In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, John Monaghan makes his way to the Sheraton Suites where he has a confirmed reservation. He is looking forward to resting his weary head after a day of precarious travel. Instead, he is greeted with a closed hotel and is forced to sleep in his car. Why did the hotel forsake him? “The Sheraton Suites abandoned me during the hurricane”
Sheraton slams Darrick Muhammad a $200 “smoking charge” after a hotel stay with his girlfriend. Yet neither smoked while in their room. Can our advocates help Muhammad extinguish the Sheraton smoking charge?
My girlfriend and I recently stayed at the Sheraton Cleveland Airport. I used my debit card to book and pay for the room.
During our stay, my girlfriend went to our car in cold weather to smoke a cigarette, but neither of us smoked while we were actually in our room.
When I got my bank statement, I saw that Sheraton had charged an additional $200 to my credit card rather than the debit card. I called the hotel to inquire about this charge. A hotel staffer said that the $200 was a charge for smoking in violation of the hotel’s rules. This person also told me that the hotel accountant has photographs of cigarette ashes that the cleaning staff found in our room.
I told her that neither my girlfriend nor I had smoked in our hotel room. I also requested copies of the photographs. The hotel has not been in touch with me.
Can you help me get the hotel to reverse this charge? — Darrick Muhammad, Detroit
Ugh. It stinks – literally and figuratively — when you’re a nonsmoker faced with a hotel smoking charge.
Smoking out the truth
Your case is a reminder that even if you’re a nonsmoker, it’s important to avoid the appearance of smoking in your hotel room. Our advocates have dealt with many cases about hotel guests who were assessed smoking charges they considered unfair.
The hotel’s website states on its “Services and Amenities” page that all of its rooms are “100% Non-Smoking Rooms and Facilities.”
If the hotel staff thinks you or your girlfriend smoked while in the room, the burden is on you to prove that you didn’t — which is hard when you admit that your girlfriend smoked a cigarette while you were staying at the hotel, even if she did it in your car and not the room itself. The hotel staff apparently believes she brought the ashes and smell with her when she returned to the room.
A self-advocacy failure
Your initial attempt at self-advocating your case didn’t go well because you threatened to dispute the charge with your bank.
We never recommend making threats or accusations when trying to resolve a customer service issue. As far as Sheraton is concerned, why should its employees spend their precious time trying to help a guest who threatens them and accuses them of wrongdoing?
Also, you paid for the room with a debit card, which does not have the same protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) that credit card transactions do. As it is a common check-in practice for hotels to ask guests for a credit or debit card to which they can charge incidental expenses, I assume that the hotel charged the smoking fee to a credit card you provided when you checked in.
A second chance
When Sheraton didn’t respond to your initial request for a reversal of the smoking charge, you asked us for help.
Our advocate Dwayne Coward advised you to give the hotel another opportunity to resolve your case before we stepped in. He suggested that you write a polite, concise email to Sheraton (a brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is owned by Marriott) using the executive contacts on our website, giving its customer service employees at least three business days to respond. If you didn’t get a satisfactory answer from Sheraton, Coward advised, you should appeal your case to the next highest-ranking employee in its corporate hierarchy.
Taking our advice
You wrote again to Sheraton, this time in a calm, reasonable tone, asking the hotel for the photographs on which it based the smoking charge. The hotel responded that the charge would stand, enclosing a photograph of cigarette ashes.
Then you wrote back, questioning the validity of the photograph. In your letter, you suggested that there was no way to prove that the ashes were in your room at the time you checked out.
Unfortunately, you mentioned two things in your letter that could have done more damage to your case. You reiterated that you were disputing the charge with your bank. You also accused the hotel of discriminating against you as an African-American.
Snuffing out the smoking charge
Although we don’t advise threatening to dispute charges or accusing a hotel of racism, your second letter did the trick. Sheraton agreed to reverse the smoking charge.
Are hotels too quick to assess unwarranted smoking or damage charges? What steps have you taken to contest hotel charges? What was the outcome?
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