Where does the clever hotel wordplay cross the line?

The surcharge seemed like nothing to Andy Fixman — a “trivial amount” he says. But it meant everything to him.

Actually, it should to every hotel guest.

Fixman, an engineer based in Seattle, found an item in the fine print of his bill at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver, where he stayed recently. His daily edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper was “complimentary,” it said.

“If I refuse the newspaper delivery, a credit of between $1 and $2 a day would be applied to my account, depending on the day of the week,” he says. “This one really annoys me.”


If something is free then refusing it shouldn’t result in any credit if you refuse it. Because, you know, it was free.

The hotel seemed to be engaging in a little clever wordplay. What it actually should have said was, “We’re charging you between $1 and $2 per night, depending on the day of the week, for the newspaper. (It actually costs us far less, because we buy the newspapers in bulk and distribute them ourselves.) If you don’t want it, fine. We’ll give you a credit.

Daniel Burrus, author of the book Flash Foresight, says it’s fine print at its finest.

“They know that the vast majority [of guests] will never read the additional fee section and if you are an aging Baby Boomer, it’s likely that you won’t even be able to see the small type much less read it,” he says. “Airlines and their baggage fees are well-known examples.”

That’s where, ahem, sites like this come into play.

“Thanks to social media, it is very easy to spread the word about a non-disclosed fee and create a minor revolt that can often spread to major newspapers and network television,” he says.

I asked Starwood, which owns the Westin brand, for its side of the story. Helen Horsham-Bertels, the company’s senior director for consumer affairs, told me the verbiage Fixman shared with me is printed on his bill, also known as folio.

“Upon checking in, guests receive their key packet, on which the verbiage below is communicated,” she says. “The folio is more of a reminder that if the guest had in fact refused the newspaper, the credit would be applied to the bill, as stated on the key package packet.”

But what about the wording — specifically, the “complimentary” part?

“We understand from the guest’s remarks that the word ‘complimentary’ may have been the concern,” she says.

Look, I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, as my mother likes to say. And Starwood is a squeaky-clean brand, when it comes to customer service.

But this one really annoys me, too.

Customers want businesses to give it to ’em straight. That’s why people are so upset when they encounter “gotcha” fees on their airline tickets and wireless phone bills. They feel as if they aren’t getting the whole picture, that somehow the company is trying to pull a fast one.

It only took a few years for airlines to go from customer service leaders to laggards. The same catastrophe is within easy reach of any industry, including hotels. (And once you’re there, recovery is all but impossible.)

I hope this fee is an aberration. Starwood, for its part, say it has already contacted the hotel and recommended removing the word “complimentary” from its fine print.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • simonhb

    I’m happy to pay for a paper. But, if I’m being paid for a paper, I want to choose which one I’m getting. If the hotel is distributing bulk copies (I suspect that every single copy of the Wall Street Journal outside central New York is stuck, unwanted, outside a hotel room door), then it shouldn’t charge.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I actually don’t mind this at all. It’s included in the cost of the room you already agreed to (you aren’t being charged extra). I’ve been to Starwood properties where you can opt out of a day’s housekeeping and get breakfast instead. I’d much rather these options to opt out for credit / compensation than the mandatory resort fees where you’re paying for things you aren’t using and there’s no way to refuse…

  • http://www.blackchickontour.com/ Terri Lundberg

    If any company states that something is complementary, that means it should be complementary.  Period.  Anything else amounts to false advertising.  This is pure, “gotcha capitalism.”  And, I for one am tired of it.  Whether or not the newspaper is complimentary or not isn’t a deal breaker but trying to cheat or mislead me, even if it’s only a dollar is a deal breaker.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Again, much ado about nothing.  The premise of the article is false.  The term complimentary, or even free, is in itself a marketing term.  It simply means that there is no additional charge for obtaining the item.  ITS NOT FREE!!!

    Something is free if there are no strings ( or incidental ones) attached.  For example, a free paper such as the various city weekly (e.g. La Weekly) are free.  You can waltz in off the street, grab one, and leave without spending any money at the hosting business.

    Contrast that with a hotel like Residence Inn which offers free breakfast.  I can’t waltz in off the street and say, “I want the free breakfast”.  See how far that gets you.  To obtain the so called “free” breakfast you must be a guest of the hotel.

    Its also important to understand, Westin doesn’t give papers to every guest.  Only Gold and Platinum SPG members receive newspapers,  yet, receipt of the newspaper does NOT increase the room rate.

    If anything, I think that Starwood should be commended for what its
    doing.  By declining the newspaper, you save Starwood money and it’s
    passing the savings along to you.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4DMVW6EDML54CXFQMZHZCZ7WEY EmilyE

    I’m actually fine with this sort of fine print – I know the ‘full’ price when I book the hotel, and anything I save off that is just a bonus. It would be different if they charged me for the newspaper or whatever else, but as it is, the quoted price includes a newspaper or whatever else they say.

    If they didn’t even let me remove the $1-2 from the bill at the end, I wouldn’t be any worse off than I anticipated, and I certainly wouldn’t be at all upset or mad. You have nothing to lose when the hotel does this.

    Just think of it as if an airline ticket included the price of a checked bag in with the ticket, and you could get a refund if you don’t check one. It’s either ‘good, I get a free checked bag’ or ‘good, I got some money back by not checking a bag’. Either way, you win.

  • emanon256

    I have seen that statement at a fair number of hotels.  But I agree with several of the others who posted before me, I was quoted the full price up front.  I think that’s very fare.  I don’t care if they say complementary, because, well it is.  It’s included in the price I already paid.  This isn’t an unadvertised add on.  I was able to compare the full price when I shopped, and was not surprised later with undisclosed fees.  I like Emily’s perspective, it’s a win-win, and I agree. 
    Sadly, it seems like people think of it as a loose-loose.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  When luggage was included in airline ticket prices, much like this newspaper fee, people complained that they should get cheaper tickets if they didn’t check a bag.  So the airlines dropped their prices and started charging a fee for checking bags, and now people complain about the airline baggage fees. 

  • sirwired

    I’m not sure I see the problem here.  They are including a service in the agreed-upon rate (as opposed to taking a “newspaper fee” on the bill that’s a big surprise at checkout.)  In addition, they are giving you the option to refuse it, meaning you’ll walk out the door at a price LOWER than the advertised rate!

    Complaining about the way it’s worded seems to be silly.  Is there anybody that would actually prefer they waste a paper on somebody that doesn’t want it, and force them to pay for it anyway?

  • sirwired

    So how exactly SHOULD the hotel word it?  They include the paper in the agreed-upon rate.  As an added bonus, they are offering a discount if you don’t want to waste a paper you don’t want.  That qualifies as “cheating” you?

    I suppose they could give guests the option of refusing the paper, and pocket the money they save as a result… would that make you feel better?  I think not.

    Seems like a win-win situation for me.

  • john4868

    I didn’t vote since I didn’t like either answer.
    I really don’t see an issue here. The hotel is providing the service they agreed to provide at the price they agreed to do it at. If you opt out of one of their included services, they give you a credit. Sounds better to me than just throwing away the paper which is what I do with most of these or not receiving a credit for opting out.

  • Adam_The_Man

    This is yet another rip-off.  They need to reduce their total price, if someone wants a paper, they can buy a paper.  They should not force everyone to buy a paper.

  • Chris_In_NC

    This isn’t new news. It’s been standard practice for years, except many moons ago, it was a 25-50 cent credit.

    Personally I don’t have a problem with opt out clause such as the one you quoted. I do have a problem with mandatory opt in fees such as resort fees.

    Better yet, maybe the hotel should not even allow the opt out option for the paper. Then there would be no problem right? HA!

  • andrelot

    I don’t see this is a problem. My concern would be if it were an undisclosed fee that was later added to the bill.

    Actually, I think this is a much more sensible approach to “unbundling” hotel fares. You already know what to expect and pay for. Them, you are given the opportunity to save by refusing some services.

  • emanon256

    This story just reminded me of something.  When I used to do accounting for an office building many years ago, I’m talking mid-90s.  We purchased USA Today and provided it to our tenants and their guests as a courtesy.  We had ~300 copies delivered every morning, and they were placed in a bin in the lobby.  As far as the “Bulk Discount” mentioned in the story, there really wasn’t a discount, it was $0.50 a paper no matter the quantity.  The discount was that at the end of the day, they would come back and pickup the unused copies and we would get a refund for them.  We could also tell them if we wanted less or more the next day.  If this is still the standard practice, than perhaps this is what the hotel is doing. They order one per guest, and if the guest doesn’t want it; they give a guest the credit for the refund.  This really is a win for the hotel guests, if they don’t want the paper, they pay less.  The hotel could simply say nothing, and keep the refund.  This sounds like a very honest hotel, they pass on the savings, rather than keeping it.

  • BillCCC

    I do not think that the fine print was intentionally misleading. Adding complimentary makes a guest feel that they are getting something free.

    What I did find interesting was that the Starwood rep used the word verbiage. The first definition on the Merriam-Webster site is ‘a profusion of words usually of little or obscure content.’. I find it funny that a company representative would describe their documentation in this manner.

  • Bernard Rappoport

    There is such a circulation war between the Globe & Mail and the National Post, that many hotels get these papers for nothing.

  • MarkKelling

    You are not actually saving them anything by declining.  

    They get the papers in bulk, that is a bundle, and how they use the papers is up to them.  So lets say they get a bundle of 100 papers and they pay $50.  If only 90 guests want the paper, they still get the same bundle at the fixed price. The extra papers are placed in the lobby and may or may not be taken by someone.  The only way they might save money is if all guests decline the paper and they can cancel the bundle delivery for that day.  But, I doubt that would be possible unless they cancelled the entire subscription.

    Of course they are saving the time a hotel employee would spend delivering those papers to the guests, but that employee would be doing other tasks anyway.  So once again, no savings.

  • Harry Baxter

    They shouldn’t word it at all. It should either be Free, or they should cease supplying it. Don’t make this any more complicated than it is.

  • mbgaskins

    Yes… extremely annoying.  Unfortunately its the little things that really get under my skin.  Probably because they are so petty that it makes no sense.

    I don’t think the language reflects any attitude towards its customers as this has been on my check-in documents for 20 years.  I take the paper and move on down the road. The  wording is misleading as it is clearly not complimentary.  Why refund for not wanting the paper? 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     That’s not true for two reasons

    1.  According to Emanon256, the unused papers were refunded.

    2.  Even if that’s no longer true, the hotel knows how many guests will generally decline the paper and reduces its subscription accordingly.

  • sirwired

    I’m baffled.  The hotel incurs a cost in acquiring and delivering the paper; nothing is ever “free.”  Some guests don’t want it.  The hotel is more than happy not to waste time and resources giving it to you.  In return, they are passing some of their cost savings to you.

    But to avoid offending your tender sensibilities, they should foist a paper on everybody and keep the money they could otherwise be refunding?  How is THAT customer-friendly?

  • Chris Burr

     Someone that knows more about newspapers can probably add more, but i was in the hotel business for years, and the issue with USAToday was how they counted circulation and subscriptions.  If the hotel guest is not given the opportunity to “opt out” the paper can’t count the paper as “Paid Circulation”.  Paid Circulation is what drives their advertising rates.

  • othermike27

    Those of you who are annoyed by this trivial matter really need to step back and reconsider your definition of “rip-off.” (Listening, Chris?)

    It was bundled into the price you were told at reservation time and, I’ll bet, you might have scanned the list of amenities and found that you would get a complimentary paper.  Very common to see this wording when making reservations online.  So, how is that a rip-off??  They told you up front what the deal was. Nobody is scamming you out of anything. 

    Yes, it’s a goofy thing for the hotel to even mention, but I’ll bet that they do it because lots of people have complained in the past about receiving a “free” paper that they didn’t want.

    Last week at a Marriott property, I asked the guy in the hall if I could get one of the papers he was delivering to his list of rooms. He looked uncomfortable and said that he was only delivering to the elites in Marriott’s Rewards program. So, I went to the lobby for my free copy. No big deal, IMO.

  • Sadie_Cee

    There seems to be a difference of opinion regarding the meaning and import of the word “complimentary.”  Just to be sure that I was not mistaken, I went to five online dictionaries to check my understanding of the word.  I was correct.  In a word, complimentary means “free.” 
    Dictionary.reference.com – “given free as a gift or courtesy”
    Dictionary.com – “something given or supplied free of charge.”
     The Free Dictionary –“Given free to repay a favor or as an act of courtesy:”
    Wiki – “Free, provided at no charge”
    Merriam-Webster – “given for free”
    Please pardon my bluntness, but many people charged with the task of writing communications (in English) for public consumption are NOT qualified to do so.  The persons in the hotel organization who were responsible for writing and approving the communication that the OP received made a mistake.  From the explanation given later, the newspaper was NOT complimentary.  If it were, it would not be something that was paid for in the room rate, nor would it be something that could be refunded since it was not paid for in the first place.
    In any event, all of Canada’s national dailies are available free online in their entirety.  Also, there are at least three national 24-hour TV news channels.  There are also several regional news channels that provide any hard news that can be found in the nationals.  For hotels to deliver COMPLIMENTARY, i.e. FREE newspapers to hotel rooms is unnecessary and wasteful and a negative marketing ploy in my book.  

  • john4868

    LOL… Reminds me of the conversation months ago about credit card fees merchants pay. Some people could just not understand that the cost of accepting CC had to be built into everything whether someone paid by CC or not.

    In this case, the cost of that newspaper is built into the rate. There is a very real cost to the hotel involved in purchasing and delivering it (unless this is Harry Potter’s world and the newspapers fly themselves to the rooms). The cost of purchasing and delivering that paper to the room plus picking up all of the unwanted ones from the hall is included in the rate. If you opt-out, the hotel is refunding some of what they built into the rate.

    Sounds pretty customer friendly to me. You do something that saves us money and we save you money.

  • Earwiss

    I’m with the author and those he cites.  “Complementary” means free or, at worst, unofficially, “no additional cost to you” and in this case, is used in a misleading fashion.

  • SoBeSparky

    Attention to detail is everything in an excellent hotel stay.  So “fine print” is just another detail they should pay attention to.  Westin properties are usually four- or five-star hotels.  They also charge for internet access.

    This brings up the subject of Holiday Inn Express where these things are free–free internet, free newspaper at the front desk, free breakfast, etc.–and upscale properties costing a multiple of the HIX properties where you are nickle-and-dimed for everything.  Some have no fine print to speak of, and some need a lot of it to tell you to prepare for a total bill much more than the five-star quoted rate.

  • sirwired

    In what way is this a “rip-off”?

    Some people (myself included) like to read the paper as we are waking up.  At home, it’s waiting on my doorstep.  On travel, if the hotel doesn’t provide one, I have no way of getting one until I’m up and fully dressed.  I rather like having the paper delivered.

    However, I understand that some people may not want the paper, and all they have to do to avoid it, (and get their money back, no less!) is to let the front desk know.  You aren’t being “forced” to do anything.

    The hotel room comes with a lot of things… are you also of the opinion that the little bars of soap, the little bottles of shampoo, the tissues, and the toilet paper are a “rip-off” you are “forced” to buy?  And that people should either bring or buy those things on arrival if they want them?  I believe most people call those things “amenities”.

  • sirwired

    I didn’t vote in the poll either.  While I don’t like fine print like the never-sufficiently-cursed “Resort Fees”, I have no problem whatsoever with this sort of “fine print.”

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JWIDK73REHGADBHYLCUC3FBV7Y Bob

    Oh look – all the smart people are commenting, and the people who don’t actually read the article are voting.  Like usual.

  • ctporter

    I totally agree with those that are saying the newspapers are included in the cost of the room (thus “free”) however, if I chose not to have the paper delivered to my room each morning I can get a slight deduction off my hotel bill. Hilton Garden Inns do this too. (cannot recall if this is across the entire Hilton brand though). Unlike “resort fees” this is something I can take an action on when I check in and opt out. it is NOT an extra mandatory fee that is added in once I check into a property.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Let the travel agent figure out the small print. That way they are responsible for your small print. Or are you so knowledgable that you can “doit myself” and then embarrassed when you get bit on the butt to admit it. Hotels fees are getting out of hand and I love to hear the horror stories, because they don’t happen from my office.

  • john4868

    I’m sorry did I miss the point where he was charged extra for taking the paper? Taking a paper costs him nothing above the rate he agreed to pay.

  • bodega3

    So what do you gleem out of this that you think others are missing? 

    The hotel is allowing a guest to opt out of something and get a recredit.  This chain has offered this for housekeeping, too.  You can save $xx a night if you don’t have daily maid service when staying more that one night, which normally is part of your nightly rate. 

  • bodega3

    No the paper comes with the room rate, but if he opted out, they would credit him.

  • bodega3

    Anyone else find the poll to be poorly worded? 

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I used to work in the newspaper industry.  This one is actually on the newspaper rather than the hotel.  Part of the hotel getting the papers for free is their agreeing to the newspaper being able to do it this way.  This admittedly goofy rule allows the newspaper to count the hotel copies in their paid circulation number.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Actually, to be totally accurate, in most cases there really is no cost to the hotel. The newspaper supplies the papers at no charge and in most cases does the delivery for the hotel. (We had lots of hotels at a zero rate, some paid a penny or two per copy. Some hotels had their employees deliver them to the rooms, but many have the newspaper delivery people do it. No cost for the delivery even if it is the newspaper people doing it.)  The wording is supplied by the newspaper because circulation rules allow them to count these copies as “paid” circulation. That’s what they get out of the deal.

    But, as many travelers have probably noticed, room-delivered copies are becoming less common these days. That’s due to cutbacks in the newspaper industry.  Many advertisers see little value in hotel copies, thus they’ve become just an added cost to the newspapers, which is why they’re cutting back on the practice.

  • $16635417

    Interesting reactions. Rather than “free” or “complimentary”, the more correct term seems to be “included in your rate”, but the option for opting out of this is available at time of check in.

    Others have mentioned they are able to get a reduction on housekeeping by declining that when booking multiple nights. (The hotel does need to service the room on a one night stay or after your last nigh, for obvious reasons.)

    Could this extend to other goods and services that are routinely included in some hotels such as as toiletries, pool and health club usage, breakfast, afternoon manager receptions, parking, internet/wifi, local and 800 in room phone calls?

    Would we want to be able to book the room only and include those extras that are useful to use.  (Sound familiar….??)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    USA Today still does it that way. The hotels pay for the papers. Local papers typically give the papers to the hotels just to get the circulation but their rules require it to at least in theory be a paid for copy, which is where the “refund” to the guest for declining the paper comes in.  The guest really never did pay for the paper because the room rate wasn’t raised to accommodate it–nor did it have to be since the hotel wasn’t paying anything–but the presence of a refund satisfies the circulation rules.  It’s an odd way of doing things, but lots of things with newspapers are rather odd!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    This is standard practice in hundreds if not thousands of hotels across the country…and has been for many years.  How do you spare your clients from this?  

  • emanon256

    Thanks for clarifying. As odd as it is, it makes a lot of sense.

  • Joe Farrell

    I generally decline the newspaper option because as a silver member of their program I get it free even if I decline it. .  . .best of both worlds.  Save $1 and get it anyway. 

    I always ask everywhere that offers a paper if I can decline it for a credit – they always have 20 USA today’s in a stack in the lobby anyway  – and who really wants McPaper anyway? 

  • Miami510

    Yes, it’s a rip-off, albeit a small one, so its main effect for me is to establish the hotel… or the hotel chain, as being CHINTZY.  Chintzy is a slang term for cheap, or sleazy.  (Interesting origin, which I didn’t know despite using the term since I was a kid.
    In this age of branding and the efforts by large organizations to polish their image in the mind of the public, pulling a stunt like this is….. how shall I put it?    “Chintzy”

  • judyserienagy

    Yet another example of what life has come to.  Some bean-counter comes up with this idea and the hotels find that it works, nobody notices and they make more money defrauding their guests.

     Now I have to STUDY my final bill for these ridiculous surcharges.  Then, instead of “express checkout” I have to waste my time at the front desk, resulting in a corrected bill on another piece(s) of paper. The disgusting mini bars with “sensors” that require me to get all the charges removed from my bill except for the bottle of red wine I drank are absolutely insulting. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IYDDBXRXP3WBSX2OZVRXH24KVQ Richard

    The action in question here is absolutely the use of the word “complementary”.  Poor choice of words on the part of the hotel 
    Granted, at the end of the day it’s a “no harm, no foul” situation. The travel industry as a whole is coming under fire for so many hidden charges that the vendors need to take a closer look at the way they’re perceived by the customer.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5CI3K5KXUU5EBF5AYPSR7ZNERY Helio

    I believe the major problem is the fine print.  If it was stated at the same printing of the rest of the documentation, it will be OK to be.

    I did several hotel reservations in my life with different rates for staying with or without the “complementary” breakfast.  It is tha same principle.

  • john4868

    My failed attempt at Snark… I’m not worthy to write on the same page as Raven

  • http://blogs.ocweekly.com/stickaforkinit Dave Lieberman

    Some small print is worth complaining about.

    This one is incredibly petty. He could have got a copy of the Globe and Mail—the USA Today of our northern neighbours—and kept it. Or he could decline it and get a credit back.

    The small print was fine. It said exactly what it needed to. He needs to settle down and pick his battles a little better.

  • emanon256

    The paper is complementary as in relating to or included in your room rate.  It is not complimentary as in it’s a free item you get in addition to you room rate.  Two very different words.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    That’s rather insulting.  Think how many times situations involving large dollar amounts show up on elliott.org, all because adherence to the precise meaning of a word or phrase means a travel insurance claim was denied, or a customer bought an upgrade believing one thing when the airline meant another, etc.  Although this is pretty picayune, stuff like this makes *me* distrustful of the hotel and hotel chain, so I avoid properties that do stuff like this. So, I voted yes.

    Complimentary means “free”.  Not included in the room rate, “free”.  Don’t call it “complimentary”.  Leave that wording out totally and let the customer check a box at check in, saying something like, “The daily newspaper has been included in your room rate for $1 weekdays, $2 Sundays.  Check here if you’d like NOT to receive a paper and receive a credit on your room rate.”

    Exactly the same thing, ultimately, as the situation outlined in the article, but without the willful abuse of the English language.

  • dsliesse

    I voted No because of the specific circumstance — show me a hotel chain that DOESN’T do this!  What gets me is that they don’t take the charge off automatically on weekend mornings when they don’t bother to deliver a paper (because USA Today isn’t published on weekends).

  • flutiefan

    when i order a sandwich from a restaurant or shop, it usually comes with things like lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, cheese, onions, etc.
    These items are “complimentary” and come with the sandwich.  If i opt out of the tomato and onions, i don’t get a discount. (But i sure would love one!)

    Why is this different?
    The newspaper cost is part of your room rate (or the cost of your sandwich). If you don’t take it, they credit you the value  (like i wish a restaurant would do when i don’t take the items that come with the sandwich rate).


  • flutiefan

     that may be the 1st listed definition, but it isn’t the most common use these days.

  • flutiefan

     IT’S NOT A SURCHARGE. it’s already included in the room rate you had already agreed upon. nothing extra, nothing more.

  • MarkKelling

    Every hotel I have been in lately gives the option of not having the paper delivered to your room daily and get a credit.  Yet all of those hotels have stacks of the very same newspapers available for the taking in the lobby.  So is the $1 or $2 really the delivery charge and not a charge for the actiual paper? So the paper itself is truly complimentary, you are just paying to have it delivered like room service.

    I think the wording should be “A newspaper is delivered to your room daily, check here to not have the paper delivered and have $1 credited to your bill.”

  • MarkKelling

    I think it depends on the newspaper, the hotel and the location as to if there is any credit given for returns.

    At the Marriott in Honolulu when I was there last November, every evening right after midnight, a hotel employee would collect all of the stacks of newspapers left in the loby and toss them into a garbage bag. One night I asked about that and was told they got zero credit for leftovers and they just sent them for recycling with the rest of thetrash.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     Do you find the use of the term “free” or “complimentary” deceptive when a hotel offers complimentary parking, breakfast or wi-fi.  All of those are also included in the room rate. 

  • Jen Goodman

    Actually, if you go to Chick-Fil-A, and don’t want the tomato or lettuce, they give you between $.05 & $.20 off.

  • BillCCC

     And the most common use would be ….

  • flutiefan

     that’s awesome! too bad i don’t patronize Chik-Fil-A for personal reasons.


  • flutiefan

    easy. definition #2. The manner in which something is expressed in words.

  • mythsayer

    But most of the time you don’t get a credit if you don’t use them.  That’s the difference.  Honestly, as an attorney (and I don’t mean this to be insulting), I would think you would agree that the word COMPLIMENTARY does in fact mean “NO CHARGE.”  This is what we do as attorneys… we argue over the definitions of words at least half of the time.  If I am getting a refund for something, it wasn’t complimentary; it was “rolled into the room rate” and thus I PAID for that item.  It’s like going into a bank and having “complimentary” cookies and coffee sitting there and them telling you that they will give you 10 cents in your account if you DON’T eat or drink.  Complimentary means something is being given as a benefit… something you didn’t ask for… something that they are giving you because they want to provide customer service.  It doesn’t mean that I’m paying for it up front just to get a rebate on it later if I decide I don’t want it.  That’s what this was… it was a rebate, basically.  My issue isn’t with the $1 or $2 charge, or getting it back.  My issue is with the bastardization of the word “complimentary.”  It’s like saying the “gym” is “complimentary” and then giving money back for not using it. In that case, use of the gym isn’t actually free… it’s an additional charge that I’m now choosing not to incur.  Just call this was it is – it’s an additional charge, bottom line.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Oh my goodness, @facebook-727596077:disqus said exactly what I was thinking!  I agree with your examples; the situation the OP outlined doesn’t *increase* the contracted price, like those fershlugginer “optional” in-room safe fees that are automatically added to the bill.  In the end, the “complimentary” newspaper issue is merely a tempest in a teapot.  But I hate pretending things are “complimentary” when they’re really amenities granted with the room rate.

    Thanks for making me think!  :)

  • jim6555

    Or how about a credit if you don’t use the hotel’s pool or health club facilities.

  • sirwired

    But the paper IS free, if anything a business gives you could be considered such.  It does come at no cost to the customer over and above the agreed-upon room rate.

    Are you saying the hotel should be labeled as having “misleading” advertising for passing some possible cost savings to the customer, but if they just pocket the money, they’d avoid the “misleading” label?  How does THAT make sense?  That isn’t exactly a great way to encourage customer-friendly behavior by businesses.

  • har73

    Another aspect to consider, is that when I travel for business, my company would cover the cost of the hotel room and whatever may happen to be “included” in the rate, however if there was a separate itemized charge for a newspaper, movie, or optional item, this would not be a reimbursible  or covered expense.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     Actually Shannon  as an attorney ( and I too don’t mean to be insulting) you understand that it is basic contract interpretation that there is a hierarchy in determining the meaning of words.  If there is an industry standard for the use of a word, that standard completely  trumps the common every day meaning, rendering it irrelevant to any further discussions.  That’s what we have here.

    For example, if I sell you an ounce of gold, its means a troy ounce, not a “regular” ounce.  No further disclaimer or notice is required even though the use of troy ounces is infinitesimal in common parlance as compared to regular ounces.

    In the business world, free/complimentary means that there is no further charge for an item. Nothing more.  Common experiences shows us that the business world is replete with examples.

    If we accept your premise that free means that the business is not bundling the cost of the item into the price, then a business would only be able to advertise something as free if no money were required to exchange hands in order to acquire the benefit.  Some examples would be free air/water at a gas station.  This is available to all motorist (in CA at least) without the necessity of purchasing gas or any services from the gas station.

    For example, Southwest lets two bags travel free.  It is axiomatic that Southwest, as a for profit business, is factoring in the price of the bags when it sets rates though it uses the term free.

    Many hotels offer complimentary breakfast.  Of course the cost of the breakfast is factored into the rate.  

    My objection is the failure to understand the salient business point that business do not give away things for free.  You have paid for every benefit you received.  Yet no one objects to the term free as applied to bags, breakfast, or wi-fi.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     agreed.  See point #2.

  • LonnieC

    If a hotel (or any merchant for that matter) will cheat on the little things you can see (such as this use of “complimentary”), they’ll cheat on everything.  That means you’ll be nickel and dimed for everything, cleanliness will be spotty, the employees will be unhappy, the food will be poor, etc., etc.  If I discover a vendor cheating like this, I don’t deal with them if at all possible.

  • Lindabator

    Some people are just never happy – they want everything included, but the price to be ridiculously low — and they are the ones who ruin it for the rest of us who APPRECIATE the amenities and services included in the reservation!

  • Lindabator

    Actually, in this case, it does mean free.  They do not charge more for the service – but over the years, and with more folks on the internet, they get more tossed unread papers than before.  So to avoid this, they offer you and opt-out, and pay you for saving them the cost and work involved

  • Lindabator

    And it helps them maintain a “green” rating, but letting you opt out – and you can also do so with the room cleaning, and get a refund – I don’t have a problem with getting money back, either!  :)

  • Lindabator

    One reason they’ve offered the opt-out option.  Can’t argue with money back, either!

  • Lindabator

    THESE are the people who’ve caused us to suffer with the airlines — they think everything should be charged out – but then whine when they have to pay for those too!  It was included in the cost, but can be refunded if not wanted – so where’s the problem????

  • bodega3

    Cheat?  You read that in this article?

  • Lindabator

    That would work well – nice suggestion!

  • davidglass

    Most mid to high-end hotels make papers available at the front desk or in the elevator lobby on each floor. If you want one, take one. If not, don’t. It’s underhanded because the majority will never know they paid more. It’s a version of the old “you’ve got to opt out to avoid the charge” trick.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     Alas, pools and health club facilities are primarily fixed costs, Maid service and newspapers are variable costs which can be saved through nonuse.

  • BMG4ME

    My peeve is the donation for charities that show up on hotel bills in Europe.  The biggest chutzpah was my recent stay in a country which is the target of hatred from the charity that they wanted me to donate from – needless to say I declined to donate to them.  Nevertheless I wouldn’t let something like this ruin my stay.