Case dismissed: Why won’t Ace Parking pay for my damage?

Parking garage damage is a popular sub-genre of complaint on this site. It seems every month I get a request for help from a hotel guest who valet-parked their car and had it returned with a ding or dent.

Take Nikki Browning, for example. She recently valeted her Volvo while she was a guest at the Se San Diego Hotel. The Se is a luxury property in the Gaslamp District where it costs $36 a night to park, which is among the most expensive rates in town.
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Did an Embassy Suites valet take her Saab for a joyride?

Remember the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where a valet takes a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT out for a joyride? Brandi Mahoney claims it happened to her when she stayed at the Embassy Suites Portland – Downtown in Portland, Ore., recently.

How does she know someone took her car — a 2006 Saab convertible — for a spin? Her on-board navigation system told her.
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My valet got a parking ticket — now what?

Question: I’m having a problem with a hotel’s valet parking service, and could use a little help. We recently stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco. We valet parked our rental car and didn’t pick it up until the next day.

A month later we received a letter from our car rental company saying that the car was ticketed in a tow-away zone while it was under the care of the hotel’s valet service. We had to pay a $60 fine plus an administrative fee of $25.

I called the hotel and was reassured that the independent company used by the Mandarin would reimburse us for the ticket. I was promised a call back. A week went by and we heard nothing, so I called the hotel again. A representative said we needed to fax a copy of the citation to the hotel in order to get reimbursed.

I’ve asked the authorities for a copy of the citation at least five times, but haven’t received it yet. After several weeks with no response we appear to be at a dead end.

I’m irate that the Mandarin Hotel would treat guests in this manner. Can you help me get a refund? — Kay Pratt, Philadelphia

Answer: The Mandarin should have refunded your parking ticket immediately instead of stringing you along while you waited for a fax from the city of San Francisco.

But that’s not all it should have done differently. Parking customer cars in a tow-away zone? Probably not a good practice. Playing the outsourcing card (“It’s not our fault — it’s this company we work with”)? That’s also problematic.

No one cares about a hotel’s backroom business arrangements. I mean, does a property send guests to its housekeepers’ union when they need fresh towels? Does it give a customer who is having trouble with its restaurant the number to its wholesale food service distributor? No, it takes responsibility for what happened and tries to fix it.

Instead of excuses, a Mandarin representative should have called you as promised to ask for the necessary paperwork. A casual observer might conclude that the hotel was dragging you along in the hopes that you would lose interest and go away. But I’m sure the hotel just got a little busy.

I think you could have handled this a little differently, too. Once you reached someone by phone, you should have immediately asked for an e-mail address for both the hotel and the valet company. Copying both parties on any future correspondence would have ensured that everyone had access to the case notes in the form of your previous e-mails.

You also overlooked two items. You might have asked the hotel if it would accept any other document besides a faxed or mailed citation. A credit card billing statement, an invoice, or a citation number could have also done the trick. And second, you should have enlisted the help of your car rental agency in securing the necessary paperwork. (Government agencies are notoriously slow, but the odds are good that your agency has a copy of the document your hotel wants.)

I contacted Mandarin on your behalf. A representative said it would accept a citation notice from your car rental company. You faxed the notice to the hotel, and it cut you a check for $85.

Did Mickey take my SUV for a spin?

Question: I recently stayed at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World, and something happened to my SUV that I parked through the hotel’s valet service.

Two days after I checked in, I called the valet number to get my vehicle. But they couldn’t find my keys, and after half an hour of searching, a manager offered to pay for a cab to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where we were supposed to meet our party.

I was told that I would be called as soon as they found our keys. We visited Animal Kingdom and waited several hours but never received a call. When we returned to the Grand Floridian, I asked why no one had phoned. They said they lost our number.

When I asked how they found our keys, I was told that someone had filled out the envelope incorrectly — using my first name instead of my last. When I pressed further, an attendant admitted that my keys weren’t in the original envelope and that no one knew why my keys were ever removed from it.

At this point, I became suspicious. When they pulled the vehicle around, I noticed that my son’s car seat had been unlatched. I was sure someone else had used my SUV. We also discovered that the movie my son had been watching on the way to Disney World had been moved.

I’m beyond disappointed. When I spend almost $1,000 to stay somewhere for two days I expect that my vehicle will be kept safe. Do I have any recourse? — Lynn Seehafer, Winter Park, Fla.

Answer: When you hand your keys to a hotel valet, you should expect your car to be parked somewhere safe.

Coincidentally, I valet parked my car at a Disney World resort yesterday, and right on the stub they hand you when you surrender your keys, it says they’re liable for … well, nothing.

“Please remove any valuables from your vehicles,” it reads. The company, it adds, “does not assume any responsibility for the loss of any valuables.” In fact, neither Disney nor the company it contracts to handle valet parking services at its resorts is responsible for loss or property damages, according to the disclaimer.

I think a court may see your hotel’s liability a little differently. Just because it says it isn’t responsible doesn’t mean that it isn’t, although I have to tell you, I don’t think you’re going to be the test case.

You did the right thing by appealing to a manager while you were still at the hotel. But you probably could have pushed your case more forcefully. If you believe Mickey had taken your SUV for a joyride and watched your son’s movie, simply expressing your disappointment may not have been enough. You have to tell someone what it will take to make things right.

After you checked out, a brief, polite letter to the hotel might have helped, but resolving this case after the fact would have been problematic. There was no documentation that someone messed with your car (no photos or mileage logs) and no one had taken anything from the car. Where’s the damage?

I contacted Disney on your behalf. A representative called you and apologized for your experience. She insisted that your car didn’t leave the parking lot and that an associate had just turned off your son’s movie when he parked the car. To make up for your trouble, Disney sent you four park tickets and a $50 gift card.