Hit by a late charge? Here’s why you should write it up

smokeJeanette Burton doesn’t smoke. Neither do her grandchildren, ages 5, 10 and 15, with whom she spent a recent Spring Break weekend at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Galveston, Texas.

But the hotel begged to differ. Maybe it was the fact that Burton and her extended family were there for Spring Break, which can be a raucous time in Galveston. Maybe the staff simply got her room confused with someone else’s. But after they checked out, Burton found a $150 fee on her credit card.

“I talked with the hotel and they said they charged another $150 because housecleaning had reported that I smoked in the room,” she says.

But that was impossible. Burton is so sensitive to cigarette smoke that she can’t even be around it.

“It makes me sick,” she says.

Burton’s story is a simple lesson about the power of going through proper channels in order to get a complaint resolved.

After receiving a denial by phone, she emailed me and asked for help. My immediate response was to ask for her correspondence with the Sunspree. But she had none — everything had been done by phone.

I recommended that she ask the hotel in writing to review the $150 late charge.

Here are a few details of her booking and stay: She’d made the reservation through Booking.com, and had selected a non-smoking room. During her stay, she posted the “privacy please” sign and waived off housekeeping, because the staff tried to service the rooms early, and she didn’t want the kids, who liked to stay up late, to be woken up early. The housekeepers never returned.

“We were there three days and they never cleaned the room,” she says. “We had to call down for clean towels and sheets each day, but I didn’t complain.”

In a situation like this, I don’t have enough details to know what really happened. Did her 15-year-old grandson light up when she wasn’t looking? Maybe, but it seems unlikely if she had a problem with cigarette smoke.

If this happened during Spring Break, then it’s far likelier that the hotel had caught another guest smoking in a nearby room and became confused.

Personally, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to smoke in a hotel. As a non-smoker who has had to check his family into a room where the previous guest smoked, I can tell you there’s no way to get rid of the offensive smell that saturates the sheets, furniture and curtains.

(By the way, if you’re a smoker, please don’t read this as a criticism of your lifestyle choice. It isn’t. But as a courtesy, it might be nice if you didn’t light up where my kids are about to sleep.)

Burton sent a brief, polite email to the Sunspree. And wouldn’t you know, she got a direct response from the general manager:

I am very sorry that this charge was applied to your room. My staff does their best to follow the rules, but sometimes we make mistakes. In this case it seems that we did.

I want to make sure that all of our guests leave happy and want to return to our property again and again. We are currently undergoing many property improvements to make your future stays even better. I will have this fee refunded to you immediately and look forward to your next visit to the Sunspree Resort.

I love it! The Sunspree investigated the complaint, found that it had erred, and refunded the $150 cleaning fee — all without me having to get involved.

Even the best hotels are far from perfect when it comes to billing. Burton’s story underscores the importance of politely asking for a review when something looks wrong on your hotel folio. It may be all you need to fix a problem.

Did the Sunspree handle Jeanette Burton's complaint correctly?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Did the Sunspree handle Jeanette Burton’s complaint correctly?
    ——————————-
    They handled it correctly for the hospitality/travel industry. But the industry standard is crap. I dislike the practice of hotels and car rentals charging the guest’s card then telling the guest after the fact, if at all.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Problem is that it would be cost and time prohibitive to do a walk through of every room each and everytime a guest checked out… Only efficient way to do it is warn the customer on the front end, then charge them on the back end if they are found guilty…

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I appreciate how the manager’s letter was written – accepting their responsibility in the error, a genuine apology (versus “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apology), and correcting the mistake.

  • Timothy Woody

    While I agree that they handled the complaint correctly, I would have liked for the hotel, despite their verbal denial of her claim, to request she document her claim either in writing or via email. That has the effect of covering both the hotel and the customer. Words on paper are worth 100 times more than words on the phone.

  • Cam

    Yes they did.

    I am so tired, however, of parents waving their children around in the air as some sort of ultimate trump card; “My children mean that my needs are more important than yours”.

    I am also strongly anti-smoking.

  • mbods

    I voted “no” because the is no reason for the hotel’s representatives to deny her by phone. She only got the correct response when emailing. True customer service reps could and should have handled this right then and there, over the phone. OK maybe I except too much….

  • JenniferFinger

    I voted yes, but that was for the email, not the initial smoke charge. While the hotel probably was confused before slamming her with it, the responsibility to make sure of billing before it goes out still lies with them.

  • James Orth

    Maybe you expect too much? YES YOU DO

  • James Orth

    If the industry standard is crap PLEASE STAY HOME

  • James Orth

    according to mbods phone should be enough however I agree with you it is hard to remember things differently when it is on paper

  • Michael__K

    How cost and time prohibitive and inefficient is it to email, call, or snail mail a guest?

    Sorry, contact information is required at check-in and there’s no excuse for not using that contact information, resulting in the guest discovering this kind of charge only after seeing their credit card statement.

  • kathymcn

    When I was in Mexico City, as soon as I came up to the checkout desk they radioed the maid on the floor, who immediately did a quick walk-thru of the room (I guess to make sure we hadn’t stolen anything?). They spotted that I had left a cane propped in the corner and told me, all before the paperwork was finished. It might not be as difficult as you think.

  • emanon256

    I voted no because they should have investigated it when she called, rather than flat out denying it. If the people answering the phone at the hotel are not empowered to fix or research things, they should at least take down the information, find someone who is empowered, and follow up. Sadly, they just seem to want to rush the customer off the phone so they can go back to texting, or playing mine sweeper, or whatever it is they are doing on their cell phone.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I don’t think you expect too much, mbods. I worked customer service for years on an 800 number for a major camping club, before being promoted out. Customer service has become too specialized in that the CSRs aren’t permitted to do anything but the most cursory of chores. There was a time when CSRs were empowered to do what was best for the customer AND the company, based on their gut feeling.

    You’re absolutely right. This should have been fixed at the telephone level. No one should ever have to go above everyone’s heads to get the right resolution.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    What letter were you reading? Because it doesn’t appear to be this one. The only time I see the kids mentioned is the OP delaying housekeeping because the kids were sleeping. Who’s needs was she putting them above? The housekeeping staff’s? Not shockingly, I also usually put my own needs above housekeeping’s, being I’m the guest paying for the room and all.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    I think what Carver is saying that the travel industry shouldn’t be just slamming your credit card with a charge after the fact without any notification or documentation. I agree with that – if a hotel or car rental agency is going to run through additional charges above and beyond what was originally agreed to, they should, at the very least, call or send a letter detailing what they plan to charge and the basis for doing so.

  • mbods

    I agree with you about the words on paper being worth more, I just hate we have to go through these hoops, emails back and forth etc. when, as emanon256 pointed out, the person on the phone representing the hotel could have at least offered to help by taking pertinent info and following up. Ah well…

  • mbods

    I’m glad I’m not the only one then who feels this problem should have been handled during Ms. Burton’s initial phone call..

  • Toby

    Chris, Why are people still asking for your help without first emailing the company!?! Even a newbie to this site would soon realize that is one of your key ingredients to resolving a complaint.

  • Casa Mariposa Panama

    I can understand the OP waving off housekeeping….some hotels do start the cleaning process very early, and frankly, when I am a paying guest, that can be a little annoying with all the noise the housekeeping staff usually make. However, the hotel should have ensured that the room got cleaned later in the day, each day. Had this happened, housekeeping could have discovered the problem with smoke (if there was one in that room) much sooner. If there was no smoke issue, then it would have been a more simple matter for housekeeping to confirm this after cleaning the room for three days.

    While the GM’s response was appropriate and resolved the situation, the person on the phone should have dealt with it the same day by investigating and calling (or emailing) the OP back. That would have truly been respectful customer service.

    Alas, I am sorry to say, I think there is a growing trend where respectful customer service has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

    And for the record, I am a smoker, and even I cannot stand to stay in a smoking-ok room. I agree with Chris, and others, I do not believe any hotel should allow smoking in any of its rooms, ever.

  • emanon256

    I am curious if the OPs letter to the manager also addressed the housekeeping people not coming back later? The response sounds as though it did. I have seen several hotels that only have house keeping around for a short morning shift and if a guest sleeps in past the shift, there is no one left to clean the room.

    I may be in the minority, but I typically keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door for my entire stay. I don’t need new sheets or a new towel each and every day. I can also make my own bed. I would also rather not have someone throwing away empty water bottles I intended to refill later to use on my walk or in the gym. I also feel its a waste of their time to fold my dirty shirts that I lay out so they take up less room when I re-pack them. And why do they vacuum every day? Just seems frivolous to me. In the event I need new bathroom product, then take the sign down when I leave. But honestly, I don’t need my room cleaned every day, so I usually avoid it until checkout.

  • sdir

    The title has nothing to do with the article. Late charge? This is about a smoking fee, not a late charge.

  • MarkKelling

    I think the title should have said “Delayed Charge” meaning it was applied to your card late, not at the time of service. I thought Late Charge meant a fee for paying a bill late late.

  • Grant

    Way to go, Sunspree. I’m going to remember your name.

  • naoma

    I refuse to stay in a room where you can smell smoke. No one ever smokes in my home or car. Also, I feel the same way about animals in homes and rooms. NO!

  • naoma

    I rarely ever stay at a hotel. Own Marriott time shares and smoking or animals are
    not permitted in the apartments. They will charge a “cleaning fee” _-fumigation
    of several hundred dollars if you do either.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.

  • Bill___A

    I’m glad they resolved this. There seems to be an opportunity here. Someone should make a device which is capable of detecting when someone smokes in a hotel room. A device that can make and retain hard evidence, so none of this happens.
    Although there seem to be cases like this, there are also a lot more cases where people do smoke in the room.

  • jpp42

    I’ve noticed this is common in Asian hotels as well. They tend to check the mini-bar too so that you if there are any discrepancies there, you can discuss it right then at check-out instead of having an argument about it later.

  • jpp42

    Chris was the one who was implying that smoking is especially bad “where his kids are about to sleep.” I agree that it would be more polite if he simply said, “my family” or “we” – everyone deserves protection from toxic cigarette smoke, not just kids.

  • jpp42

    I presume the housekeeping staff also likes this, as they get credit for cleaning the entire floor/section based on the number of occupied rooms, but don’t actually have to clean yours. Sounds like a good idea; I may start doing this too!

  • pauletteb

    The cynic in me is wondering whether Housekeeping’s claim of smelling smoke in the room was their way of getting back at the OP for not allowing them to clean the room on their schedule and her having the “nerve” to call down later for clean towels and sheets (which they automatically should done later in the day). Most housekeeping staff I’ve encountered have been friendly and very helpful, but there have been a few . . .