Charged for a movie I never watched

By | January 24th, 2009

Question: What can you do if a hotel is charging you for something you didn’t use? I stayed at the Liaison Capitol Hill in Washington recently. When I received a bill under my door the morning of departure, I noticed there was a balance of $24 for two in-room movies, both ordered on the same day, one right after the other.

The problem is, I never ordered any movies during my stay. And what’s more, my traveling companion and I were out to dinner at the time that these movies were allegedly ordered.

When we went to the front desk to ask that they review the security tapes for the entryway to prove we had left the hotel, we were told that the security person was not available. The front desk manager then said that her manager offered to take one of the movies off our bill, to which we said, “no.” Finally, she offered to conduct an investigation once their security person came on duty.

We never heard from any of them. When I looked at my credit card statement, I saw that they posted the movie charge to my account the day after we disputed the bill. After numerous calls to the hotel, this issue still hasn’t been resolved. Can you help? — Keeley Hozjan, Seattle

Answer: If you didn’t order the movies, your hotel should have removed the charges from your bill right away. Not offered to investigate. Not offered a 50 percent discount on something you didn’t order. A refund — now.

I think the fact that you were willing to review the security tapes, and that you had an alibi, was a tip-off that the in-room entertainment system might have billed you erroneously.

Related story:   Three words you absolutely must know before your next hotel stay

In-room entertainment systems are big moneymakers for hotels. Properties typically split the profits from in-room movies with a third company, which supplies the programming and technology. They’re reluctant to remove any charges because it’ll cost them.

The “we’ll-split-the-difference” solution isn’t a solution at all. It’s a cop-out. It means either one party, or both, can’t conclusively prove that they’re right. So in an effort to recover some money, one side offers to cut the bill.

The problem with that resolution is that one side — either the hotel or the guest — ends up paying for something they shouldn’t. And that’s unfair.

I can’t believe they gave you the “we’ll-look-into-it” line. That’s another popular hotel tactic that’s meant to make the customers go away and quietly pay their bills. There’s no way of knowing if the Liaison Capitol Hill intended to investigate your claim. But the fact that the hotel charged your card the following day would lead me to believe that it just told you what you wanted to hear.

You could have handled this differently. When you saw the charges, you should have contacted the front desk immediately, preferably in person. Give yourself plenty of time. Explain you situation calmly and rationally, and if the hotel employee isn’t being helpful, ask to speak with a manager.

The Liaison Capitol Hill is an upscale property where a room can’t be had for less than $200 a night. A competent supervisor would remove the charges immediately. Why endanger someone’s repeat business over a relatively minor amount?

If you were in a hurry to check out, I would have committed your grievance to writing instead of calling the hotel. Writing works far better when you have a formal complaint of this nature. I recommend an email. The naming convention for the Liaison is first initial, last name (all one word)

Related story:   I'll never fly again -- can I get a refund from my airline?

I contacted the Liaison’s parent company, Affinia, and it refunded the charges for both movies immediately.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.