Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: In your March 12, 2012, Legal Briefs column, "Hotel websites' terms can leave consumers without recourse," you wrote that hotel chains' websites have very onerous terms and conditions that deprive users of their legal rights. You used the Starwood terms of use as an example. Now that the Starwood brands have been merged into Marriott, does the latter's website carry over those terms? Has anything else changed in the public website terms and conditions of the major chains? Should agencies continue to advise their clients not to book using these public websites?

A: The legal risks in using hotel chain websites have increased since 2012. As the public's usage of those websites has grown, their terms and conditions have become more anti-consumer.

If you try to go to www.starwood.com, you are taken to www.marriott.com. If you scroll to the bottom of the homepage and click on Terms of Use, you are taken to a 2,200-word document that, of course, nobody reads except lawyers who are paid to do so.

Here are excerpts from the Terms of Use brought to you by Marriott, the world's largest hotel company:

"To the maximum extent permitted by law, we ... hereby expressly exclude any liability for ... loss or damage incurred by any user in connection ... with the use, inability to use, or results of the use of our Sites ... including, without limitation any liability for loss of income or revenue; loss of business; loss of profits or contracts; loss of anticipated savings; loss of data; loss of goodwill; wasted management or office time; and for any other loss or damage of any kind, however arising and whether caused by tort (including negligence), breach of contract or otherwise, even if foreseeable  ...."

While some readers may think that these disclaimers relate only to using the website, it is clear to me that they also relate to the hotel stay that you book online. The phrase "results of the use of our websites" must mean your hotel stay.

Although there is an exclusion for personal injury or death or some property damage, anything else that happens during your hotel stay, such as overbooking or overcharging, is subject to this disclaimer. The disclaimer for "wasted management or office time" is unique and amusing; it must have been inserted when companies complained that their employees spent too much time on the website.

The Terms of Use also require you to consent to being sued in Maryland, regardless of where you live. They make you waive your rights to trial by jury and participate in class-action lawsuits.

The other major chains' online terms and conditions are just as anti-consumer, so I don't mean to single out Marriott. Hilton's online terms are 6,200 words long and require that suits be brought only in Virginia.

I continue to recommend that agencies advise their clients not to use public websites of any travel suppliers. Corporate travel managers should also advise their travelers of the risks involved.

Notably, when you use an agency's online booking tool, you are not subject to these terms, and, as far as I know, no agency has online terms that are anywhere near as onerous as the major chains' terms.

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