What should I do about this $50 phone bill?

What should I do about this $50 phone bill?

Note: Starting today, I’m going to be featuring a video at the top of each post in which I’ll offer advice or commentary related to the story. Please let me know what you think, and sign up for my channel. You’ll get a preview of the next post.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • technomage1

    I don’t think hotels should profit from telephone calls.  However, I also think it was unreasonable of the OP to assume long distance calls would be covered based on the signage.  Sometimes hotels charge long distance access fees and this one was saying it did not.  Access is not the same as free and I think the majority of people would have understood that or at least asked the question before they ran up a bill. 

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I think the hotel is entitled to a profit for phone usage within reason. (That being said, I’d have been extremely leery of a hotel offering free unlimited long-distance calls! I definitely would’ve called the front desk to verify before using…)

    However, the hotel’s wording seems like it’s purposefully trying to deceive guests, which is shameful. I hope they not only cut the OP the check, but re-word their materials to be honest and understandable. (Benefit of the doubt: Maybe they meant “access” is free if you’re using a phone card / your credit card?)

    Ambivalent about the video… It’s an interesting add-on. My suggestion would be to look at the camera. I spent the whole :34 trying to guess what you were looking at (cue cards? Words With Friends? cat videos?) and why the camera was posed so high…

  • Raven_Altosk

    Sounds like a franchise scam. Glad it was resolved.

  • $16635417

    In response to the poll, sure why shouldn’t the hotel be allowed to make a profit? The real problem in this case is that the costs do not appear to have been disclosed. Had the OP seen the rates at $50/hour for domestic long distance, I’m sure he would have thought better of it.

  • http://www.deltapoints.com/ DeltaPoints.com

    Love the video tips. But for travel, wifi-wifi-wifi. Then, use Skype or MagicJack. Skype cost me $3/month plus a few cents to call anywhere in the world as long as I get wifi. Most place on earth free or even if you must pay at the hotel for service, cheaper than touching phone as you say! (get hotel status and most times wifi is free)!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OSW6Y735Q2LBC5CSZUZBVTTYEQ JT

    1.  No problem with hotels making a profit from phone calls.  However, “complimentary” means that they’re on the house and shouldn’t have been charged for.  In this case, it’s deceptive.

    2.  Don’t need the video.  It’s not really needed and makes it a bit more obtrusive if we’re surfing in a public place or (heavens forbid!) from work.

  • sirwired

     You can hardly fault a guest for not making a distinction between “access” and “use”.

    Personally, I’ve never heard of an “access” fee at all…

  • lost_in_travel

    The wording is accurate, but requires very careful reading for comprehension.  One would have to know that there are two components to a phone call, access to the line and the actual time used on the call.  Hotels used to charge a fee to access the line so calling an 800 number had a chargeand this made using a phone card – the way we used to try to get around hotel phone charges before cell phones – not as good a bargain.

    Since most home or cell phone packages include free long distance calls, it is easy to forget the days when one had a timer near the phone to be aware of the time flying by and the cost mounting up!  It is not unreasonable among the under 30 crowd to get caught once with this scheme, but getting the news out will keep it from happening twice!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Like the video – looks like Chris is talking to someone.  I’ve seen the videos where he’s looking directly into the camera.  This looks like someone just sort of drifted in with a video camera while Chris is talking with a friend.  Seems more natural, less forced.  (But I was looking for the cat videos the 2nd time I watched it!)

    Off-topic:  why in Sam Hill does a pop up appear when I hit “Like”?  “Old” Disqus didn’t use to do that.  Ads are for Netflix and “Lower my Bills”.  Now THAT really irritates me.

  • BillCCC

    When in doubt call the front desk and ask, it would have saved a ton of time and effort. Yes, I believe that a hotel can try to make a profit from anything they want to and we can choose not to stay there.

  • BillCCC

    On an unrelated topic, I like the videos. Keep them coming.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    We had some production issues with that video. Camera should have been lower.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Good point. I should have included that.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Thanks. I’m trying to figure out a way to make the videos less in your face. But burying them in the text doesn’t seem to make a difference.

  • IWonder39

    I agree with those who voted yes. Hotels are not non-profits. However, let the charges be reasonable!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Thanks. I’m just getting started with them. I hope they are useful.

  • cjr001

    I wonder how long it’s been, Chris, since you’ve had to resolve a hotel phone use dispute? After all, phone use charges at hotels are really among the oldest of ridiculous fees that travelers have had to deal with, and one that proves that sometimes things never change for the better.

  • Trudi

    I think the wording is deceptive. Hotels should be allowed to recover the cost of phone use, sure, but the cost should be clear to the consumer. Based on experience, I know that hotels don’t necessarily offer the same communications services throughout their system; some areas simply don’t have the technology available. So, before using the Interent or long distance, a consumer really needs to be wary of possible charges. As for profit, heck, as long as they don’t decieve the consumer, hotels can make a profit on whatever they want. For example, stay in the resort hotels at Walt Disney World, and you find that long distance and Interent access are not complimentary – they are available, for a price.

  • SoBeSparky

    Hotels are private enterprises.  They should be able to make a profit from all their features and services, should they so choose.  However, they must clearly display the terms and price if they choose to.

    In capitalism, we allow the marketplace to decide once the product is properly described.  I have no problem with obligatory newspaper and resort charges either, as long as they are displayed in the final price of any reservation.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    It’s been a long, long, looooong time. 

  • EvilEmpryss

    I don’t have a problem with it so long as the fees are clearly stated.  You have the option to use a hotel phone, so you take on the fee voluntarily. If that above-board profit option is removed, you’ll wind up with those “resort fee” bundles where they include the use of the phone whether you use it or not.

  • S E Tammela

    I agree, these are not charities. It’s not the profit that’s in question here (as they made no profit from the phone in this case). It’s the wording, and hotels in particular deal with tourists, and need to use plain, simple, unambiguous language. It should have said that customers will be charged the actual cost of calls and that the hotel does not add any fees to that.

  • technomage1

    Maybe I’ve just noticed it more since I don’t like to use my cell phone while traveling.  I’ve seen it listed or posted at every hotel I’ve stayed at.  Most times it ranges from 25 cents to $1.25 per call in the US.  It’s usually listed on or near the telephone or in the guest guide, along with a disclaimer about long distance rates.  If it’s free (as in this case), hotels usually state that since it’s a plus for the property.

    I’ve always used a calling card with a 1-800 number and no hotel has ever charged me a penny for that.  If they did I’d find the pay phone in the lobby (yes, they still exist) and use that.

    As for faulting him for not understanding the difference between access and use – I certainly can fault him for that and I do.  First, free long distance calls?  I’ve never seen it.  Second, if the long distance calls were free, wouldn’t the sign have read “Local and long distance calls are free”?  Even if he did not understand what an access fee was, those are both red flags that should have alerted him to ask the question.  Third, some hotels offer free wireless access but not free wireless use, so that even falls through as an excuse.

    IMO, the bill should have stood and the OP should have learned his lesson.

  • AAmerican1


    You’ve never done business with the government. Many states charge a annual or monthly “access” fee to log-in to their database and another fee to obtain the information being sought. 

  • Raven_Altosk

     Yeah, I’m getting the same annoying popups to lower my bills. A scam, on a consumer advocate site? Irony…

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Does anyone know where these ads are originating? I have so many scripts that run on the page (AdSense, Disqus, Travora) I can’t tell where they’re coming from. Help!

  • Alan Gore

    The poll question is unrelated to this story. A hotel would presumably try to profit from a telephone service, as it would from any other service. The problem here is that the guest directory at this property explicitly says that long distance calls are free, while they are actually being charged, That’s fraud.

  • john4868

    The guest directory DOES NOT say that long distance calls are free. Its says “Long-distance access in the United States is complimentary.” Those are not the same things.

    In the bad old days of having to use a hotel phone, many of us remember having to pay two charges any time you picked up the phone. You paid both an access fee (ie $2 a call) and a use fee (ie $5 a min). All that sign says is that there’s no access fee. It doesn’t say that Long Distance calls are free.

    Here’s a hint. Anytime something is worded funny you need to reread it. In this case, if the hotel intended to tell you that long distance calls were free, the sign would have read “Local & Long distance calls are free.” There’s a reason why they used the extra words.

  • john4868

    Then you haven’t used a hotel phone a lot. Almost everywhere I’ve been, they charge a per call and a use fee (ie access and use).

  • StarKiller

    “Local calls are free of charge. Long-distance access in the United States is complimentary.”
    If I saw that, I would conclude that I needed to use my prepaid phone card that I bought at Sam’s and that the hotel wouldn’t charge me for doing that.  If it said domestic long distance calls are free, then I would expect them to be free.  Long distance access and long distance calls are two different things.  They really should have been upfront about the per minute cost of the calls, though.

  • technomage1

     Absolutely & well put.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    They were missing from my view for a couple days and then came back.  I’ve tried opting out of them and it seems to have made it worse, even showing up on pages I’ve never seen them before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=521524230 Jennifer Deutsch

    The red flag that I saw immediately was the different wording for local calls vs. long distance.    If there was just the sentence about long distance “access” being “complimentary”, then I could understand what happened. But the prior sentence about local calls specifically says the “calls” are “free.” There’s definitely a distinction.  That would make me question the fees and call the front desk for some clarification. 

  • StarKiller

    My phone card charges 15 minutes extra for using a pay phone, it may pay to use the room phone and pay the access fee, if it wasn’t over $1 per call.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’m with you, JT.  However, it seems misleading verbiage is the new “corporate speak”.  We were recently invited to a wedding and the couple’s registered at Bed, Bath & Beyond.  The pre-printed card giving the information so we might find said registry (provided by BB&B) says, “Complimentary gift wrapping provided at additional charge.”  How is it complimentary if I’m paying for it?

  • Andrew F

    As long as they’ve used “the extra words”, a few more words wouldn’t hurt: “long-distance calls are 80c/min”.  The issue is not making a profit: this rate is on par with cell roaming charges.  The issue is the wording, which is confusing.

  • HardCoded

    We actually run periodic scans of the site and I can state that at this time we are showing no malware installed. We also use Google Webmaster tools to check for malware and a couple of other programs. I am unsure why any of you would be getting popups as we don’t have any scripted within the site. It might be part of a plugin that we use for commenting and I am checking into that. In the meantime I am sorry for the inconvenience and I will strive to have it resolved soon if it is something we are capable of doing anything about from our end. 

  • emanon256

    It does seem deceptive based on what was presented, but at the same time, I am wondering what else the sign says. 

    Most hotels I stay in say something to the effect of:

    Local Calls $0.50 per call

    Toll Free Calls Complimentary

    US Domestic Long Distance:
    Access Fee $1.00
    Per Minute $.50

    And a bunch of stuff about international calls.

    If the OPs sign truly only stated “Long-distance access in the United States is complimentary” and did not say anything about a per minute rate, I can see how he was deceived.  I would have still asked the hotel before calling, but not everyone would know to do that.

    I voted No, but now I am re-thinking it.  The hotel pays to have phone access, so I see nothing wrong with the charging to use it.  I voted No because in the story the hotel was deceptive, I think as long as they are up-front with the cost, they can charge whatever they feel they will make.

  • IGoEverywhere

    The hotel Owner has the right to do whatever they wish to make the bottom line possitive. Will it help to mess of the customers, I don’t think so. I have not had a client pick up a phone in their room anywhere in the world for decades. There are chains that allow unlimited calls, but I always have the travelers ask if there are any exceptions.

  • jerryatric

    Of course, join the airlines! Tack on fees for showering, flushing the toilet! & whatever else these companies can dream up.
    And while they’re at it add on poor service. Copy the airlines completely!

  • RITom

    While in SYD Holiday Inn charged my credit card $45 for a call back home to for me to leave two messages on answer machines that I got there!  There was a $15 access fee $5.00 first minute fee, taxes, etc etc etc .  The second call was $75+ to talk for 15 minutes.  No where did it say in thehotel or

  • Chris Johnson

    It’s fine if the hotels want to make a profit on their local and long-distance phone usage, that’s their choice and for most people including me it doesn’t matter anyway because of cell phones.  But one time on vacation my cell phone got wet, shorted out and became completely inoperable (interestingly enough, it dried out and was completely fine the next day) and I needed to make some calls and check the phone for messages as well.  I was shocked at what the hotel charged for making long-distance calls, but no problem, they also sold phone cards in the gift shop where you could dial an 800 number and get a very cheap rate, so I made the calls from the room using the card.  But when I checked out, there were several charges on the bill for 800 number calls! Are you freakin’ serious? Of course, maybe I should have asked the front desk ahead of time if there was a charge for 800 number calls but these things just don’t occur to me, because they are toll-free calls and don’t cost the hotel anything when you make them.  I guess they are just using it as a way to recover their costs but they should be obligated to disclose that somewhere – on the phone, in the guest services directory, etc.  This is an issue the FCC should pursue, rather than trying to censor Howard Stern or something.

  • RITom

    In 2009 I was in SYD at the Holiday Inn Harborside when I used the phone twice, the first call I left two messengers on machines telling them that I got there.  That was $45 each.  $15 access fee, $5 per minute, plus taxes, etc etc.  The second call was for 10 min and was for $75.  After I yelled at them they did remove the $15 fees from each.  There were no disclosures in the room or on the phone.  The service said I had to press XXX to get the disclosures.  In addition the hotel charged me to make the 800 number calls and then charged me 3% fee because I used a credit card.

  • 1pop

    Sorry, i think that “Free Access” versus “free Calls” is pretty straightforward…at the least, a call to the hotel operator and/or front desk should clarify their policy…nice of the hotel to pay for his carelessness…

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Thanks. That was my webmaster – I asked him to look into this. We will continue to monitor this issue and if it pops up again, we’ll do our best to fix it.

  • technomage1

     I see your point, but in truth hotels have been doing this for long before airlines were.  If anything, the airlines copied hotels.

    On the one hand, an access fee and seemingly large per minute cost seem like a lot.  On the other, I have no idea what the hotel is charged by the telephone company to have long distance lines available – and with almost everyone using cell phones, the per call cost to the hotel is only going to go up. 

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    The poll and the story aren’t always related.

  • MarkKelling

    Why is the cost going up as useage goes down?

    A PBX phone system, which is what hotels have, allow for multiple phones to use a limited number of actual lines.  When use is down, the business can have less actual lines to handle the volume and therefore lower actual cost.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UES4TUPI6NRPTG2DCB4YCX6R4U wyoming1949

    The hotel services book provided misleading information–plain and simple.  This trick appears to resemble something you would find at a “mom and pop” motel, where the desk clerk barely speaks English, or at a budget east coast beach property.  As to “800” calls being free:  One should NEVER assume that!  Some properties will charge a one-time fee of up to $1 per call.  If your toll-free call lasts over a certain period of time the property may add-on additional charges.

  • rybashka

    If a domestic traveler was misled by the Wyndham language, imagine how many foreign visitors whose first language is not English must have been tricked.  While we may complain about being cheated when we’re overseas, we should not forget about how many tourists are cheated by our own people.

  • 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?