There’s no smoke in my hotel room, so what’s this $250 charge?


When Samantha Armstrong sees a $250 charge on her hotel bill, she’s told it’s because she smoked in her room. Just one small problem: Armstrong doesn’t smoke.

Question: I need help fighting a case with Residence Inn by Marriott Phoenix, where I recently stayed. When I checked out, I saw a $250 charge on my credit card in addition to the $89 for the room.

No one ever said anything about the charge. I called the front desk and they said it was a “smoking charge.” But I don’t smoke.

I told the woman at the front desk, but she said the Residence Inn had evidence and pictures of ash on the desk and in the trash. They said I could dispute the charges with my bank but there’s nothing they could do for me and they refused to transfer me to a manager.

I left a message for the manager but never received a call back. I feel like Residence Inn is trying to make some extra money from me. Can you help? — Samantha Armstrong, Glendale, Ariz.

Answer: If you don’t smoke, you shouldn’t have to pay a cleaning fee. But hotels don’t necessarily see it that way. As far as they’re concerned, if anyone lit up in the room, and they see evidence of it, then the person who is responsible for the bill should pay the $250 fee. And that would have been you.

Is that fair? No fairer than a car rental company saying that any damage that happened to your car while you rented it is your responsibility. But it’s not a perfect comparison. After all, a hotel is a more controlled environment. If you were the sole guest in room for one night, and you don’t smoke, then maybe someone else smoked in your room.

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Don’t laugh. I remember bumping into a housekeeper at a hotel as I checked out. She was puffing away on a cigarette. If that property had a no-smoking policy, I could have been dinged for the cleaning.

I reviewed the correspondence between you and the hotel. In an email sent to you, the general manager correctly notes that it has a “strict” non-smoking policy. “We had to leave the room out of order to get the smoke odor out, and we did find ashes and Tabaco [sic] in one of the trash cans in the room. We also have your signature up on checking on the do not smoke registration sheet, unfortunately there will not be a rebate on this transaction,” he wrote. But I didn’t see any photos of the alleged evidence.

I happen to agree with Marriott’s non-smoking policy. Certainly, a hotel guest has the right to smoke, but if you’ve ever stayed in a hotel where the previous guest smoked in the room, you know the stench of tobacco lingers for days and gets into your clothes. I would pay extra to breathe clean air, a fact Marriott probably knows.

I also agree that the $250 is fair. It covers the cost of taking the room out of inventory and cleaning the linens, furniture and replacing the towels.

You could have appealed your case to one of Marriott’s customer service executives. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy website.

It’s true that Marriott gets more than its fair share of cleaning-fee complaints, but not enough for me to think it is using these fees to generate revenue in any systematic way. It’s simply too risky. Still, I thought Marriott might want to review your case one more time.

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I contacted the company, and it refunded the $250 cleaning fee.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Byron Cooper

    Glad that this was resolved. The OP could have gotten a doctor’s note that she does not smoke. She could get a urine cotinine level to prove that she does not smoke, but I am not sure that the medical expense is worth it.

  • The Original Joe S

    Charge back the credit card if you don’t smoke. Many people who DO smoke go OUTSIDE to smoke.
    Just because someone left a butt in the room doesn’t prove that the OP did it. As noted, where’re the photos?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    If I have a question on a hotel bill, I usually will call the front desk to discuss. In this case, I would have went to the front desk to discuss it given the amount/size of the incorrect charge.

    If someone said that they have pictures of ashes and etc. in the room, I would have ask to see the pictures. No pictures…no charge. If they refused to show me the picture(s) and/or get the general manager then I would have taken out my smartphone to start recording.

  • Alan Gore

    This problem has come up before. Have we ever come up with a way of proving that we didn’t smoke on checkout from a given hotel room? Pictures when we leave, or something llke that?

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    To ArizonaRoadWarrior’s and Alan Gore’s points, this is a hard situation to fairly resolve. The hotel may not have the pictures at checkout, if you checkout before the room is cleaned. So they can’t show anything on the checkout bill. On the other side, after you leave, you have no control over the room, if the door is left open (as it often is during cleaning), and a passerby sees the trashcan and just drops their cigarette there without worrying about the impact on you, you could be charged.

    I suppose you could insist on an inspection as you checkout (or even just use the bell service to tote your bags, if you have them, and get them to acknowledge no smoke odor), but otherwise, it seems like a hard case for the consumer to prove.

  • pauletteb

    My boss’s wife is a heavy smoker, and even she won’t stay in a smoking room because of the stench. She’ll go outside in the rain if she needs to.

  • CC Gorman

    Since she said the charge was already present at checkout, is this what happened?

    At some time before leaving her room to check out, she reviewed her bill-either by electronic means or a hard copy slid under the door- and noticed the charge.
    She called the front desk. The person she spoke with told her that at some point the previous night or early that morning, housekeeping entered her room and found the”evidence”. Then, either the housekeeper or someone from management took pictures of the “evidence”.

    Before I left the hotel, I would have demanded that someone on staff come up to examine the room for odors and other evidence. Of course, maybe she did ask them to come to the room to confirm the findings in her presence, and they simply refused. It’s hard to believe a business would stoop so low.

  • Annie M

    “When I checked out, I saw a $250 charge on my credit card in addition to the $89 for the room.”

    Why didn’t she demand to be taken back to the room for proof of the smoking? I would not have left the hotel until that was taken off my bill.

  • jm71

    It’s very difficult to impossible to prove a negative like this, which is why the onus needs to be on the hotel to prove it. In this case, only a timestamped video showing the room number and entry and the supposed “evidence” of “Tabaco”[sic] is sufficient. Fortunately, this is easy to take with any cell phone, so a hotel that wants to charge should have its’ housekeepers do this whenever they smell smoke. If they choose not to, then a dispute must go to the customer.

    In this case, I would have asked to see the pictures right then, and would have called the credit card company to dispute the charge while standing in the lobby.

  • Bill___A

    Not whether *you* smoke or not, it is if anyone smokes in that room. Glad this was resolved, but there needs to be something done to stop the people who ARE smoking in the rooms, it still happens too much.

  • taxed2themax

    I agree with you.. Given the ‘normal’ process of how check-out works at most hotels, I can see how both sides are somewhat dealt a poor hand.. I have stayed in a few hotels, mostly in resort areas in SE Asia, where someone from housekeeping would be called to do a room ‘inspection’ and then either a paper check-out slip ran downstairs to the cashier or electronically entered into the computer system by the inspecting housekeeper. Once that was done, then you got your bill.. and I personally liked that.. this way IF there were issues, we’d both (hotel and I) would still be there to resolve it.. but.. I agree that this might be both time-consuming, staff-time impractical in large(r) hotels and hinder a guest who is trying to make a quick check-out (like going to airport, etc)
    I agree that the hotel should have the burden of proof — to prove to a reasonable degree, that the source of the smoke occurred while the room was rented to you.., note that I do NOT think the hotel should have to prove YOU the named guest caused the smoke.. you rented it, the room is under your control..

    I also think the example of the car rental is good.. While I agree that a hotel room is a much more controlled or controllable thing – as compared to a moveable rental car, for me the idea is the same.. you rented it, you agree to be responsible for it.. While things might happen to it that were outside of your (the renter) control while you were renting it, that does not then mean you are not or should not be responsible for fixing it or seeking recovery from the person/entity that caused the damaged to the rented property. I don’t think the car rental firm or hotel should have to shoulder the burden or costs to “go after” a third party (who is not the renter) who damaged the asset while it was under the renters control.

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