Bedbugs.

Just the mention of these tiny, bloodsucking insects is enough to send a veteran road warrior packing. But what does a hotel owe you if you’ve been ravaged by a swarm of Cimex lectularius during your stay?

No, that’s not an academic question.

I wish it was. So does Hilton. So does Diane Lapin, who claims she had visitors during her recent two-night stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Burlingame, Calif. Hers was room 323, but for hundreds of bedbugs, it was more like a dining room, she says.

During my stay, I received 50 to 60 bug bites on my arms, legs, torso, hands, and feet. The first night I was itchy but didn’t know why. The second night I was sure I was being bitten.

I ended up sleeping on the floor with a blanket from the closet. I wrapped my suitcase and clothing in plastic bags (per my company’s EAP nurse’s instruction), as I was afraid to infest my home with bugs hiding in my clothing and suitcase.

I was in Burlingame for three days of business meetings. Due to the bed bugs and the bites, I was anxious, tired, and itchy and did not perform well.

I reported the bites to the hotel manager, who offered me a credit for one night’s stay or 1,000 Hilton HHonors Points. I refused these offers as inadequate.

Upon returning to my home in Maryland, I want to see a doctor, who confirmed the bites were insect bites — likely from bed bugs or fleas. She also told me not to bring the suitcase or any items that were in the hotel into my home, as insects can infest the home and even reproduce and spread.

I sent a polite email to Hilton Honors Customer Service, and received a reference number and contact name, I was told that the hotel would respond within three days. I have not heard from them.

Lapin wanted Hilton, which owns the Hampton Inn brand, to pay $3,000 for her suitcase and clothes, and as compensation for the “itchy, anxiety, sleepless nights, and bug infestation of room 323.”

Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying room 323 is infested with bedbugs. I’m not saying one night’s stay and 1,000 HHonors points is inadequate. But in passing Lapin’s complaint along to Hilton, I wanted to give the company another opportunity to review her grievance.

It took another look and contacted her. She reported back a few days later:

I received a call from a Hilton representative. She informed me that the Hampton Inn Burlingame had the room tested prior to my stay and that it was clean. They continue to assign this room to hotel guests.

I told her that I offered to show the hotel manager the bites on my arms and legs when I made the complaint but that she declined. I also told her that I saw a physician upon my return to Baltimore and that the diagnosis was insect bites, bed bugs or fleas.

Hilton asked me to send it a medical report, which I will when the transcribed report is available next week. Any suggestions on how I can make Hilton take my situation seriously?

Yes, I do.

But first, let’s rewind to day one, when Lapin suspected a problem. Why not ask to be moved after the first sleepless night? Hilton’s actions were also inconsistent. You don’t offer someone points and a room night for nothing. The hotel manager must have taken her initial complaint seriously enough to try to compensate her.

So, to recap: Lapin should have said something sooner or at least asked to move to another room, and Hilton should have been consistent. If the room is “clean” then why offer to compensate a guest?

Even if Lapin is completely wrong (there were no bedbugs and her episodes were imagined) you still don’t want a hotel guest running around, telling the world your property has a little insect problem. So my advice to Hilton would be to review her medical report and try to work something out.

And if that doesn’t work? A credit card dispute or a trip to small claims court might be effective. But I don’t think it will come to that.

Update (8 p.m.): Hilton responds:

After careful review, the medical documents provided did not clearly indicate any evidence of bed bugs bites. The documents do make reference to what appears to be fleas and the property does not allow pets.

In order to respond to Diane Lapin’s concerns with the utmost urgency, the hotel team requested a detailed analysis for the entire year which included the day prior to the guest’s arrival and the day afterwards from Ecolabs. The detailed analysis did not indicate any evidence of bed bugs for the property.

We still offered the 100% Satisfaction Guarantee with her stay refunded by check or 2 Be My Guest Certificates.

(Photo: Thomas Claveirole/Flickr Creative Commons)