A surprise $250 smoking fee from my hotel — but I don’t smoke!

Seth Elsen receives a mysterious $250 charge on his credit card after staying at a La Quinta hotel. Now the property’s general manager is hiding from him, he says. Can he get a refund?

Question: I recently stayed at a La Quinta Inn and Suites in Walla Walla, Wash., with two guests. We were there one night, and everything went fine.

Two nights after I checked out, I noticed a $250 charge on my credit card, in addition to the $100 fee for the room. I called, talked with an assistant manager, and was told that it was a smoking charge, and that I needed to talk to the general manager about it.

I asked when she’d be in, and was told the next morning. I didn’t get a call back. I called again during the weekend, talking to other front desk people, trying to find out when the manager would be in.
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Smoked out of the Days Inn

no smokingQuestion: I have a concern that I tried addressing with a specific Days Inn and with Wyndham, which owns Days Inn, but have not received a response. I recently stayed at the Days Inn in Fernandina Beach, Fla. I made a reservation for a non-smoking room and was given a smoking room when I checked it.

I spoke with a manager, who told me he was sorry he couldn’t offer me a non-smoking room. The only rooms the hotel had left to sell were smoking rooms.

So, my question to Wyndham is: Is it their policy to accept a reservation for a non-smoking room when no such room exists? I wrote to Wyndham, but after several emails, it stopped answering.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Hotel burns nonsmoking guest with fee

Question: I prepaid for a room at the Ace Hotel New York through a site called recently. I had stayed at Ace Hotel in Palm Springs a year ago with a group, and had been thoroughly impressed with my stay.
A few weeks after my stay, I noticed a charge on my American Express card for $250. I inquired with American Express regarding the charge and after a couple of weeks Amex informed me that, Ace charged me a smoking fee.

There’s just one problem: I don’t smoke.

In fact, I suffer from allergies and can’t even be around people who smoke. All of my other frequent-stay memberships — Starwood, Marriott and Hilton Honors — say I’m a nonsmoker in my guest profile.

Is this just another way for hotels to make money? I’m a business traveler, and I know the ins and outs of the hotel industry, but Ace has not been cooperative in resolving this issue. Any help you can provide to shed some light on this ridiculous charging practice would be much appreciated. — Bernardino Suva, Los Angeles

Answer: Ace shouldn’t have charged a smoking fee unless you smoked in your room. If you’re a nonsmoker and are allergic to cigarette smoke, it’s unlikely you’re responsible for fumigating your quarters.
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Ridiculous or not? A $20-a-night fee to “guarantee” a non-smoking room

Editor’s note: I’ve changed my Wednesday feature, “That’s ridiculous!” to make it more interactive. Now you can vote on whether a new fee or practice is — or isn’t — ridiculous. By the way, if you’ve seen something outrageous that you’d like to nominate, please send me an email.

When Teri Salmons clicked on the MGM Grand’s website to reserve a room recently, she found an “unbelievable” new fee.

Next to options for early check-in ($20) and late check-out ($20) she saw a $20 per day fee for “guaranteeing” a non-smoking room.

That’s right. You have to pay extra if you want to stay away from the smoke.

“Most hotels are either all non-smoking these days, or at least the majority of their rooms are non-smoking,” says Salmons, a Baltimore-based consultant. “What will they think of next — pay toilets?”
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Can this trip be saved? They didn’t have my smoking room, so who pays to fix it?

Like 21 percent of other Americans, Larry Vail smokes. Having a room where he can light up is important when he travels, so when he booked his accommodations at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort & Spa through, he made sure it was a designated smoking room.

“This was our fifth trip to Jamaica and we have always reserved a smoking room without any problem,” he says.

Not this time.

Even though the all-inclusive resort offers smoking rooms online, and even though says he had one, he didn’t get one when he checked in.
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A fee for lighting up in our room? But we don’t smoke!

Question: My brother, his wife and two kids, ages 17 and 20, recently visited me to attend my wedding. They booked a room for one night at the Best Western Yucca Valley Hotel & Suites. When I returned from my honeymoon, I learned the hotel had tacked on a $250 charge for smoking in a nonsmoking room.

My brother and his family do not smoke. Never have. When I called the hotel, I was told that a housekeeper had found ashes on the windowsill in the room. I asked if it was possible if one of the housekeepers or a workman had smoked in the room, not realizing that it was a nonsmoking room. I was told in no uncertain terms that none of the employees had smoked in the room.

I asked to speak with the manager and was told she was not there but I could leave my number and she would get back to me. I did this several times over the past two months, but the manager is never there. I’ve also tried to contact the hotel’s owner, but I’ve never been able to get through to a real person. Can you help? — Barbara Prestridge, Yucca Valley, Calif.

Answer: Best Western shouldn’t have charged a $250 cleaning fee unless it had hard evidence that your brother and his family were lighting up in the room.
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Smoked out of my hotel room

Question: My wife and I checked into the Marriott Grand Flora in Rome on a reward stay. (I’m a Platinum Elite member of Marriott’s rewards program, which means I’ve stayed in its hotels more than 75 nights a year.)

One of the benefits is that my room type is guaranteed. My wife and I are both affected by cigarette smoke, and the ability to guarantee non-smoking rooms is welcome.

When we checked in, the front desk clerk waxed on about how we had received an upgraded room, but was in retrospect unclear about whether it was a non-smoking room.

The next day, we both felt sick; although there was no obvious smell of smoke, we looked around and finally noticed an ashtray tucked away on a table.

I immediately requested a room transfer. At first we were told the hotel was full. Eventually, after speaking with a manager, we were given a different room, but were told that we had to vacate our room as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I did not pack everything.

After discovering the problem, I asked the hotel staff to let us back into our previous room. This request was refused, and repeated requests to the housekeeping staff to search the old room did not find anything left behind.

Several items of clothing (including a good portion of my socks and underwear) were left behind. Because we had been assigned to a smoking room in error, I asked the hotel to make good on the Room Benefits Guarantee for elite Marriott members. I was planning to use the money from the guarantee to purchase clothing so I wouldn’t have to do laundry in the bathroom sink on my vacation.

Marriott has refused to honor the guarantee, even though I escalated the complaint to the hotel manager and Marriott customer care back in the States. Is there anything you can do? — Matthew Gast, San Francisco

Answer: I feel for you. I just spent two days in a “non-smoking” room that happened to be next to a room occupied by a chain smoker. I smell like the Marlboro Man.

If Marriott guarantees a particular room type, and backs up that promise in its contract, I don’t understand why it’s stonewalling you. This is no way to treat a guest, let alone a frequent guest.
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Hotels try to kick the smoking habit

After President Obama’s negative comments about Sin City and his subsequent mea culpa (“I love Vegas — always have!”), I realize that this might not be the most prudent way to start a column. But how do you fire up a discussion about smoking in hotels without mentioning America’s capital of secondhand smoke?

Azita Arvani recently returned from a trade show in Las Vegas, where she requested a nonsmoking room at her resort. It didn’t matter.

“Smoke came in through the central air conditioning units,” said Arvani, a Los Angeles technology consultant. “I usually don’t have any problems with hotels and smoking. Except when I go to Las Vegas.”

That makes two of us. I’ve never been to Nevada’s largest city without spending at least a few moments of every day gasping for fresh air.
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A “non-smoking” seat on USA3000? What is this, the 80s?

When Betty Lees booked a flight from Philadelphia to Cancun, Mexico, recently, her confirmation contained an odd relic from the past: a request for a “non-smoking” seat.

It also contained a nasty whiff of the future — a $9 charge for the seat.

“Very curious,” she told me. “Since you can’t smoke on the plane, why is there a fee for a non-smoking seat?”
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Should the travel industry end its war on smokers?

cigHaven’t smokers suffered enough already? You can’t help but wonder when you talk with someone like Efrin Knight, a French professor from Miami who enjoys an occasional cigar. “It’s more and more difficult to get out of my home because of the tyranny of nonsmokers,” he says.

Knight doesn’t want to light up a Cuban on a plane or bus, or even in a hotel room. He’d settle for outdoors. “I find it extremely difficult to have an espresso once I’ve turned on my cigar, except in places like Miami’s Little Havana,” he says.
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