What is a Mandatory Gala Dinner ?
At best, it is a not-so-novel way for a hotel/resort to charge you an additional fee for staying with them over Christmas or New Year eve. Cash rate or points booking, everyone has to pay. A forced gala for you to network with other disgruntled guests that did not plan to be at or pay for the dinner, but had to. Its often the cherry on top of the ‘Destination Marketing Fee (DMF)‘ and ‘Resort Fee’. If you didn’t get the gist of how I really feel about a mandatory gala dinner, here is a story..
Mandatory Gala Dinner at a Cat-2 Four Points property
I have been looking forward to an upcoming family reunion in Rajasthan, India. With folks scattered across 3 continents, it is quite the production to get everyone’s schedule straight. As the designated travel expert in the family, I had worked out the hotel stays and other logistics well in advance. It came as no surprise that India has a great portfolio of lower category redemption, across all loyalty programs. Part of our trip included spending a couple of nights in Jaipur, over Christmas, and I was on a hunt for one more room in the city to accommodate a last minute addition to the group. The reviews and amenities at Four Points, City Square (cat-2 property, 25,000 points for two nights) intrigued me enough to confirm an advance points booking, as a place holder. This was in July 2019.
I received an email from the property on Sep 4, 2019 informing me (not inviting) of a mandatory gala dinner on December 24th. The email included zero details on what this gala entails, but came with a request to pay the fee (by a deadline, 3 months in advance of stay) using an attached credit card authorization form. I didn’t know what was more absurd, a cat-2 property with a mandatory gala dinner, a mandatory Christmas dinner in Rajasthan (largely a desert state) or that they were trying to retroactively shove a fee down my throat. The thought of paying for a forced dinner, at a Four Points property, made me cringe. And not to mention that my group already had other plans in the city. I scanned my existing booking and confirmed that there was no mention of a Mandatory Gala dinner at Four Points, City Square. I promptly responded to the email (Sep 5, 2019) with screenshots of my booking details and conditions, and asked that this requirement be waived for my booking. I was ghosted.
Sep 28, 2019, I received a second email from the same person in reservations, asking to pay for the Gala dinner. No acknowledgement of my email. And yet again, I responded with a ‘Thanks but no thanks’ and a request that this matter be escalated to senior management. Surprise-Surprise, the next day I check my existing booking and a ‘Mandatory Gala Dinner ‘ condition had been added, retroactively! A day later, I got a response from the ‘Revenue Manager’ of the property stating that they were unable to change the conditions on my booking and that the gala dinner was in fact mandatory.
While this Four Points property was busy trying to cover their tracks to get me to pay for a dinner I did not want, the local resort where the rest of my group was booked, had been proactively working to get us one more room. Not only did the local resort come through with an additional room, they were not charging anyone a scam fee over Christmas! Needless to say, I pulled the plug on the Four Points saga and cancelled my booking. Being forced into a room full of disgruntled guests who paid unwanted fees is not my idea of a vacation. For what its worth, I contacted Bonvoy (twice) about this issue as well – rep hung up on me the first time and another confirmed that “the property can introduce new charges to existing bookings”. Yeah, right!
On principle alone, I detest any additional fee tacked on a consumer, let alone adding one after the booking has been completed. Mandatory Gala Dinner is no different than the DMF (Destination Marketing Fee), both are a cash grab. I can see how/why some luxury properties get away with holding guests hostage for a gala dinner over New Years etc., think island resorts. But its obnoxious when a Cat-2 property in a city starts to bill you for a mandatory dinner, retroactively! A few things worked in my favor, that I was booked on points (fully refundable), had alternate plans on the go, and that Jaipur is not short on better options. I figured it was best to down-vote this (mal) practice by cancelling my booking.
What’s been your experience with mandatory gala dinners? Share with a comment below.
Title Image Source: Marriott Bonvoy