Hotel cancels senior trip reservation

| Student Life Editors

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.

  • Alyson Jennings

    Old article. This article is misleading. Welcome to the real world of business- time to grow up.

  • Martin

    Your senior class really made a mistake going to the Congress. The longest Hotel strike in history has been going on there for many years. President Obama walked that picket line and supports all the Local 1 members on strike! Way to go dummies!

  • Cindy

    Kate and Michelle, I have been in the travel and meetings industry for many years now, and I have seen some very interesting clauses in contracts. Have you actually seen the contract that was signed by the Fairmont and Senior Class Council? Do you have in writing that the Sheraton Chicago O’Hare always includes free shuttle buses to public transportation, Wi-Fi and breakfast in their standard package? Because, if you look at their website, they do offer free Wi-Fi but Wireless High Speed Internet Access in Guest Rooms is USD 9.95 per day. Could that be the fee that Kara Gegerson got waived for your group? According to the hotel’s website, the complimentary shuttle service they offer is only to and from O’Hare Airport. And nowhere does their website mention free breakfast as a standard amenity. I do not believe that you have all of the facts. I firmly believe that you owe Kara Gegerson an apology for jumping to conclusions and smearing her in the press.

  • Michael

    The Fairmont should put the ENTIRE group up at the Peninsula, InterContinental, HardRock Hotel or Trump International. The Congress Plaza Hotel is bedbug-ridden so you won’t want any students staying there either!

    - concerned in Chicago

  • Anonymous

    I live in Chicago, and I highly recommend getting a shuttle to the El instead of taking a bus downtown. Traffic is ridiculous on that part of the highway. Even though it is only 15 miles, it can take you over an hour to get downtown, especially on Friday night (not sure if that’s one of the nights you’ll need it). Traffic is better later at night, so it could be worth it to have a bus take you back to the hotel. But you can never predict the traffic. I’ve been in bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of the day on Saturdays too. The El is about a 45 min ride to the loop, which is near the Fairmont.

  • Anonymous

    Send this email out to the Fairmont and if nothing gets done, the best we can do is report this on websites such as TripAdvisor and Hotels.com

    I am a senior at Washington University in St. Louis. The Class Council this year organized a class trip to Chicago for over 300 students which is to take place this weekend. They worked really hard to have everything run smoothly; they booked the hotels and buses far in advance and collected money early. Your hotel was one of the two selected for our stay. I was very excited for this trip, partly due to the opportunity to stay right in downtown Chicago and next to the other hotel in which my friends were staying. You can imagine my disappointment when I received a message today informing me that the entire group booked for your hotel will now have to stay at the Sheraton O’Hare, a fine hotel I’m sure, but not nearly as interesting as staying downtown. Also, this will mean an extra 30 min trip each way in and out of the city which will take away from the little time we have there. All of our activities are planned downtown so this is a substantial inconvenience. As you can see, there are many down sides. From what I have been told, our group was simply told that the hotel was “accidentally” overbooked and we would have to look elsewhere. This is absolutely unacceptable and unprofessional. You have left us in a situation where we pay as a result of your mistakes. If the situation is not resolved and my trip suffers I will absolutely report this on TripAdvisor.com as well as other forums. I hope a reasonable solution can be found in a timely manner.
    Sincerely,