ST. PETERSBURG — It was the glitch that kept on giving.
That’s how Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, portrays a flaw in its online reservations system in a lawsuit accusing a St. Petersburg man of fraudulently redeeming gift cards worth $48,500 in a rewards program for loyal customers.
Robert Chat, 38, discovered the Choice Hotels booking system didn’t erase his rewards points when he canceled a reservation, the suit said. So Chat began making, and quickly canceling, hundreds of reservations from October to January, then redeeming gift cards earned as a “reward,” Choice Hotel alleges. Chat denies wrongdoing.
The gift cards could be used at a wide variety of stores and restaurants, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Home Depot, Target and Applebee’s.
Chat defends himself thus:
Chat, 38, who said he had not been aware of the lawsuit until a reporter asked him about it, wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that he received less than 10 percent of the $48,500 in gift cards alleged in the lawsuit.
“I’ll be hiring a lawyer tomorrow to fight the suit as there was nothing done illegal nor was anything done in malice,” Chat said late Tuesday. “I stayed at over 1,100 Choice hotels in the last five years … I worked with their bonus structure to obtain points.”
Fascinating stuff! I wonder who else knew about this? Chat couldn’t have been the only one. And it’s hard to say for sure, but from the way they’re describing the glitch I’m surprised this wasn’t discovered earlier. Or maybe it was and I just haven’t heard about it?
As for the question of who’s right and who’s wrong, here’s how Choice puts it:
The lawsuit said the rules of the program make it clear that customers earn the points for “actually staying in a Choice Hotel room and paying for the room in full.”
“Frequent stay programs are common throughout the industry and neither Choice nor its competitors offer rewards for frequent reservations,” the lawsuit said.
Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, I’m glad this is being settled with a civil suit rather than a federal criminal court case.