Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Ire of Unsatisfied Customers

(UPDATE, 7/14, 11:52 a.m. PT: Suzanne wrote in me this last night: "I just got off the phone with the MGM and although they didn't honor the rate they did offer me a decent rate (lower than my original booking) plus enough in comps to make up the difference. The gentleman that I spoke with was very understanding and seemed to be genuinely sorry for the troubles even though it certainly was not his fault (I'm sure this weekend has been no picnic for him either). He did say that he will also extend the offer to the rooms that my friends had booked which hopefully will redeem me a little bit on that front. In the end I'm still going, my friends are still going and the MGM is still getting our money. I really think this whole situation could have been handled so much better but business is business. It's too bad that Harrah's didn't catch wind of this and offer up something to those who had their reservations canceled. They could have scooped 1500 reservations without even trying.)" All's well that ends well. For her, anyhow. Any similar stories out there?)

The prior post offered the official explanation for the MGMGrand.Com rate-code, uh, problem. (I like to reserve "fiasco" for things like when the entire room reservation systems for several of their hotels
shuts down for days and the local media doesn't give a fig.)

I thought it would be worthwhile for those of you who think this is a trivial matter from parts of our "nation of whiners" to post tourist Suzanne Ferguson's letter to the MGM Grand. She has given me permission to do so.

Before I post her letter, though, just one thing I thought of after I posted Alan Feldman's comments. Alan made reference to one person threatening legal action. Can I just urge y'all, no matter how steamed you may be, not to do that. It's fruitless -- you're not suing over such a small matter and if you are you'll almost certainly lose and waste more money than paying the difference on the hotel room for a few days -- and it pretty much guarantees whatever efforts the reservationist is making to fix the problem or help you out will stop dead in its tracks. The minute you utter the word "lawyer," they shut down altogether and won't even continue to talk to you. You're doing yourself a disservice and, more than likely, you're lying anyway.

Suzanne didn't do that. She just told her story and it is compelling and far from trivial.

To whom it may concern:

I am one of the customers who has had their reservation canceled (received email "** Important MGM Grand Information **" ) and I am more than unhappy to say the very least. When I saw the link to this deal online, I actually called the MGM directly to see if I was eligible to book.

It took me about 15 minutes on the phone with the gentleman in reservations who went and checked with his manager and casino marketing and he was advised that yes, I could go ahead and book this rate. (I had given him the promo code that appeared and that is what he went and checked on.) His instructions to me were to book through the link and then cancel my previous reservation either online or by calling him back. He even commented that he felt horrible because he had just told the customer before me that she couldn't book it and that he should have checked into further for her, which is what he had done for me.

After speaking with him I followed his instructions and re-booked, received my confirmation immediately and then let some other friends know that they could book it as well so that they could join me in Vegas, adding 4 more people to the trip who wouldn't have come otherwise.

I was not trying to book something I was not entitled to. As a consumer I did everything right by calling and confirming my eligibility for this promotion and all I have gotten from the MGM is a canceled weekend, a story about the website being hacked -- which raises some other serious issues of either security breaches or the MGM out right lying to it's customers -- and some annoyed friends who have now booked their flights and have nowhere to stay.

I would like to give MGM the opportunity to make this right by honoring my reservation and salvaging me as a current and future customer. I did absolutely nothing wrong by completing this reservation and would like to see that the MGM will do the right thing, take responsibility for their own error and prove to me that I am indeed a "Valued Guest."

Suzanne Ferguson

We'll see...

MGMGrand.Com Not Hacked, But...

OK. For what it's worth, I got the scoop on the $69-a-night rates at the MGM Grand that "several hundred" people tried to enjoy. See here for the background. I'm not sure how satisfied y'all will be about it, but here's the deal, per Alan Feldman, senior VP for MGM Mirage.

First off and perhaps most importantly, the site was not hacked or breached. "That's either a very, very poor choice of words on a reservationist's part or someone just did not understand what happened. This had nothing to do with hacking," Feldman said. So rest assured if you were worried about identity theft or some other compromising Internet situation related to your personal data.

Then what actually did happen? According to Feldman, the MGM Mirage created the $69-a-night MGM Grand rate code for a mailer that was either about to or just went out to selected members of the company's slot club. It was "a closed-loop kind of thing," intended for a relatively specific, small group of people.

"Just prior to the mailer's arrival, someone figured out the code -- there are code phishers out there -- and we don't really know how, but someone got ahold of the code," Feldman said.

It was then circulated online. Feldman said it's difficult to figure out where it was posted first or by whom, but he said some postings indicated that whoever was passing around the information at first knew that it was intended for slot club players because those postings instructed people to go to the casino cage and sign up for a slot club card before checking in. That is, it offered a work-around.

The MGMGrand.Com folks realized the problem because the mailer hadn't actually landed yet and many who were booking under the special rate were not on the list of those who were supposed to get the mailer. The reservations have been canceled, emails are going out and some phone calls are being made. You may need to call to address it if you've been canceled.

"We discovered very quickly that people who had no connection to this code were using it," Feldman said. "The names and reservations were not matching up with who we sent it to."

Feldman said reservationists have been in contact with dozens of the hundreds who tried to use the code and that almost all have rebooked under a different rate, usually a promotional one that is just higher than $69. He said one cheap rate available to the general public is $89 a night when available and many took that.

"We'll work with every guest on a one-on-one basis," Feldman said. "Of those we've gotten to in the first 24 hours, only a few went elsewhere, I'd say in the single digits. One person was upset enough to say 'I'm going to call a lawyer.' Everyone else understood that the code they used was one that they did not have the authority to use."

I did ask Feldman why the company did not feel obliged to honor the rate for those who booked and he said that it was a special offer for a select group of people and not an error in a general mailer or something for all comers.

Any thoughts?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Was MGMGrand.Com Hacked?

(UPDATE, 7:29 p.m. PT: MGM Mirage brass are looking into this, promised they'd get back to me. May not be tonight, though.)

There's an online uproar today after several people booked stays at the MGM Grand at a special $69-per-night room rate only to learn that MGM Grand says they were hacked. Folks who booked under the "Ultimate Escape" deal, which other users posted on various message boards after they found it, offered the $69 (that might've been a clue?) rate for any days, including weekends and holidays, and 25 percent off on Ka tickets.

One reader of this blog wrote in to say he booked for 8/29-9/1 for a total cost of $225.63 and printed out his confirmation. But now folks are being contacted and informed that someone hacked into the hotel's site and altered the prices or set up this bogus special offer. My letter-writer says some who call to complain are being offered $20 discounts instead.

Here is a sample of the e-mail customers are receiving:

Dear Valued Guest:

It has come to our attention that you booked a reservation on the MGM Grand website using promotion code SDM060. Please be advised that this is an invalid promotion code, which you did not receive from MGM Grand Hotel.

As a result, we are not able to honor your reservation. Please be advised that your reservation has been cancelled and any deposits have been refunded to your credit card. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

We certainly welcome your business and invite you to book your reservation through our website or by contacting our room reservations department at (800) 929-1111. If you are a current MGM Mirage
Players Club Card member, please contact our VIP services department to book your reservation at (800) 929-9410. Once again, thank you for your interest in MGM Grand. We hope to welcome you in the future.


MGM Grand Reservations Department

Here's the thing: If MGMGrand.Com was hacked so thoroughly that someone could actually set up special room rates, that is a security breach of gigantic proportions. It would be assumed that whoever could get into the system to that degree also would have obtained customer credit card information and other jeopardizing bits and pieces. I'm no tech geek -- I just play one in the media -- but it seems strange that such a sophisticated hacker would go through all that trouble just to offer the world a lower room rate that's actually not even that much lower than some of the deals that are being offered in these troubled economic times. (There are MGM Grand rooms available in August for $80. The Ka discount actually exists, at least for July.)

I'm very dubious of this hacker explanation. It just doesn't make sense. Isn't it far more likely that someone at MGMGrand.Com keyed in the wrong price and the company realized it after several people had taken advantage of it?

Logic tells me that's the far more likely scenario. Since when are hackers of that magnitude after chump change like a $30 room discount for all? Wouldn't a hacker do other damage to the site as well, maybe something naughty that could get the casino in trouble with the gaming control board?

What's more, ought it be the customer's fault and problem if a major Fortune 500 company is incapable of securing its Web site? What of tourists who, sniffing out a great deal, went ahead and bought non-refundable plane tickets? This isn't some gas station that accidentally sells 41-cent-a-gallon gas when they meant $4.10, y'know? And, furthermore, if they're admitting to having been hacked, don't you think they ought to be trying really, really hard to reassure those people who forked over credit card information that they've got the situation under control and, if they try to book at MGMGrand.Com again, their information is safe and the booking will be legit? This letter to their "valued customers" does no reassuring whatsoever. It almost has an accusatory tone -- "which you did not receive from MGM Grand Hotel" -- as if the customers ought to have known better than to cause their Web folk all this darned trouble.

I'm going to see about getting MGM Mirage comment, although its late on Friday, so it may not be doable.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

ReviewJournal.Com, Porn Purveyors!

VegasRex.Com had an awesome post today that you need to see. But shield your eyes and those of the young 'uns around you: He caught the Review-Journal trafficking in oldie porn.

As I understand it, until probably this morning there was a user-generated element of the front of that mess of a site where they showed photos uploaded by readers. I guess nobody was moderating that and, surprise surprise, someone posted a nude photo of an aged woman. Hot!

Here's the screenshot that VegasRex grabbed, and thank GOD he did...

The Your Pix section is now gone. It's sort of amazing it took this long for something like that to happen, isn't it?

While I've got your attention regarding the RJ's site, I did want to address another new feature, the roundtable chat between Doug "VegasLand" Elfman, Carol Cling, Mike Weatherford and Jason Bracelin, the paper's entertainment columnists and bloggers. It's called "Hot In Vegas This Weekend," which means that nobody could be even the slightest bit creative about what to call the thing.

I won't comment on the quality per se because it's a new venture and the first go-rounds are always going to be rough as the people involved get comfortable with one another and the medium. I'll just make a few hopefully helpful suggestions:

1. Make it more fun and interactive. Have an actual discussion, debate, throwdown, whatever. Right now, it's a video/audio calendar listing service, with each telling us what's coming up this weekend in their various disciplines. I can get that from Neon and I don't have to sit in front of my computer to do that. The idea of having multiple people ought to be to have a chat, y'know?

2. Change your focus, Carol Cling. Your very best, most Vegas-relevant material is your Shooting Stars column on Mondays in which you tell us what TV, movie or other visual media crews are in town. Your movie reviews are fine, but they've got no Vegas relevance, usually. Everyone else is talking about upcoming shows, concerts and such that are happening here.

3. For God's sake, explain RSS to Al Gibes already. Your "Online Guy" and supposed Web guru really needs to understand that your program -- and all of your blogs, too -- will reach many times more people if they can subscribe to it via RSS and have the content come to them via Google Reader or iTunes or whatever. Take a cue from the Washington Post's daily Post Politics Podcast and the Herald of Rock Hill, S.C.,'s Popcast podcasts, both of which have increased awareness of and traffic to their websites by not forcing people to come there for non-written content. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. But everybody's doing it. Not having RSS tags for your video and audio content proves you just don't get the portable media revolution.

Oh, and more porn would totally make your little show rock! Maybe Bracelin can show a little leg. God knows, he loves to talk about bodily functions in his columns.

BREAKING: Criss Angel Show To Open Oct. 10

I just got official confirmation from Cirque du Soleil that the gala opening premiere date for Criss Angel's "Believe" show at Luxor has been moved back a day to Friday, Oct. 10. No, no, no, it's not because of show delays or any such thing. Rather, it's because nobody in Montreal realized when they picked Oct. 9 that it was the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Or, rather, more technically, it's Kol Nidre, which is when Yom Kippur begins at sundown. To have a massive gala that night would be at least as offensive as doing so on Good Friday. Now they'll be holding the she-bang after sundown and after the holiday is over.

So, good call on that for the Cirque gang. And, so I hear from my Cirque spies, the woman who complained about being jerked around in the comments section of this previous post has been satisfied with free seats and an apology.

Meanwhile, someone needs to fix this countdown clock on the show's site which continues to point to the show's earlier gala opening dates in September...

Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza, Here We Come!

Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com had the idea and now it's about to be a reality! Miles and I, Tim and Michele Dressen and Hunter and his ragtag group of merry Sin City commentators will be converging on The Palms from 4-6ish p.m. on Aug. 16 for the first Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza.

Each of us - The Strip, Five Hundy By Midnight and the Vegas Gang will perform an abbreviated version (30-35 min apiece) of our programs in front of a live audience! The event is timed to coincide with the year's biggest podcast convention, the New Media Expo, which will be in Vegas for the first time from Aug. 14-16. Click here for all the details.

Well, maybe not all just yet. There's more to come. Miles and I will be conducting a live interview with a celebrity and we haven't secured who that might be just yet. There's also efforts afoot to produce a high-profile visitor to the Vegas Gang's chat and we're working on giving away prize packs for the lucky winner drawn during each show just to sweeten the pot.

Anyhow, mark your calendars!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

F#@! You, Ted

That's the title Miles instructed me to slap on this post. Boy is he steamed.

Miles had to go to Madison, Wis., for a work-related computer training program this week, returning tonight after a Madison-Denver-Vegas trip on United's Ted service. It was enough that he and his colleagues had to haul a few miles from one gate to the next in Denver's obnoxiously huge airport to make their connection, but then the plane was, of course, delayed. It seemed they were missing the pilot. That particular complication has happened to us at least thrice this summer.

So United decided to board the passengers a half-hour after the scheduled departure time and everyone thinks they're on their way. But they're not. Once boarded, the passengers hear an announcement that the pilot's en route, will be there "as soon as he can," blah blah blah. So they boarded these people knowing they still had nobody to fly the machine. Anyone have any explanation as to why?

But here's the kicker. There are rows and rows of empty seats, the so-called Economy Plus seats. Almost entirely empty. And the loser-Economy passengers are crammed in. But a flight attendant comes on the PA to inform the loser-Economy passengers that, despite the half-full status of the plane and all those lovely, roomy empty seats before them, passengers are NOT permitted to spread out into the special seats.

So they sat empty. And the airline made no money off them at all. But dozens of passengers, who were at least an hour delayed and trapped on the aircraft because of United's inability to schedule its own staff, were even more offended and aggravated. They were cheek-to-cheek and they clearly didn't need to be.

Doesn't air travel these days just suck?

Today's Funnies

It's not exactly funny, but I just love Frank & Ernest so much I figured I'd share. Also, I love how the only figure that's recognizable in that cluster of Vegas buildings is the pyramid.

Travel Mag Ed Who Hates Vegas Quits

I'm pleased to report that Erik Torkells, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel for the past several years, is quitting. The New York Post says he was essentially being pushed out by a "corporate restructuring." Jossip has some interesting recent history.

Why should you care? Torkells was the genius who, as editor of perhaps the nation's most important bargain travel publication, went on the mag's blog three months ago to bravely declare of his own readers' favorite city: "I hate Las Vegas. There -- I said it."

It seems Torkells had seen ads for the Wynn in Bon Appetit and thought the "newish" -- 3 years old is new? -- resort looked tacky. Had he ever set foot in the place? Eaten at its Michelin-rated restaurants operated by James Beard-winning chefs? Why, no, of course not.

But, nevertheless, he wrote: At this point, it’s old hat to complain about Vegas being fake, but I looked at the photos in the ad, and I just thought, They look like they’re from a computer game—maybe Grand Theft Auto: Country Club. I don’t want to be anywhere near these places. And I realized that if I never went to Vegas again, I’d be just fine.

Well, that's really an intelligent way for a major magazine editor to draw conclusions, based entirely on photos in an advertisement -- maybe Wynn doesn't advertise in BT? -- and some stereotypes that he admits are "old hat." (Who says "old hat" anymore?)

And, no, as most readers of this blog know, I'm no Vegas or Wynn apologist. In fact, early in Torkells' management, in Nov. 2004, I was not permitted to include anything negative about Las Vegas in my BT piece on the search for Old Las Vegas. I had included a couple of passages about things that folks should NOT do and was told that if it's that bad, just leave it out. That stifling was precisely what gave rise to my piece for the Los Angeles Times on Vegas' Seven Deadliest Sins, my sense that telling people what not to do is at least as valuable in a place of infinite choices like Las Vegas. And I took the Wynn to task for several deficiencies in my punishing Chicago Tribune assessment of the joint when the "newish" resort opened in 2005.

Maybe next Torkells will turn up at The New Yorker and bravely declare, "I'm bored with Iraq. There -- I said it." Or he can find himself at US Weekly and bravely declare, "I don't care about Angelina Jolie. There -- I said it."

Either way, hopefully this demarcates a new era for Budget Travel, which was once piloted by the venerable Arthur Frommer. Frommer, by the way, loved Las Vegas. Too bad he was a bit daft by the end of his tenure. But that's not Vegas' fault. Or is it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

No Live Show Tonight

We'll most likely post a couple of interviews this week in the feed and on the site, but there'll be no live show tonight because Miles is away yet again. We'll be back on track next Tuesday. Sorry!

Teller Appointed WashPost Editor!

Here are TWO major stories that Norm Clarke and Robin Leach seem to have missed...

First, much to everyone's shock and dismay, the Washington Post just appointed Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, to be the venerable paper's new top editor! Read all about it here!

There was little indication that he had it in him to lead one of the world's most respected newspapers, but I guess they got tired of having someone at the helm who speaks. Good for them! Hopefully, he'll take that loudmouthed jerk he performs with with him.

All the way at the other end of the spectrum, somehow it eluded Vegas' greatest gossip hounds that the Review-Journal's own Corey Levitan, who just the other day was working at the Chicken Ranch, was selected by DeAnna last night as the love of her life on the ABC reality show "The Bachelorette"!!!

Corey, who goes by "Jesse" in order to cloak his identity and not upset his wife, is seen here with the object of his affection. Congrats, dude.

(Don't get it? Click here for Teller's pic and here for Corey's. Happy Tuesday.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

"A flying Jerry Springer show."

That's the best line I've read about something Vegas-related in ages.

Yes, it's full of stereotypes and yes she takes a spin on the WHHSH slogan that we are so tired of, but somehow this front-page Sunday piece by Arizona Republic reporter Dawn Gilbertson on the craziness that ensues on those 17 daily flights from PHX-LAS worked. It was funny, comprehensive and even had some data to back up its claims. From what I hear, Gilbertson is herself a bit of a veteran of such flights. Wink wink.

Even the WHHSH twist worked. She opens the piece with, "What happens in Vegas often starts on the plane." And unlike every other spin on the slogan, it is accurate and refers perfectly to what she's writing about.

Fun stuff. Read it here. Wish I had thought of it.

This is Summer.

I am riding in the back seat of a Jeep Cherokee with the windows down and my 18-year-old nephew Zach and my not-so-Little-anymore Brother, Jamie, are in the front. The three of us are en route to this stunningly beautiful new river area in northwest Arizona called Fossil Creek. How can a river be "new"? As my good friend Shaun McKinnon of the Arizona Republic reports, they decommissioned a dam recently and look what they ended up making...

Anyhow, I'm in the backseat, trying to let Norah Jones on my iPod drown out whatever crapola the guys are blaring on the car radio but nonetheless thinking how idyllic it all is. It's summer, I'm spending time with the only two teenage boys I can stand -- OK, who I know -- and we're on our way to swim in some remote watering hole on a hot day. The scents of juniper trees, campout fires and ATV vehicle fumes mingle and all thoughts of deadlines, interviews, mortgages and bills are miles away. Nice.

Here are the guys - that's Jamie and Zach...

...and here they are when they were little, for comparison's sake...

You can see me in the middle of this shot below, but that's about as close as you're going to get to seeing my sad excuse for a 35-year-old, pasty, moob-overrun body. I also make a bit of an odd cameo at about 2:58 of the video.

As the 4-minute YouTube video I made shows, this nook of Fossil Creek was great for jumping and swimming. Here are some of the still shots...

Of course, once we were done with the Great Outdoors, the guys were right back where you might have expected to find them...