Ric Garrido has already typed up a full timeline of the deal history, so I’ll punt on writing all of the gory details and tackle this from another angle…
Ever have a company try to back out of an offering? You may want to read this!
On Thursday some 112 (or 113? somehow the number jumped from 112 to 113 on Friday, long after the deal ended) people bought a deal for a night at the presidential suite at The Fairmont San Francisco. The real reason they bought it was for a fringe benefit of the deal, lifetime Platinum status at Fairmont. Lifetime status gets you an annual free night at Fairmont hotels worldwide. (A night at The Plaza NYC, Savoy London, or the Kea Lani Maui can go for upwards of $600 for a night). It also comes with other bennies like a handful of annual upgrade certificates and an annual $100 spa or restaurant voucher.
I called the hotel and Fairmont President’s Club to confirm the details of the deal and they were all familiar with the offer, including the lifetime platinum status.
Not long after the deal was posted the $2,000 package sold out. Later that evening the deal said “sold out”, even though it was still showing 112 sold as it did many hours before that. Commenters on the deal on this site reported that they had spoken to employees in the hotel who had confirmed that somewhere along the line a massive mistake occurred and the deal had been pulled prematurely.
A commenter by the name of “don’t bother” wrote at 5:10pm. “just spoke to district manager at hotel because as i was purchasing it sold out, so i got an email confirm but no actual confirmation #. he told me living social totally messed up the deal, it was for one year plat not lifetime and they are pulling the whole thing $10,000 also. oh well.”
A commenter by the name of “me” wrote a little later, “dan, i spoke to some guy Benjamin Shih at the fairmont, he was the west coast regional manager and he basically told me they were in a frenzy dealing with this… and that they told living social 1 year and living social worded it wrong. he was working with some guy in DC who he couldn’t reach ect. im just repeating info he told me. thats why they cut the deal completely. he offered me the one night at 50% off.. as if i am paying $2000 for one night in a hotel. i dont know if they will honor it or not. my guess would be yes with only 112 sold!”
Apparently, the fringe benefit of Platinum status was only supposed to last for one year, not for the lifetime of the purchaser! But that’s not what was promised at the time of the sale. Would Fairmont honor the deal as advertised or would they try to weasel their way out of it?
On Friday at about 9am PST I called the hotel sales staff to hear for myself what the story was. They confirmed that a mistake had been made and that the outcome was still undecided. I was told that I would be contacted later in the day.
That was my cue to kick it into high-gear! They were not about to take away my lifetime Platinum status without a fight!
I tweeted from my @dansdeals twitter account to @FairmontSF, @fairmonthotels, and @LivingSocial: “Rumor has it that Fairmont may not honor the lifetime Platinum promised in the LS deal, hope you’re ready for the bad press!”
They tweeted back “Hi all, a promo ran yesterday on Living Social in error. It’s since been shut down, and we are working on fixing it as soon as possible!”
Didn’t sound very promising!
The next thing I did was compose an EECB, an executive email carpet bomb. This tactic involves composing a formal, clear, and concise email explaining the situation and the result that you wish to see.
I’ve done this in the past when I had a Dell computer that broke that was under their complete care protection. My computer was an ultra-compact 12″ laptop and they had replaced it with a monster 17″ laptop. I had tried reasoning with their offshore customer service to no avail as there were no “Inspiron” compact laptops being made. Soon after sending out the EECB I received a call from their executive office saying that they would replace my Inspiron laptop with a 13″ Studio XPS laptop.
To send out an EECB then have to gather email addresses. In this case I wanted to email contacts at the Fairmont San Francisco, Fairmont Headquarters, Fairmont President’s Club, and Living Social. To get those emails you can search on google, or you can figure out the company email format. For Dell it is Firstname_Lastname@dell.com. In Fairmont’s case it is Firstname.Lastname@fairmont.com. Living Social’s C-level executives can be reached by just using Firstname@livingsocial.com. Look up the names of the top executives and other relevant sales staff and fire away!
In this EECB the main points I covered were:
-Summary of what the deal was for. After all the people you’re emailing don’t necessarily know what happened.
-That it was purchased by 112 people in good faith at rates of $2,000-$10,000.
-The bad press that would ensue from myself and other influential bloggers would be picked up by the national media.
-If Fairmont did not honor the deal as promised it will cost Fairmont and Living Social far more in negative PR than the cost of honoring the deal.
I felt it was important for Fairmont and Living Social to realize that we weren’t just 112 folks who spent $2,000 and would go away quietly. If they were not going to honor the deal our voices would be heard!
As far as including Living Social in the EECB is concerned, a deal doesn’t run on sites like Groupon or Living Social without it being checked over by many people with a contract signed by the client after they check it over as well. If Fairmont ultimately decided to back out it would be in Living Social’s best interest to push them to honor it as well. After all, their own reputation is only as good as their deals being honored, so I felt it was worth getting them involved as well.
I still hadn’t heard back from the hotel so I called the hotel back. When I asked a sales rep if she knew the status of the deal she said that they were compiling a list of purchasers and that they would reach out to each purchaser individually on Tuesday to let them know the final story.
I told her that the deadline for refunds from Living Social in Monday and she got excited, “Oh do you just want a refund?” No, I want to hear that you will be honoring the deal as promised, but if you do plan on reneging at least let us know before it’s too late. (Of course you can always do a chargeback as well within 60 days, but that’s besides the point)
A number of us were debating what the right move would be at this point. Obviously email pressure would be crucial, but was it too early for me to make a post on this site blasting Fairmont and Living Social for creating the mess and ignoring it? Or should we give them time to figure out what to do. On the one hand we didn’t want them to decide to ignore the 112 of us and just offer us refunds. But on the other we didn’t want to apply too much pressure prematurely…
Another person who purchased the deal had a contact with USAToday and arranged for me to be the face of the Fairmont 112 and tell the reporter what was going on. Operation Lifetime Platinum was in full force. We figured we were in for a long-haul. Fairmont was being non-responsive at that point and Living Social had sent out certificates that made no mention of the Platinum offer.
And then almost as soon as our operation had started I got a call from Benjamin Shih at Fairmont. This was the same person that a DansDeals commenter reported speaking to that had said the whole thing was a mistake. He told me to give him until the end of the day before writing anything bad about Fairmont. He also said that they were literally jumping through hoops to see if would be possible to honor every aspect of the deal as promised and that he would be calling me back as soon as he could give me a definitive answer either way.
Soon thereafter he did return the call and let me know that they would be honoring the deal and would grant all purchasers lifetime Platinum status! He told me that the same info would be shortly sent out via press release and twitter, which they were.
At the end of the day Fairmont came through with flying colors and even though there was apparently a mistake made, they did decide in a timely fashion to honor the deal and in turn, create 112 people that will be undoubtedly be priceless ambassadors for the Fairmont brand. I just hope nobody loses their job over the deal!
And I’m just happy that I was able to play a part in helping us reach such a quick and positive resolution!
Were you one of the lucky buyers of this deal? Have your own story of working with a company to keep them honest? Hit the comments!
Originally posted on 02/25:
Yesterday Fairmont Hotels ran a great deal on Living Social, a daily deal group-buying website.
They tried to back out, but I just got a call back from them that the effort to get them to honor it had succeeded, they will be honoring the deal as advertised despite the “human error!”
I’ll write more after Shabbos about how I helped convince them that it would be in their best interest to honor it…
In the meantime, kudos to Fairmont for doing the right thing and doing it quickly!!!