Marriott hotels has announced that it will use facial recognition to check in guests in some Chinese hotels. It'll happen here, eventually. As much as I love shiny new tech, this will be buggy as a flophouse mattress at first. You'll be glaring at a camera blinking your password in Morse code nine times before the clerk gives up.
Why am I suspicious? The other day I set up a hotel app for my wife, who was going out of town for a wedding. The hotel chain sent an e-mail advising her to check in by downloading their new app, and she could track her points, too!
Who doesn't get a tingle over the idea of sitting down with a cool one, putting your feet up and checking your hotel chain points? Even better: You get points just for using the app. Before, you had nine points. Now you have 11! Only 3,989 more to Tin Status, which earns you an extra washcloth at any of the Suite Premium, PremeSweet, UltraSuite, or Country Home/Red Gutter Inn locations. (Conditions and terms apply. Washcloth must be returned at end of stay. Charges up to $9 per washcloth accumulate daily. Points cannot be transferred, exchanged for cash or used when you want.)
"Do you have a Members Rewards BonusClass Points Account?" I asked my wife. "Oh, probably," she sighed.
"Do you know your account number?" She gave me a look that suggested she would not be rolling up her pants leg to show where it was tattooed on her shin. No, she didn't know her account number.
"OK, we can use your e-mail and password. Do you know what those are?"
"Look," she said. "I can just go to the hotel and, you know, check in."
"No, no, we can do that on the app! Look, it has a concierge feature. You can text them for a toothpaste, and they'll bring it right up."
"But I packed toothpaste." "OK, but what if the airline loses your luggage?"
"I'm not checking a bag."
"Then let's say TSA confiscates your toothpaste. It could happen. In that case, you could just text the hotel, and they'll bring up some toothpaste. That's so convenient I'm tempted to stay at this chain in the future just for sake of knowing I'll be able to brush no matter what. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of trying to floss with the drapery cords."
I created a new account, then realized I'd used the wrong e-mail. I had created a doppelgänger of my wife in the hotel's system — someone with absolutely no points whatsoever, the lowest of the low. They wouldn't bring her toothpaste. They would probably regard this as some scam to get free toothpaste.
So I logged off, deleted the app, downloaded it again and entered the right account. I reset the password, which had to have at least one uppercase letter, number, special character, the symbol for pi, fraction and food-related emoji that was not sushi but did involve fish.
It looked like this when I typed it: ************
Why can't you see what you're typing? Because you might be in public, unaware that a hacker in a black overcoat is studying your screen over your shoulder, so he can capture your account, siphon your points and show up at the hotel with so many points they send up a bellboy with a bucket of toothpaste.
I was told to enter the password again, but the app said it didn't match, because it never does. To blazes with this; I enabled touch ID. I told my wife she could log in to the hotel app by putting her thumb over the button and she'd be checked in.
"Where do I get the key?" "Well, you'll have to go to the front desk for that." "Then what's the point of this?"
Sigh. "It saves time. You don't have to stand there while they peck away at the system to find your reservation. That's always stressful. What if they can't find it? Where would you go?"
By then I'd gotten into her account. "OK, let's just look at upcoming stays ..."
Nothing. No reservations. "Ah-hah," I said with triumph. "You have no reservation! The app says so."
She pointed out that this all began when the hotel sent her a reservation confirmation and told her to get the app. Hmm. I called the help line and explained the situation. The customer service person opened the account and eliminated the doppelgänger I had created, causing a momentary pang of regret, as if a twin had been erased from history.
"The reservation isn't showing up because it's a group reservation," said the support person. "I see," I said. "What about the points?"
"She'll have to ask the front desk to transfer the points. I can't do that here."
So, in the end it was all for naught — one more useless account you rarely use, one more app cluttering up the phone, one more rewards program where you're always stuck at Bronze. The whole thing was a waste of time.
No, not exactly. The morning she had to go the airport, I waited until she was busy, then I took the toothpaste out of her bag. She'll thank me someday.
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