SpringHill Suites Chattanooga North/Ooltewah
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Unable Versus Unwilling.

These words are not interchangeable.

A gang of miscreants — each of whom were armed with semi-automatic weapons — violently stormed the world headquarters of a multinational lodging company recently and headed straight for the area of the building where customer service is conducted, where each agent promptly had a gun pointed to his or her head and were instructed under no circumstances were any of them to extend the expiration date of any suite night award certificates for customers who requested them; for if that happened, the agent who disobeyed that order would instantly have his or her head blown off.

Unable Versus Unwilling.

That fictional — and wildly unlikely — scenario is an example of a customer service agent being unable to grant the request of extending the expiration date of a suite night award for a customer.

Most other times, the customer service agent — or, more likely, his or her supervisor — are unwilling and not unable to satisfy a customer.

Although many companies egregiously misuse the word unable, one recent example is from the following message, which was posted at the official Facebook group of Marriott Bonvoy Insiders on Friday, July 1, 2022:

“We have learned that a limited number of Suite Night Awards in member accounts that were scheduled to expire yesterday, June 30, 2022, were extended through December 31, 2022. We have begun the process of updating the accounts of members who may have been affected and expire these Suite Night Awards as planned. As we have previously shared, we are unable to extend Suite Night Awards any further. We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience this may have caused.”

Source: The official Facebook group of Marriott Bonvoy Insiders

Ironically, the suite night awards were able to be extended from Thursday, June 30, 2022 through Saturday, December 31, 2022, as admitted by the unknown representative of Marriott Bonvoy, and they were equally able to be revoked.

Here is a complimentary English lesson for that unknown representative of the Marriott Bonvoy frequent guest loyalty program who devised and wrote the aforementioned message:

  • Unable — Lacking the skill, means, or opportunity to do something.
  • Unwilling — Not ready, eager, or prepared to do something.

The two terms are not interchangeable.

Furthermore, the definition of an apology is a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure. Does “We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience this may have caused” sound like a heartfelt apology to an action which is completely within their control? Are they really sorry about what happened — or are they simply sorry that the expiration dates of the suite night awards were accidentally extended?

Final Boarding Call

SpringHill Suites Chattanooga North/Ooltewah
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Although Marriott Bonvoy was used as an example of an inflexible frequent travel loyalty program — Hilton Honors and Choice Rewards are two of myriad other examples — I prefer when a customer service representative outright tells me “We sorry that you feel that way. That is the policy of the promotion. Have a good night.” instead of lying to me. As much as I did not like that response at all, lying to me is substantially worse than a honest and straightforward response.

Airlines, lodging companies, rental car companies, cruise lines, restaurants, and many other businesses — whether or not they are involved with travel — will spend marketing dollars advertising free nights and incredible offers to get you to bite…

…accompanied by that dreaded * — but asterisk you take when you participate in their promotions.

It really is a chicken-and-egg approach: did the companies play games with their customers, which forced their customers to game the system as much as possible — or did customers get too greedy to their benefit, which caused companies to be more restrictive with the rules of their promotions? Similar to gift cards, do companies hope that you will forget — or otherwise not use — the benefit which you rightfully earned?

This is one significant reason why I believe — at least, from a consumer point of view — expiration dates should become obsolete on promotions and miles and points in general with which a customer has rightfully earned the benefits.

At least some frequent flier loyalty programs have eliminated expiration dates on miles which were rightfully earned – including Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles, and United Airlines MileagePlus miles. Perhaps other frequent travel loyalty programs should follow suit on eliminating expiration dates on miles, points, and promotion benefits which were rightfully earned by their members and customers.

Finally, I am unwilling to accept the word unable as an interchangeable replacement for the word unwilling, as I cannot stand when a company uses the word unable in place of the word unwilling — especially when the company is indeed absolutely able to satisfy a customer but chooses not to do so for whatever reason.

Is honesty not the best policy?

All photographs ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

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