Protecting yourself, Rewards, Shopping, Travel

Swordmaker accused of taking too many reward points

Jay MacDonald

You’ve heard about those travel reward wizards who endure countless overseas flights just to reach the coveted million-mile status?

Comes now one Robert Chat, a 38-year-old maker of swords from (wait for it) Florida, whom Choice Hotels International claims weaseled them out of $48,500 in gift cards from their Choice Privileges rewards program by not staying in its Clarions, Comfort Inns and Econo Lodges.

Choice filed suit in May against the St. Petersburg resident, whose last known position was president of Dragonsongs Weapons Inc., for taking a huge slice out of an apparent glitch in its online reservations system.

According to Choice, when Chat discovered that the chain’s booking system did not erase his rewards points when he canceled a reservation, he proceeded to book, then cancel, hundreds of reservations between October and January, receiving gift cards in return.

That’s right: he allegedly took privileges with his Privileges card.

In its lawsuit, Choice points out that it offers Privilege points “as a reward in exchange for actually staying at Choice Hotels, not simply for making a reservation.”

When contacted by the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, Chat said he was unaware of the lawsuit, and maintains the gift cards he received for his nonpatronage amounted to less than 10 percent of the $48,500 that Choice wants back.

“I’ll be hiring a lawyer tomorrow to fight the suit as there was nothing done illegal nor was anything done in malice,” Chat wrote in an email. “I stayed at over 1,100 Choice hotels in the last five years. … I worked with their bonus structure to obtain points. I’m not even computer literate. If I obtained more rewards than allowed, it’s on their end, not mine. As I’ve stayed in their hotels exclusively for over six years, points do accumulate.”

Online, Choice Privilege proudly boasts that “Our points will really add up, fast and freely,” though not so freely as to reward nonguests.

“Frequent-stay programs are common throughout the industry and neither Choice nor its competitors offer rewards for frequent reservations,” the suit adds, underscoring the obvious.

But Choice may have found a fitting parry to this swordsman’s rewards thrust.

Florida law permits the plaintiff to demand triple damages within 30 days in civil theft cases. Choice Hotels made that demand of Chat in March, giving him a month to cough up the $145,500 for rewards theft. Chat did not respond to the demand.

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