Hit by a late charge? Here’s why you should write it up

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By Christopher Elliott

Jeanette Burton doesn’t smoke. Neither do her grandchildren, ages 5, 10 and 15, with whom she spent a recent Spring Break weekend at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Galveston, Texas.

But the hotel begged to differ. Maybe it was the fact that Burton and her extended family were there for Spring Break, which can be a raucous time in Galveston. Maybe the staff simply got her room confused with someone else’s. But after they checked out, Burton found a $150 fee on her credit card.

Disputed hotel charge

“I talked with the hotel and they said they charged another $150 because housecleaning had reported that I smoked in the room,” she says.

But that was impossible. Burton is so sensitive to cigarette smoke that she can’t even be around it.

“It makes me sick,” she says.

Burton’s story is a simple lesson about the power of going through proper channels in order to get a complaint resolved. (Related: This is how to fight a hotel billing error – and win.)

After receiving a denial by phone, she emailed me and asked for help. My immediate response was to ask for her correspondence with the Sunspree. But she had none — everything had been done by phone.

My advocacy team and I recommended that she ask the hotel in writing to review the $150 late charge. (Here’s our guide to winning a credit card dispute.)

Here are a few details of her booking and stay: She’d made the reservation through Booking.com, and had selected a non-smoking room. During her stay, she posted the “privacy please” sign and waived off housekeeping, because the staff tried to service the rooms early, and she didn’t want the kids, who liked to stay up late, to be woken up early. The housekeepers never returned.

AirAdvisor is a claims management company. We fight for air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions all over the world. Our mission is to ensure that air passengers are fairly compensated for the inconvenience and frustration caused by delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

“We were there three days and they never cleaned the room,” she says. “We had to call down for clean towels and sheets each day, but I didn’t complain.”

A hotel’s swift response to a guest’s complaint

In a situation like this, I don’t have enough details to know what really happened. Did her 15-year-old grandson light up when she wasn’t looking? Maybe, but it seems unlikely if she had a problem with cigarette smoke.

If this happened during Spring Break, then it’s far likelier that the hotel had caught another guest smoking in a nearby room and became confused.

Personally, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to smoke in a hotel. As a non-smoker who has had to check his family into a room where the previous guest smoked, I can tell you there’s no way to get rid of the offensive smell that saturates the sheets, furniture and curtains.

(By the way, if you’re a smoker, please don’t read this as a criticism of your lifestyle choice. It isn’t. But as a courtesy, it might be nice if you didn’t light up where my kids are about to sleep.)

Burton sent a brief, polite email to the Sunspree. And wouldn’t you know, she got a direct response from the general manager:

I am very sorry that this charge was applied to your room. My staff does their best to follow the rules, but sometimes we make mistakes. In this case it seems that we did.

I want to make sure that all of our guests leave happy and want to return to our property again and again. We are currently undergoing many property improvements to make your future stays even better. I will have this fee refunded to you immediately and look forward to your next visit to the Sunspree Resort.

I love it! The Sunspree investigated the complaint, found that it had erred, and refunded the $150 cleaning fee — all without me having to get involved.

Even the best hotels are far from perfect when it comes to billing. Burton’s story underscores the importance of politely asking for a review when something looks wrong on your hotel folio. It may be all you need to fix a problem.

Did the Sunspree handle Jeanette Burton's complaint correctly?

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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.

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