express, Diners Club or Discover were unaffected. While the fault may not lie with Six Continents, the hotelier realized it had to move fast to hold onto riled customers.

“Our first concern is to take care of the guests,” Schulwolf said. “Even though we submitted the charges correctly ... at the end of the day it was our guests who were affected.”

Six Continents is giving affected Priority Club members 50,000 points.

“You can cash points in for up to a two-night stay at a Crowne Plaza, or you can get rewards or miles,” Schulwolf said. “It’s pretty substantial.”

Less frequent guests who aren’t Priority Club members get certificates for two free nights at Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express.