What should I do about this $50 phone bill?

What should I do about this $50 phone bill?

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Question: I stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham Charlotte Airport, and on the first night, I was having some cellphone problems. Knowing that other Wyndham properties offer free long distance, I decided to look in the hotel services book provided in the room. Under the telephone section, it says: “Local calls are free of charge. Long-distance access in the United States is complimentary.”

I read this to mean that long-distance calls would be free, so I proceeded to make two long-distance calls to my wife, totaling maybe an hour at most.

I was charged almost $50 for these calls.

After getting the runaround for a few days, I was finally put in contact with the assistant to the general manager. She informed me that only the access is free, not the actual long-distance charges.

I don’t know about you, but that is like saying that Internet access is free, but later you find out that only the access to the Internet provider was free and they are now billing you for actually using the Internet.

I’ve tried contacting the Wyndham customer service number, but they say it’s up to the property to resolve this. Do you have any advice? — Tyson Howard, Cincinnati

Answer: I agree. The guest directory looks like long-distance calls at the hotel are free. Wingate doesn’t appear to have a chain-wide policy on phone charges, which is fine, since almost no one uses a hotel phone anymore except maybe to call the front desk.

I can remember a time when phones were a major profit center for hotels, and guests complained about fees and outrageously high per-minute rates. Usually, the hotels would back down when guests protested, mostly because they felt guilty about padding their charges to rake in extra profits.

But those days are long gone — or so I thought.

My advice? Stay off the phone. And I don’t just mean waiting to talk to your wife until your cellphone is charged. I mean, stay off the phone when you’re trying to resolve this with Wyndham corporate. A brief, polite email would have been far more effective, and less stressful, and wouldn’t have required you making multiple inquiries.

Based on your description of the phone fees, I thought you had a strong case for removing the bill. I contacted Wyndham on your behalf, and a representative called you and said corporate Wyndham would cut you a check for $50 to cover the phone bill.

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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  • JR

    This is the popup I get when I highlight text, which I do to mark my place when I scroll.  It only happens the first time and it situates right in the middle of the screen, most recently just before I posted this comment.

  • JR

    Yes, hotels should make a profit, however much they want on whatever they want.  If you don’t want to pay for a service, don’t use that service.  If you are not sure how much they charge, ask.  

    I don’t think the wording or terms is deceptive at all.  A guest’s knowledge or ignorance of terms, wording, services, whatever .. is not the hotel’s responsibility. 

    Personally, I don’t get how anyone can not understand that there is a difference between “access” and “usage.”  Especially when the hotel spells out that one service is “free” but does not state the same “free” for the other.  That right there should have been a hmmm for anyone.

  • LonelyTraveler

     I see the same text, but a different background on my popup

  • jerryatric

    It matters not! The fact is Service as we use to know it is history. However they’re all trying to wrangle every last penny from us in what I term is in underhanded ways..

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OASMSP2X45YU6WIUSM7PASNHAU Bryan

    Actually, “access” does mean free, at least in some situations.  And Chris clearly states this above.  The example: I’m looking at a hotel rate right now that says “Free internet access in guest rooms”.  Imagine how you’d react if they tried to bill you on a per minute basis for using their ISP.

  • technomage1

     Some of them do exactly that.  I see this more overseas, but they’ll claim free internet access but then charge you a per minute rate.

  • MarkKelling

    I have no problem with the hotel trying to make a profit on services offered.  But in this case, I feel the language on the phone usage charge details needs some clarification.

    In contrast, at a Marriott I recently stayed at, the phone charges were presented much clearer.  Their card stated something close to “All local calls are $1 per call.  Toll free (800) calls are free for the first hour and 10 cents a minute for all minutes over the first hour.  Domestic long distance will be billed at current AT&T operator assisted rates.  Contact the front desk for international calls. For rates …” then gave a 800 number and a web site.  And AT&T operator assisted calls are currently $1.49 a minute.  

    Does this mean your call costs $1.49 a minute to the hotel?  Of course not.  If you dial the number yourself, it probably costs the hotel only pennies a minute.  Many larger hotels have an intelligent phone switching system that routes calls over their corporate network and dials out at whatever location is closest to the destination phone number being dialed resulting in many of those calls being local and therefore not costing the hotel extra.  Is there anything wrong with this? No.  The hotel is providing an optional service to the guests that is only billed when used.  You still have the option of using your cell phone or a calling card and in the case of Marriott not paying the hotel anything extra.

  • MarkKelling

    Not seeing anything like that and never have on this web site. (Using a Mac and Safari to view. Don’t have popups blocked.)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    It only “pops up” when clicking on anything to do with a comment for the first time entering the site.  I cleaned my cookies, went back to see what had happened today on elliott.org, saw your comment, clicked on it and “POP goes the weasel! (lowermybills.com)”.

    Happens in both Chrome and IE 9.  But on the bright side, *my* “Maps” application works.  :)

  • MarkKelling

    My maps are just fine too.  (I have not “upgraded” to iOS6. ;-)

  • BMG4ME

    If people don’t want to have cell phones, and need to use the services of the hotel instead, I think it’s fair for the hotel to charge them.  Why should hotels not charge for services?