How much is your stolen property worth? Who can say?

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By Christopher Elliott

Theft happens. Even at a hotel with a sterling reputation, like Marriott. But here’s the question Melvin Windham is faced with: When your property is taken from a room, who gets to determine its value? Do you? Does the hotel? Or does some third party, like an insurance company?

Here are the specifics of his case: Windham stayed at the Marriott Downtown Richardson in the Dallas suburbs recently.

The door to his room wouldn’t close, so Marriott sent a technician to fix it. He picks up the story from there:

When I returned back to my room after breakfast, my room door was again unlocked and when I took inventory of my personal things, I notice that the bag containing my CDs were missing.

I reported this matter to the front desk and no one ever called to check to see what happen until I got ready to check out when I bought up the matter again.

The front desk person went to get a manager and took approximately 20 minutes to locate a manager. Two managers from Marriott approached me and asked what happened. They had never been notified about the missing items.

Windham was apparently told he could file a formal report after he returned, but when he tried, Marriott went into radio silence. His calls weren’t returned, either.

That’s when he contacted me.

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Behavior like that is very un-Marriott-like, so after I gathered all the facts, I contacted the hotel. It responded to Windham with its verdict.

Marriott offered him a flat $75 settlement for his missing CDs.

The discrepancy between sentimental and monetary worth

(By the way, my reading of Texas lodging statutes suggests that he’s only entitled to $50, so this is a generous offer, where the law is concerned.)

He’s unhappy with that offer, since it doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of his collection.

Ah, I know what you’re thinking – why not just go to iTunes and download the music there? Forget CDs!

Tell that to my uncle who has an extensive vinyl collection. It is what it is. Also, it’s kind of beside the point.

The bigger question raised by this is: Who gets to determine the value of a stolen item?

I get that question often, and people rarely agree on the answer. A CD collection could have a high sentimental value, but an insurance company or hotel might take a different view.

Understanding hotel liability with insights from Marriott

And then, of course, there’s the law, which might say none of that matters, and that the hotel owes a customer nothing. That certainly applies to this case. (Related: A stolen West Point class ring, and all I get from my hotel is an excuse?)

One solution is to keep receipts or get the items you’re traveling with assessed by a professional. That seems like a lot of trouble, but if you’re going to take something like a cherished CD collection or stamp collection on the road with you, knowing exactly how much it would cost to replace it might make some sense. (Here’s how to book the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

The other thing you might consider: Know what your rights are under the state’s lodging statues, just in case something is taken from your room. You never know.

At any rate, Marriott has made its final offer, and given that Windham can’t conclusively prove the CDs are worth more than $75, this might not be the worst offer.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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