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Feel ripped off at the Marriott Surfers Paradise? This is one hotel to avoid at all costs!

Feel ripped off at the Marriott Surfers Paradise?

This is one hotel to avoid at all costs!

Do you ever have the feeling of being ripped off and treated like an unwanted lump of lard?

Well, look no further than the Marriott Hotel at Surfers Paradise on Australia's prestigious Gold Coast where customer service ranks somewhere between zero and zilch.

Take the relatively straightforward case of one recent customer who was part of a group and was told at check-in, despite prior arrangements being made for a consolidated payment by the group organiser, that he had to pay the full accommodation costs for 2 nights.

This was quickly sorted out but not before his credit card was slugged with a pre-authorisation fee of $540!

Yes, $540 for 2 nights for just the mini-bar - to guarantee this respectable citizen didn't skip off without paying his bill.

The mini-bar had no spirits - just a few soft drinks and nuts - so it is difficult to justify a preposterous $540 pre-charge when no accommodation was involved.

Three days later, the pre-authorisation charge was still sitting on the guest's credit card, reducing the amount available under the card limit.

A phone call to the Marriott's Chris Jee from the Hotel's Accounts Department to find out why such an excessive amount was charged on the pre-authorisation and, more importantly, why it had not been removed, elicited nothing but confusing statements, self-justification, denials and finally, an unfortunate condemnation of the check-in clerk for not sorting it out 5 days earlier.

Three times, Mr Jee tried to explain the justification for the charge and how it is routine at most hotels.

The customer fully understood the reason for the charge - something he has been routinely charged at the rate of about $100 per night around the world. Mr Jee was simply insulting his intelligence and

Like a typical public service bureaucrat, Mr Jee was more intent on trying to justify the Marriott's failure to have the $540 pre-authorisation charge promptly removed, given that there was no accommodation component involved, rather than providing a meaningful response to the customer.

He danced around the issue like the winner of "Dancing with the Stars" firstly saying it would take 3 to 4 days to be removed, then 2 to 3 days, then back to 3 to 4 days and then offering to send a letter to the customer's bank which would take 2-3 days to have the charge removed - which was even longer than it would have taken if it were to be removed in the ordinary course of events following checkout.

When a customer rings a major hotel chains with a detailed enquiry, he or she deserves a better response than can be provided by a person with limited English. Large hotels in particular should familiarise themselves with the debacle two years ago when Telstra outsourced its SMS answering service to the Philippines - which resulted in one of the swiftest and most-negative customer reactions ever experienced by an Australian telco.

The Marriott has a lot to learn over this customer-unfriendly incident.

An apology would have been a good start but that was not forthcoming.

Not getting it wrong in the first place would have been ever better.

And fixing the mistake on the spot at the initial check-in would have been the second best outcome. This would have avoided all of the subsequent hassles for the customer affected by this tawdry incident which was wholly of the Marriott's own making.

Despite the offer to fax the customer's bank to reverse the charge "immediately", nothing has happened and the Marriott has created one disgruntled customer for life.

If you want to have a happy holiday on the Gold Coast, the first step to take is to avoid the Marriott at Surfers Paradise.