What are we owed for two “horrible, stinky nights” in a hotel?

Erika Spott is a card-carrying member of Choice Hotels’ loyalty program, and she gives the hotel chain her business because she can always count on getting clean, reasonably-priced room.

Until she visited Avon, Ind., for a family event recently.

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“We booked two non-smoking rooms at the Comfort Inn,” she says. “When we returned from spending the day with our family around 10:30 p.m., our room reeked of cigarette smoke — enough to gag a smoker.”

Spott was traveling with her 84-year-old mother, and knew that it would be difficult to sleep in a smoky room. So she called the front desk.

“No one came to even check it and all they told me was basically too bad and that they had no other rooms available, but they would run the ozone machine in the morning after we were out of the room,” she says.

But the next day, things got worse. Not only did the smoke remain, but housekeeping hadn’t serviced the room.

“Again, I reported everything to the front desk and again no one cared enough to come and see,” Spott says. “The excuse was that there was no one to cover the front desk if they left it for a few minutes.”

She checked out of the Comfort Inn a day early and drove home, unable to stand a third “horrible, stinky night” at the Comfort Inn. The staff told her they couldn’t authorize a refund of her third night, and to contact a manager.

Let’s pick up the paper trail. Here’s how Comfort Inn responded to her complaint.

Please accept my most sincere apologies for the issue that you experienced. I understand that your room smelled of smoke at some point during your stay, although it was a nonsmoking room and did not smell of smoke when you arrived.

Unfortunately, because our hotel is not a nonsmoking property, there can be a transfer of air from the surrounding rooms. As I explained to your during our recent conversation, we did run the ozone machine in your room while you were out on Saturday, and put extra deodorizer in the room.

I understand that you preferred not to change rooms on Saturday because the issue had already occurred and you had already attended your event.

As you mentioned, I offered to discount your room rate by $20 for the inconvenience of your issue, and you declined my offer. Again, I apologize that you did not have most positive experience possible at our property.

We strive to exceed our guest’s expectations. Thank you again for your feedback, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Well, that’s definitely not a form letter.

Based on Comfort Inn’s reply, it seems the hotel didn’t exactly ignore Spott’s issue. It offered to move her to another room, which it says she declined. It treated the room with deodorizers. And finally, it offered a discount off her room rate for the inconvenience.

(Disclosure: I’m a nonsmoker. I don’t think anyone should be lighting up in a hotel room, but I understand there are those who disagree with me. That’s fine. I try to stay at a smoke-free hotel wherever possible. Let’s move on.)

The question here is: Did Choice Hotels and Comfort Inn do enough for Spott?

I can see both sides of this argument. Spott shouldn’t have ever been assigned a room with cigarette smoke in it, and if she was, the hotel should have moved her quickly. The folks at the front desk didn’t seem to care about her predicament, as far as she is concerned. And how about a refund on the last night she didn’t use?

From the manager’s point of view, however, the hotel handled this by the book. It offered to move her, deodorized her room, and gave her a discount on her room.

It’s not enough, says Spott.

That amount doesn’t even cover the drycleaning of our suits. And, more importantly, where was I to go at 11 p.m., with my 84 year old mother in a town I’ve never been to before?

Instead of rendering guests homeless late at night, how about delivering on the type of room (cleaned, and non-smoking) that I had reserved? (A novel approach, I know!)

Maybe the answer to the question of whether she was adequately compensated depends on your perspective.

43 thoughts on “What are we owed for two “horrible, stinky nights” in a hotel?

  1. As a former smoker and now a non smoker for 2+ years I hate smoke smells really bad after smoking for 33+ years.  But is soulds like Spott will NEVER be happy. (Ya, non-smokers  can be real P.I.T.A  when in comes to smoke and they Batch batch batch about it, they are like little children until they get their way. 

    She was offered a 2nd room, the 1st was cleaned and she CHOSE to leave early.  So it was her loss and she should have opened the Windows!. 

    As for the cost of drycleaning of her suits, she wore them to the family fuction I hope she planned on cleaning them any ways so there would be not additional cost on her part.

    What if the smell was not smoke but a sewerage treatment plant smell or garbage dump order.  Would she expect the hotel to do more then they did? 

    What more could they have done that they actually did not do? 

    1. Well considering the room was clean when she arrived yet the smell permeated the room during her stay, I don’t feel that any cleaning would have been sufficient as the smell would have returned. Secondly, she spent two nights there with the smell even though she complained the entire time. So why did they wait until the last night to offer to move her?
      It seems as though they didn’t take her seriously. They brushed her off and only did something at the end when she was going to leave. If I was her I wouldn’t have stayed either. The chain had two nights to make a fix and she was ignored. Also, most people wouldn’t dryclean their sport coats after each use, but only their shirts or perhaps pants. So there would be an added expense of drycleaning to remove the smell.
      BTW, if she would have stayed and then complained, everyone would have said it couldn’t be that bad because she didn’t walk, but instead stayed for the duration. Can’t win.

  2. Just a little rant here…..

    I’ll just say that I’ve stayed at a pretty nice hotel where all the rooms are non-smoking.  There’s only one small problem.  While the rooms themselves are non-smoking, in the management’s infinite wisdom they didn’t declare the hallways or the lobby area non-smoking.  They even placed ashtrays on every floor next to the elevators.  It seemed to defeat the purpose of making them non-smoking if one might need to walk through a smoke fog to get to a room.

  3. Wow. This is a tough one in that I wouldn’t know what I’d do in that same situation. She booked a non-smoking room and that’s what she should’ve gotten. I understand that even once a room is deodorized, it probably still smells like smoke. And I’ve stayed in plenty of nasty hotel rooms where I put up with a lingering smell of smoke. But if it was truly bad, I would have gotten my bedding and camped out right in the lobby on the first night. The hotel must’ve had a policy of walking guests somewhere else when they overbook. In this case, it’s like an overbooking in that they were not able to provide an agreed-upon room. I’m SURE that would’ve gotten their attention or at least gotten them to phone a manager. By accepting to sleep in the room for the night, she lost a bit of bargaining power. And by not taking them up on switching rooms when she could’ve, she loses the right to any refund.

    I do feel bad for the OP, though. If the issue was enough of a dealbreaker for her on the very first night, she probably should’ve fought for it (full disclosure: I’ve never threatened to sleep in a hotel lobby, but I probably would…). I don’t advocate travelers who complain about everything and/or who feel entitled, but in this case, I would’ve certainly (alert: bad pun ahead) “made a stink”…


  4. Where was she supposed to go at 11pm in an unfamiliar city? She said they made her “homeless” and should have offered the room she requested. Strange, didn’t they say she was offered an alternative room?

    Interesting that she doesn’t deny the hotel’s explanation regarding their attempts to resolve the issue.  Her complaints may have had merit, but her angry letter and retort makes me think she was being unreasonable and difficult.  I hate the smell of smoke too, but I suspect the hotel wasn’t nearly as apathetic as she claims.

    1. THIS! This is exactly how I was left, instead of responding to the hotel’s statement she goes on about her “84 year old mother” and being in a strange town. This is purely an emotional plea intended to divert you from the real facts at hand. This is precisely why I voted Yes, they were fairly compensated (or offered compensation). 

  5. That poor 84-year old mother, being cited more than once and we don’t even get to hear from her.

    My problem is with the OP refusal to move.  It sounds like the incident occurred the first night, and they stayed one more night (while going home early to avoid the third).  The hotel was ready to make the final two nights right, and the OP refused?!?  Was she planning her letter to Chris already and didn’t want to spoil the plot?

    1. My problem is with the OP refusal to move.


      The hotel claims they offered to move her on Saturday.  

      She claims the hotel did nothing for 2 nights.

      What night did she check in?  The article doesn’t say.

      If she checked in on Thursday night, then the OP’s story would be completely consistent with the hotel’s story.  In which case I wouldn’t blame the OP if she felt the offer was too little too late.

  6. Sounds like a franchise property. She should appeal to their corporate office. 

    However, I am a bit disturbed with her refusal to move. If the smoke was bothering her, and they had a different room, why be resistant to the change?

    1. I believe this “refusal to move” has been misinterpreted.  She stated they didn’t HAVE any available rooms the first night.  It sounds as if they didn’t offer to move her until the third night, when she chose to leave instead.

  7. I’ve always believed that a good hotel is the one you always feel there’s someone in charge: a manager of any level, not front desk staff. 

    We tend to call the front desk whatever happens in our room. Instead of calling housekeeping for changing sheets, we call FD people. Instead of calling room service for some coffee delivered to our room, we call FD people. Instead of setting our wake-up call via telephone set, we call FD people and so forth.

    Once things don’t work, regardless of who we call, the must be a manager at any time in the hotel to help us. In that case, front desk will do its job and the manger takes care of the issue.

    I must appreciate Christopher for bringing up this issue at his blog so that hotels take their customers’ requirements more seriously.

    Rahman Mehraby


  8. “Erika Spott is a card-carrying member of Choice Hotels’ loyalty program and she gives the hotel chain her business because she can always count on getting clean, reasonably-priced room.”
    Is she an elite member or just a member of their loyalty program?  Based upon my experiences (I am not an elite member of the Choice frequent guest program and I have averaged three nights a year at a Choice property in the past 15 years), the qualitystandardsetc. varies between the same brands within the Choice Hotel group of hotels.  That is why I don’t stay at a Choice Hotel property unless that is the only choice that I have. 
    Personally, I will select a hotel that is totally smoke free (rooms, common area, etc.) such as the Marriott group of hotels. 
    The OP has posted a negative review of the hotel on TripAdvisor. 

  9. She deserves to get what she paid for but …
    By leaving out key parts of the story and her theatrical letters, it makes me wonder if the hotel could have done anything to make her happy, if it was really as bad as she claims and wonder what else she isn’t telling us. She didn’t even bother to refute what the manager wrote which makes me think his story is closer to reality than hers.
    Sorry, if it’s that bad, you move when it’s offered.  If you write a complaint letter, keep it simple. If you involve Chris, be honest and up front with him on what occurred.
    She didn’t do any of these.
    Move along people there’s nothing to see here…

  10. Typically, there is not a manager on duty at these types of hotels during the third shift (11 PM to 7 AM)…the person that is in “charge” is the front desk.  It is very common at small hotels that the manager is also the owner.  There is a difference between a full service hotel and an economy hotel when it comes to staffing/management/etc.

  11. Okay, I’ll admit it – I’m a smoker. I am however, a POLITE smoker. I don’t light up in hotel rooms, ever. I won’t do it on the balcony either, as the smell of my cigarette will likely waft its way into someone’s room and I don’t want to cause anyone discomfort. I’m hoping to become a non-smoker again this year (ahhh, New Years’ resolutions, gotta love ’em).

    Given all of this, I truly sympathize with the OP. It sucks to be a non-smoker who has to deal with the particularly pungent smell that the cancer sticks leave behind. But why on earth wouldn’t she move rooms if the option was offered? The hotel appears to have at least tried to address her concerns about the smell and did offer a discount. If she’s going to turn down the chance to move away from the smoky smell, she’s got nothing to complain about, IMO.

    I’d rather be inconvenienced a little (i.e. – having to pack up and relocate to another room, and possibly wash my stuff in the hotel sink) than spend another night in a room I can’t breathe in. The hotel could’ve handled this a bit better, as it sounds like there was a distinct lack of customer care by the front desk staff, but the OP also bears some responsibility here. Therefore, I voted no.

    1. What’s funny is that I’m a smoker as well and can’t stand sleeping in a Smoking room at a Hotel…
      Good luck with your resolution, I’ve made the same one myself.

  12. I’m confused.  The article says that the OP booked “two” rooms.  The rest of the article talks about one room.  Were both rooms bad, only her room bad, or was there only one room?  If there *were* two rooms, why not both mother and daughter in the same room for the one night until things were resolved?

    Spraying more deodorizer in a room doesn’t work.  It only produces a flowery cigarette odor.  Never heard of an “ozone machine” that magically cleans the bedspread, curtains and carpet.  But according to Choice, they did try, with the short-term tools they had on hand.

    After night #1, I’d have been looking for another place to stay during day #2. 

    By the way, it doesn’t take much to be a “card-carrying member” of the Choice loyalty program.  Somehow I’ve qualified and this wasn’t a big travel year for me.

  13. I’m confused, she says they did NOT offer to move her to another room the first and second night she complained, and clearly stated that ‘housekeeping did not service the room’. The form letter states the opposite of both of these things. Can you clarify that?

    1. Both stories match up. The hotel said after the first night that the room would be deoderized. However upon returning that night the room still smelled bad, so the treatment did not work. that night they would not move her and the lobby said nobody extra to come up to the room. So the third night she opted to leave as the treatment was inneffective.

  14. Non-smoking should be exactly that: non-smoking. Ambient smoke from surrounding rooms renders a room a smoking room. And, deodorizers often are worse than the offensive smoke. For individuals with breathing problems, it adds insult to injury.  In this day and age, it seems that all hotels should guarantee that an entire floor/wing/etc should be non-smoking, if not the facility in its entirety (my preference).  

  15. I tend to believe Choice in this matter.  I think the hotel and chain did what they could.  I have been in this predicament before also, but the matter was usually settled in my favor.  You do have to be nice.  I go back lots of years when you really had no choice in rooms, and I’m so happy we do now

  16. Cooperate will issue a refund over the manager’s offer. I like these rinky – dink hotel answers. Go over their heads and get it refunded. I have never been denied.

  17. I voted no because the two stories differed so greatly. Erika claims they didn’t have any other rooms available or refused to move her, yet the hotel claims they offered to move them to a different room. I would bet they offered to move her but it could no longer be an adjacent room so she declined. 

    It also disgusts me when I hear people say stuff like “What am I supposed to do with my 84 year old mother”, a mantra which she seems to repeat to garner sympathy for her story. This always gives me the impression that people feel their story is weak and need to bolster it with an emotional plea. This is particularly true in this story where she ignores the hotel’s response completely and goes into a sob story about her mother.

    They offered her a discount, and she declined enough said.

  18. At 11pm you have some college kid or someone else willing to work the graveyard shift.  They have no power, and simply for the most part don’t care.    Its a 2-3 star place and you get what you pay for when it comes to service in those places. 

    If the place was full, it was full – they HAD no more rooms.  Raising a big stink to get the manager on the phone prob would have worked to get you walked someplace else- for a night.  Then its back to where you booked if they could free up a room.

    Photos?  Take a cell phone photo with a date and time of the uncleaned room?  Some proof of the claim they did not clean it timely. . . .

    Why is there always some sad sack story like I’m elderly or traveling with the elderly or always something?  Why can folks say simply hey – I did not get what I paid for? 

    In this case they offered to move her to a new room the second night, right?  If SHE decided not to move but to check out – thats her choice.  Why didin’t she just take the $20 a night?  I don’t get that at all and it certainly makes it seem like whining for whinings sake.

    Given the admission of smoke in the room, why not just refund her third night and be done with it?

    1. Why is there always some sad sack story like I’m elderly or traveling with the elderly or always something?  Why can folks say simply hey – I did not get what I paid for? 

      It’s the sympathy ploy. At least she avoided the “senior on a fixed income” whine-line.

      I hate these bits of data; whether or not you’re a single parent, a parent traveling with children, a parent with a special needs kid, a senior on a fixed income…etc…DOESN’T MATTER. Bad service is bad service.

      The OP needs to focus on that and not why she thinks she deserves special treatment.

  19. I have to say, when I saw a post title beginning with “What are we owed…” an eyebrow went up.

    And the answer is, nothing. You paid for a room, you got a room, you are not “owed” anything. Should the hotel offer concessions or other compensation in this case? Well, it turns out, they did, and the OP instead did what we see in so many posts, tried to use a consumer advocate to strong arm the hotel into offering more.

    And since when does $60 not cover dry cleaning?

  20. Ms. Spott deserves nothing. One thing everyone seems to have missed is that Comfort Inn, in their response to her complaint, stated that “…it was a nonsmoking room and did not smell of smoke when you arrived”. And NOWHERE does Ms. Spott dispute that statement! So who knows, maybe her 84-year-old mother fired up a butt at some point. In any event, if Spott checked into a nonsmoking room that didn’t smell of smoke when she arrived but did when she left, she’s lucky she wasn’t charged for deodorizing the room.    

    1. I don’t agree with you at all.  Since someone smoked in the vicinity of her room, and caused her room to smell of smoke after she checked in, she should consider herself lucky she wasn’t charged?  That really doesn’t make any sense.  A hotel should not charge a person for smoking in the room unless they can prove that the guest was, in fact smoking.  She doesn’t need to consider herself lucky that she wasn’t charged for something she didn’t do.  She isn’t claiming that it smelled of smoke when she checked in.  She is claiming that when she got back to the room that night it reeked of smoke.  She tried working with the hotel, but their efforts appear to have been ineffective, or the smoker was still there, continuing to cause the problem.  When she decided to check out early instead of staying for the 3rd night, they then offered to change her room.  By then she had had enough and refused.  I really don’t blame her.  I don’t know if she is owed any extra compensation – the hotel does say that they tried deodorizing the room, so at least they tried to do something, but I do feel that they should at least refund her for the unused night. 

  21. Deodorize her room? so cover the smell with more toxic chemicals? that’s completely unacceptable.  I have very strong allergies and chemical sensitivies to smoke and scented products and I would’ve been sick as a dog after just a few hours in that room.  She should’ve tried the second room if that was in fact offered to her but yeah, if smoke permeates from neighbouring rooms then they have bigger problems.  Tons of people have ashtma these days. 

  22. Chris,
    I think it’s funny that No is winning the survey but from the majority of the comments, it would appear the reverse.
    Let’s dissect her story for a minute though:

    “card-carrying member of Choice Hotels’ loyalty program” –
    Anyone can join this program, so this information is a waste of time.

    “We booked two non-smoking rooms at the Comfort Inn” – Were both
    rooms smelly?  Could they not simply bunk
    up together for the night?

    “When we returned from spending the day with our family
    around 10:30 p.m” – Did they check in earlier in the day?  Was the smell present then?

    “enough to gag a smoker” – Unless she’s a smoker, how does
    she know exactly how much it would take to gag a smoker?

    “Spott was traveling with her 84-year-old mother” –
    Worthless Information designed to invoke an emotional response
     “No one came to even check it” – What exactly are you
    expecting someone to do at 10:30 at night? 
    They are probably the only one on duty and their sole responsibility is
    to check in late arrivals and have a body at the front desk.  They were fully booked, so what more would
    you expect done this late at night?

    “but housekeeping hadn’t serviced the room” – Unsure if this
    is a legit complaint or not.  Some Hotel
    policies for extended stays involve having to request room service during the stay.  They do this to both cut their cost and
    increase customer privacy.  Not sure
    about this locations policy on that.

    “Again, I reported everything to the front desk and again no
    one cared enough to come and see” – So she repeated the exact same thing done
    the night before and expected a different response?  Did she attempt to address it during the
    daytime when the manager was present?
    “She checked out of the Comfort Inn a day early and drove
    home” – This sounds like a personal choice to leave early, especially when you
    match it up to the timeline given by the hotel. 
    Sounds to me like they offered to move her rooms that day and she turned
    down their offer.

    “That amount doesn’t even cover the drycleaning of our suits”
    – In what part of the country does $20/Night for 3 night = $60 Not cover
    dry-cleaning for cloths that you brought for 3 days?  And who’s to say that after wearing them over
    that weekend she wouldn’t have had to dry-clean them anyways?

    There are too many holes in her story, and too much
    theatrics to take her story seriously. 
    The hotel already offered her enough and had she addressed these issues
    during normal daytime hours, a manager probably would’ve resolved them for her.

    1. i’d originally voted “No”, because if she didn’t stay for the 3rd day due to the smoke, then they needed to refund it. but your post makes me re-think that…

  23. Compensation aside, the hotel’s explanation of “transfer of air” doesn’t wash.  My guess would be that the cleaning staff was smoking in the room while they were servicing it.  I’ve personally seen that happen.  Maids smoking while vacuuming a non-smoking room.

    1. That was my first impression too. She said she noticed the problem when they returned to their room late at night and that it was worse after they had been out the next day. It sure sounds like someone was smoking in that room while she was out.

      Most hotels have their nonsmoking rooms in a separate area, so I find it hard to believe in the transfer theory unless the hotel had placed the nonsmoking room next door to a smoking room.

  24. The moment they offered to move her to another room and she declined, the OP lost my support.

    I am a smoker but can’t stand rooms that smell like smoke, so I get that BUT…  She lied to Chris when she told him they refused to move her to another room.  Don’t ask for someone’s help with lies.  That clouds the issue.

    Why would she refuse to move to another room?  Didn’t she say that’s what she initially wanted?

  25. I was sympathetic until I got to “that amount doesn’t even cover the drycleaning of our suits.” Unless multiple people were chain-smoking in the room right before these guests arrived, I don’t believe for a minute that the smell in the room was bad enough for them to need their suits cleaned. Plus, since it wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the letter, I’m assuming they had the suits cleaned *after* the event, meaning that they would have needed them cleaned regardless of any smoke smell in the room…right? That line just screams “drama queen” to me.

    Assuming their story is true, I agree that Comfort Inn dropped the ball both in terms of their desk clerk’s response and the fact that the room wasn’t serviced at all, much less to remove the supposed smell. I’m not sure they deserve more than the discount they were offered, though.

    Anyone who is extremely unwilling to stay in a smoking room would be best served by booking a room at a hotel that chooses not to allow smoking in any of its rooms. I believe Marriott is one chain with that policy. Otherwise, you run the risk of smelling cigarette smoke even in your nonsmoking room. (I’m not absolving hotels of the responsibility to give guests what they pay for, mind you).

    1. Actually, the fact that they needed to clean their suits is quite credible. Cigarette smoke is extremely pervasive and clings to fabrics.

      Example: We rent the same beach condo every year for over ten years. I have never noticed the smell of cigarettes when I am in the condo, and believe me, I am extremely sensitive. However, when we get home, every article of clothing, every sheet, every beach towel is reeking of cigarettes. Even my husband can smell it and he basically has no sense of smell.

      The first couple of years I was washing everything before we left the condo so I wouldn’t have to do it at home. Then I ended up washing it all again at home. Now I don’t wash anything until I get home.

      It still amazes me that I cannot detect the cigarettes while I am in the condo…only in the clothing once I am home. This has happened consistently for about twelve years now.

  26. Spott deserves a full refund for all three nights.  She did not get what she paid for.  If I order a specific product on the net, and I get something of lesser quality delivered to me, I want my money refunded, or send the correct item.  She did what she needed to do.  She reported her dissatisfaction. They were unable to give her at that time what she paid for, so they should have called around to find suitable lodging as a substitute, for no additional charge.  It was not her responsibility to go looking for other lodging at that time at night. She did not cause the problem.  How could it be an inconvenience for them to do that? Evidently, the place was already filled, so they didn’t have to stay behind the desk and could have spent a few minutes checking the room or makng calls to other lodges.  As for those of you charging her with being overly dramatic by mentioning her 84 year- old mother, that’s ridiculous.  The health of such a person is a real concern.  People of that age can be severly affected by fragile lungs and respiratory problems.  I am not that age and am  affected that way.  So I request and expect to get what I reserve and pay for.  If she was promised to have something to be done to remove the odor, she did not need to request to speak to a manager the next day.  She had no reason to believe she could not count on them to follow through.  Obviously they didn’t and she was left with the problem again and had to complain again.  This is not a well-run place. I travel a lot and would not find this acceptable.
    Furthermore, too many of you copy the same comments of others.  You are easily swayed.  You need to think more rationally for yourselves.

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