Hotel cancels senior trip reservation
With five days to go before the senior class trip, the Senior Class Council was forced to change its plans for housing nearly half of the trip’s participants.
The Fairmont Millennium Hotel had agreed to house 128 of the trip’s 272 participants but pulled out of the contract with the Senior Class Council (SCC) on Wednesday after overbooking the hotel.
Instead of staying downtown at the Fairmont, these students will stay near the airport, at the Sheraton Chicago O’Hare, which is 15 miles outside the city. The class council is working to compensate these students for the increased distance from many of the trip’s activities, which include a sunset boat cruise on Lake Michigan and a “moonlight stroll” pub crawl near the Fairmont.
The SCC is arranging for buses to shuttle students between the hotel and the events.
The situation has infuriated senior class officials, who have spent months planning the weekend and booked the Fairmont rooms in July.
“As a council, we’re enraged that they think they can do this to us,” SCC president Alex Kiles said on Sunday. “When we sold these tickets, people signed up with the idea that they’d be staying downtown.”
The class council already had booked a second accommodation, the Congress Plaza Hotel, on Sept. 13, following unexpectedly high registration numbers for the trip. Students who signed up later were booked at the Congress Plaza and will remain there.
The SCC plans to notify students about details of the change, including how much they will be reimbursed, early this week.
The class council, along with Assistant Director for Campus Life Mary Zabruskie, gave the Fairmont a down payment of $13,000 in early September as part of their contract.
“We put this money [down] to guarantee that we were coming this weekend, and on their end they were supposed to make sure they were going to have these rooms,” said SCC treasurer Michael Chen.
The total cost of the reservation was $15,000.
A conference sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology will bring approximately 25,000 individuals to the city the same weekend, making hotel reservations downtown difficult to book.
The original package was negotiated with Kara Gegerson, the Fairmont’s sales manager. According to Chen and Kiles, Gegerson agreed to help find alternative accommodations for the senior class after the contract fell through.
When Gegerson found the Sheraton was available, she claimed to have negotiated a special deal that included free shuttle buses to public transportation, Wi-Fi and breakfast.
After checking hotels.com, the class council quickly found that these amenities were included in the Sheraton’s standard package.
“That’s when we stopped trusting everything they told us,” Chen said.
The SCC is working with University officials and members of the University’s legal counsel to discuss potential legal action against the Fairmont.
According to Kiles, any legal action would require time and money, and the damage to the trip has already been done.
“They explicitly said that they broke the contract, but right now [the Fairmont authorities] don’t think that we’re going to press legal action,” Kiles said. “We’re not sure of the whole legal procedure and if the legal costs will feed the benefits we’ll get. We think the hotel knows that, and that’s why they’re doing this to us.”
The Fairmont has not yet returned the deposit of $13,000. The council will ask for a refund on Monday.
This is the second year in a row that the senior class trip has made the news. During last year’s trip, four black students were turned away from a class outing to Mothers Bar. That incident prompted threats of a lawsuit, a settlement and widespread discussion about racial profiling, both nationally and on campus.
“Senior trip hasn’t even started, and we’ve already run into issues,” Kiles said.
Representatives of the Fairmont hotel did not return phone calls from Student Life on Sunday.