A 38-year-old man allegedly used a glitch in a major hotel reward system to collect gift cards worth over $48,000.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that St. Petersburg resident Robert Chat first noticed the system glitch after cancelling a reservation using the booking system for Choice Hotels International last year.
According to the report, Chat realized that his reward points were not deducted from his account, even after he cancelled the reservation. He apparently decided to take full advantage of the opportunity — using the system glitch to accumulate a substantial number of reward points and redeemed gift cards in a relatively short period of time.
Between October, 2014, and January, 2015, Robert Chat reportedly made and cancelled hundreds of reservations using the Choice Hotels booking system. He would then use the reward points accumulated through those decoy transactions to redeem available gift cards, which were designed to be used at vast number of major retail stores and restaurants.
The flaw in the hotel rewards system has been identified by Choice Hotels International in a lawsuit filed against Robert Chat on May 21. Within the lawsuit, which was filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, the major hotel chain outlines the intended use of and purpose for the reward points.
“[Reward points] are offered as a reward in exchange for actually staying at Choice Hotels, not simply for making a reservation… Frequent-stay programs are common throughout the industry and neither Choice nor its competitors offer rewards for frequent reservations.”
Choice Hotels reportedly claims that Robert Chat knew (or should have known) that reward points are not to be given to people that decide to not go through with a hotel reservation. The hotel chain is seeking to recover its losses from Chat’s allegedly fraudulent redemption of gift cards, as well as additional damages.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that Robert Chat, who apparently did not know about the filed lawsuit until he was asked about it by a reporter, denies any wrongdoing in this matter.
“I’ll be hiring a lawyer tomorrow to fight the suit as there was nothing done illegal nor was anything done in malice. I stayed at over 1,100 Choice hotels in the last five years … I worked with their bonus structure to obtain points.”
On March 12, a letter was sent to Robert Chat from an attorney representing Choice Hotels demanding that Chat pay triple damages ($145,500) within 30 days — an allowed provision for civil theft cases in the state of Florida. According to the filed lawsuit, Robert Chat did not respond to that letter.
In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Chat explains that he received less than 10 percent of the $48,500 in gift cards that he allegedly redeemed according to the lawsuit. He also blamed any error that might have occurred with his gift cards accumulation and redemption on the hotel.
“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.”
According to the Choice Hotels website, gift cards are offered as incentives for the company’s reward program, known as Choice Privileges.
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