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Points & Miles users: customers… like any other!

Are people who use points & miles a separate customer …. or customers like the others?

Points, miles, cash: who gets the most consideration?

This weekend, a comment from a discussion on the facebook group “Travel for free (or almost…!) with your points & miles – milesopedia” especially caught my attention.

The story of dysfunctional irons

Matthieu explained that he had received a small gift from the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul following malfunctioning irons:

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A cake in the shape of an iron

This is a very nice attention from the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul. But, in my opinion, we have the right to ask for something else: here, the cake does not necessarily replace the defective iron. So I advise Matthew to turn to Marriott Bonvoy to get a “little something” (read: points).

To this, a reader responds:

Personally, I would not claim anything. You should know that you didn’t pay for your room. This whole system is a privilege that we love! Let’s not stretch the sauce … the hotel has compensated you for the outrage ???????? that you have suffered.

Not claiming, a “normal” reaction

And this reaction is completely normal! My wife, Audrey, had exactly the same one a few years ago when we were starting out in this world of points & miles.

She apologized – almost – for entering an airport lounge “without being a client of the lounge’s partner bank”…

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Lounge – Malta Valletta Airport

…to be seated with our children in business class “when she paid less than the person sitting at the back of the plane”…

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Asiana Airlines – Business Class – A330

…or to be upgraded to a suite “without deserving it”.

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View from a Central Park Suite – JW Marriott Essex House New York

She always had “a little discomfort” and certainly wasn’t the first one to ask for it when there was a problem. And yet, as with all travel, with points & miles, there are sometimes problems! You will say that I am French (and therefore a grouch at heart…), but you are a customer like any other!

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Jean-Maximilien – French and…grouchy

A customer with points is a customer like any other

You know the expression: “the customer is king”?

Yes, but the one who pays with points is not a real customer!

This is not true! Your points & miles have a value. It’s not “free”. Upstream… someone paid for it!

Let’s take the case of Matthew again:

  • he used Marriott points to book his room at the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
  • His Marriott points were earned via a credit card such as the American Express Cobalt card: even though he got a sign-up bonus, he made purchases on it throughout the year
  • his or her purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. have earned the card issuer money (interchange fees paid by the merchant to enable credit card payments)
  • these interchange fees are paid in fine… by Matthew and everyone who buys in grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters (including that person in front of you who uses a debit card or cash)
  • these fees collected by the card issuer end up paying for that nice room at the Ritz-Carlton in Istanbul in which… the iron didn’t work.

One could add to this the status obtained via a credit card membership – for which he paid a fee as with the American Express Platinum card or the points accumulated via his loyalty to the Marriott group for his past stays in the chain.

In short, points should not be seen as something free.

In the end, the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul received financial compensation from the Marriott Bonvoy program for the stay Matthew made with his points. Which makes Matthew… a customer like any other!


Let’s take a few situations:

  • Should your 10th free coffee at McDonald’s be tasteless because it’s “free”?
  • Should your movie show at Cineplex have no sound because you got it for free?
  • Should your free ride on Uber for referring a friend be put on hold to be processed after those who “pay”?

Do you see what I’m getting at?

Real-life examples

I have personally experienced several situations for which I felt entitled to (and eventually did) compensation:

Vacuuming not done at the Ritz-Carlon San Francisco

We stayed at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco earlier this year. See our photo report in this article. When I arrived in the room, my son, then less than a year old, was crawling all over the place and kept bringing back something new: a movie ticket, a cash register receipt, a plastic candy… in short, the housework had not been done properly.

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The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco – Room

I had paid for the stay with Marriott points, which didn’t stop me from contacting the front desk. This one:

  • flatly apologized
  • changed our room
  • offered us a credit of 100 US$ to be used in the hotel (which paid for our breakfasts)

I did warn Marriott Bonvoy about this situation: a room sold for US$600 or 60,000 points per night in a prestigious San Francisco hotel should be free of defects.

Marriott Bonvoy refunded half the room rate in points recognizing the inconvenience.

The non-functional television

On a business class flight on Swiss obtained with our Aeroplan miles, I had the unpleasant experience of having a non-functional television. The flight was operated during the day (Zurich – Montreal) and with my daughter, who was less than 2 years old, in my arms, it was an embarrassing situation to say the least.

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Despite all the efforts of the crew to try to make the television functional, nothing helped: the screen remained black the whole flight. The problem is that no other seats were available.

So I asked for compensation from the cabin manager for this situation.

He gave me 2 coupons worth 300 CHF for a future flight operated by Swiss…. and a box of – very good – chocolates.

The baby bed that doesn’t come

During a stay at the JW Marriott Hanoi hotel, paid with Marriott points, I asked in advance for a baby bed to be brought in the room so that our son could sleep as soon as we arrived, which was confirmed by the reception.

The bed was not there when we arrived. I call room service who informs me that the bed will be assembled in 5 minutes. 20 minutes later… still nothing. New call. 30 minutes later… still nothing.

Anyway, after an hour I ask to speak to the General Manager.

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The hotel decided to refund half of the room price in points.

You are within your rights

Of course, you should not “abuse” certain situations. However, when you feel you are in the right… you often are! You are a customer like any other, maybe a little more “smart”!

The exception to the rule

However, there are certain situations in which companies decide to limit the rights and benefits of point users. The most recent example is the Air Canada Signature service.

Air Canada recently introduced a Signature Suite at Toronto Pearson Airport. This is only available to “paying” business class passengers. The airline specifies that travelers who have used miles (Aeroplan, United…) to travel in business class will not be able to access it.

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Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto

However, they will of course have access to the Maple Leaf Lounge and the same in-flight services as other passengers. But at the level of the ground services:

  • No access to this suite Signature
  • Nor to transportation by limousine on the tarmac

Bottom Line

In most cases, therefore, you are entitled to claim if things go wrong with the use of your points or miles. So don’t hesitate! What’s the worst that can happen? A refusal? You’ve tried it! It’s the same principle as negotiating your annual credit card fee!

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
Jean-Maximilien Voisine
Jean-Maximilien is an expert in Canada and France about Loyalty programs, Credit cards and Travel. He is the Founding President of Milesopedia.

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