A real downer: Case of the missing pillows

When Katie Phillips-Jones talks about her "honeymoon of a lifetime," she isn't referring to the last night of her wedding trip. The events of that night– or, more precisely, the six weeks it took to extricate herself from them– were anything but idyllic.

Phillips-Jones and her husband, after eight days touring Napa Valley and its environs, arrived at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at San Francisco International Airport on May 30. When they checked in, she says, she mentioned that it was the last night of their honeymoon, and the desk clerk upgraded them to a more expensive "Executive Club" level room at no extra charge.

According to Phillips-Jones, the bed in their room had no pillows and "looked as if someone had used [it] already." When she called housekeeping to report the missing pillows and ask whether the room had been serviced, she claims she was assured that it had been. Replacement pillows were delivered, and she considered the matter closed.

Wrong: When she got the credit card bill for their stay, there was an unexplained charge for $110 in addition to the $89 room charge. Phillips-Jones says that it took three days of calls and being transferred from accounting to housekeeping, but she ultimately learned that the $110 was for pillows the hotel believed they had stolen.

"What's really infuriating," she says– even more than being called a pillow thief– "is how we've been treated." Phillips-Jones claims the head of accounting tried to "guilt trip" her into "some kind of confession," and that when she twice called the chain's corporate offices, she was informed that "it was the hotel's ultimate decision." Although she says she was told both times that the hotel's general manager would call, he never did. Instead, on July 8, she got a letter from Melinda Murillo, his executive assistant.

"We were able to confirm and verify," Murillo wrote, "that on our Executive Club level the inventory shows that two feather and one signature pillow were in the room" when the couple arrived– and gone when they left.

"All I know," Phillips-Jones declares, "is that when I walked into that hotel room, there were no pillows on that bed. Period."

Things happened fast when I called Mark Ricci in public relations at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide (which owns Sheraton and other hotel groups). Ricci turned the matter over to Richard Palumbo, manager of Starwood's consumer affairs executive division, and almost before I began waiting for a return call, it seemed, the matter had been resolved.

Palumbo emailed Phillips-Jones to say that he would not only remove the $110 charge from her credit card, but reimburse her $89 for the room as well. He also deposited 7,000 points into a "Starwood Preferred Guest" account for her, which translates into a complimentary night at a Level 3 hotel (the Sheraton Gateway is a Level 1). Finally, he promised to "provide coaching on customer service to the hotel."

Phillips-Jones pronounced herself completely satisfied, and added that this is the only unpleasant experience she's had at a Sheraton hotel.



I heard from several customers of JC Trash Service after writing about Lionel Johns' saga with an unwanted Dumpster ["Left Behind," July 7]; the good news is that relief may be in sight. Earlysville resident Adele Creutz called to say that All American Trash Service (Box 1049, Troy 22974; no phone number listed) has taken over JC's contracts– or, at least, that's what it said in the notice she and her husband received. Then I heard from Chip Deale of Crozet, who received notice that Ace Disposal Service (296-6007) would be servicing his route from now on.

As for Johns, he had a happy ending as well: The owner of the now-defunct JC's showed up last week and removed the Dumpster that had been decorating Johns' front lawn since mid-April.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville, 22905.