To celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, Armen and Anna Balyan checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Calabasas, Calif. When they checked out, they were surprised by an unwanted gift from the hotel: a $250 cleaning fee for allegedly smoking in their hotel room. Balyan says they didn’t do it.
The Balyans’ case is a warning that even the appearance of smoking in a hotel room can result in cleaning fees. Hotel guests who don’t want to incur these extras need to avoid bringing anything into their rooms that could suggest that they smoked in those rooms, such as ashtrays and cigarette butts.
When the Balyans arrived at the hotel, Anna Balyan decided to remove the trash from their car, including a plastic bottle Balyan had used as a holder for cigarette butts. She brought the trash inside their room and threw it in the garbage can.
According to Balyan, he and his wife had requested a nonsmoking room (we don’t understand why) and did not light up at all during their stay.
Ten hours later, they checked out – and discovered the $250 charge.
Here’s Balyan on what happened next:
I informed them we threw [the bottle containing the cigarette butts] in the trash but I couldn’t have smoked all those cigarettes within that time frame. Why would I leave it in the room when I’m the one who requested a nonsmoking room?
They did not care at first. They said they have pictures and videos of me smoking. I told them that’s completely false and fraudulent and an invasion of privacy if they are recording and videotaping customers in their room. Then they said they don’t have that. Ultimately they did not care what I had to say and stated that they won’t remove the charges.
They claimed there was a smoke smell after checking out which is completely false and fabricated because I did not smoke. They also said that I admitted to smoking to one of their managers and that the conversation was taped. I told them that’s completely false and fabricated and to please pull the tape and to hear it because I never said that. Again, they indicated they can’t do that.
They are fabricating and making up evidence against us and I truly hope you can help me put a stop to what they are doing. Please understand this is not about the money, I paid over $200 just to sleep for ten hours. If I had smoked in the room I would take the responsibility and the lesson. But I didn’t and they can’t get away with hustling people out of money like this. The only reason they did this is because they were looking for an excuse and found the water bottle with a lot of cigarette butts. They used it to get more money. The water bottle does not indicate that I smoked in the room. Just because we used the trash, we should not be duped or penalized for it.
Balyan claims that he spoke to two managers at the Hilton Garden Inn, neither of whom was willing to help. He also says that he was disconnected twice, which he was told was the result of accidents, and that when he called the Hilton Garden Inn back his calls went to voicemail.
In addition to disputing the cleaning charge on his credit card, Balyan contacted our advocacy team. (He might have escalated his complaint to Hilton using our executive contact information.) His request for our assistance indicated that his desired resolution was “[to] make a statement, to get the penalty back, and to stop them from doing this to other people.”
Unfortunately for Balyan, Hilton properties set their smoking policies individually, and the Calabasas Hilton Garden Inn has a 100 percent smoke-free room policy. Its staff would have no way of verifying that the cigarette butts that Balyan’s wife threw in the trash were not smoked during the Balyans’ stay. Balyan’s defensiveness and accusations of fraud and fabricating evidence were not appropriate in the context of his request for assistance and would not have moved the hotel’s managers to view his case favorably.
Our advocates reached out to Hilton on the Balyans’ behalf, but we weren’t hopeful of resolving the case in any way that would have satisfied Balyan. However, he has since notified us that his credit card company has secured a refund from Hilton of the smoking charge.