Travelers feel the pressure to act now


No one seems to know how the TV in Room 1018 of the Wyndham Avenue Plaza Resort in New Orleans ended up with several long, deep scratches on the screen that made it unwatchable. And if they do, they’re not talking.

But here’s what Michael Chua, who occupied the room at the time of the alleged damage, did know when he contacted me: Wyndham wanted him to pay up — immediately.

Chua, who works for a brokerage firm in San Francisco, had received an e-mail from Wyndham giving him 24 hours to accept its offer to pay $300 for the scratches. Otherwise, the hotel threatened to charge his credit card double the amount, which was the cost of a new TV.

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“I did not damage their TV,” he says, “and I will not pay $300.”

Ah, the pressure.

Although travel businesses have a well-deserved reputation for taking their time with refunding our purchases, they are less patient when it comes to us paying our bills. Car rental companies are the best-known examples of corporate impatience, although airlines and hotels are known to press matters, too. Travelers’ remedies are limited.

A Wyndham representative said that Chua’s case was special because he’d launched a social-media campaign to persuade the company to stop its collection efforts. “Normally, we give guests more time to respond to a claim,” said Wyndham spokesman Adam Schwartz.

If you happen to damage a rental car, companies are less willing to wait. Consider what happened to Robert Cerulli when he rented a vehicle from Enterprise in Bridgeport, Conn., this year. “The car was covered with ice, dirt, salt and sand, making it impossible to see the color of the vehicle, let alone any kind of damage,” says Cerulli, who owns a lawn-care company in Trumbull, Conn. When he returned the car, an employee informed him that the bumper was damaged and handed him a repair bill for $487.

“They told me to pay or it will go to collections and reflect negatively on my credit report,” he says. Cerulli paid his bill immediately, even though, he insists, he didn’t damage the vehicle.

Enterprise disputes Cerulli’s account. Roger Van Horn, vice president of corporate loss control, says that its records show that it rented Cerulli a clean car with no damage, and that it didn’t send him a bill until eight days after his rental.

In the past, rental car companies have routinely sent letters to customers threatening to send a bill to a collection agency or to add the customer to a “do not rent” list. After enough of the threatening letters were posted online, car rental companies softened their tone.

Today, you have to wait for a damage collection specialist to go off-script before receiving such a threat. But that’s exactly what David Tilleman, a project coordinator for a database company in Boston, saw when he corresponded with a National agent recently after the car rental company tried to send him a repair bill. When he pushed back, a representative suggested that he could suffer broader consequences.

“The claim could escalate to the collections department and you would be at risk to go on the Do Not Rent list with us,” the National employee wrote.

Tilleman’s company paid the damage bill.

Neither Cerulli nor Tilleman purchased damage-waiver protection at the time of their rentals. If they had, neither of these claims would have ended as they did, of course.

Sometimes, travel companies don’t even bother asking their customers to pay their bills quickly. When Donna Speron recently paid her bill at the Holiday Inn Express in Burlington, Wash., she assumed that she was all settled up. She was wrong.

When she received her credit card bill, she discovered that the hotel had charged her and her husband another $500. Speron, an administrative assistant with an aerospace company in Seattle, asked for an explanation, and a hotel representative told her that the charge was for replacing a damaged bathtub — damage that she’d noticed after checking in. “Because we had not notified the front desk of the damage, we were deemed responsible,” she says. The hotel didn’t even bother sending photos or a repair invoice.

I contacted Holiday Inn on her behalf, and the charge was removed.

Such corporate strong-arming — sometimes justified, but often not — seems unfair to customers, who note that when they’re entitled to a refund, companies often wait weeks or months to pay up. Of course, there are ways of evening the odds by threatening to sue or initiating a credit card dispute when a company fails to return your money. But the travel industry clearly has the upper hand.

Perhaps the only time it doesn’t is when it comes to media, particularly social media. A well-placed Facebook or Twitter post, or even an e-mail to an executive with several consumer advocates copied on it, can sometimes persuade a company to back off.

After Chua turned to me for help, Wyndham agreed to revisit its proposed solution to the damaged TV. Chua’s case also prompted the company to launch an internal review of how it handles disputes of this type. But by then, it had already charged his card $600, the full amount of a new set.

As a goodwill gesture, it agreed not to fight his credit card chargeback — an unexpectedly generous fix.

Are travel companies too impatient?

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34 thoughts on “Travelers feel the pressure to act now

  1. I don’t know if they’re impatient but I know that they have a guilty until proven innocent attitude. I still remember being charged $200+ at a Hilton Garden Inn. They claimed that the duvet and cover were missing. Really? I’ve heard of people stealing towels and bathrobes. But how exactly do you get a King size Duvet and cover out of a hotel room without being seen? And no, they didn’t contact me. It was missing so I must have taken it. They just charged my card.

    And you’re right, they are very slow to return your money. I booked a three bedroom suite a couple of years ago. The room I received was a different configuration that what was advertised. The front desk stated I must have been mistaken that the configuration I claimed I had booked didn’t exist and wasn’t on the website. I later proved that both statements were lies. Initially the GM blew me off and didn’t return my call until I sent a fax with my attorney stationary. It was surprising how fast they responded and credited me one night’s room and tax. I was happy but annoyed. One shouldn’t have to be an attorney to get a fair shake.

  2. Unrelated request this morning: If you’re a regular commenter on this site, please consider uploading an avatar or photo to Disqus. It makes your comments easier to follow and also puts a face to a name. Thanks.

    1. I should probably change mine so people quit thinking I’m a chick.
      FYI…it’s a guy in the image, but some anime dudes do look like girls…whatevs.


  3. It is my opinion that the coercion involved when businesses pressure customers to pay immediately with a threat of ruining their credit or billing them a greater amount is predatory.

    I’ve never experienced this but would expect my credit card company to permit me to challenge the disputed charge pending resolution. If the company couldn’t prove I was at fault, I would expect the credit card company to disallow the charge. Am I being naïve?

  4. I love how the car claims are always $500 or below, the cost of a typical deductible. Rental companies aren’t stupid enough to get insurances involved, so threatening a customer to pay up or shut up is the new norm. Yay, legal extortion.

    1. Hmm, interesting. I have a zero deductible on my all of my coverage because if I am in need of the coverage, I’m likely not in a position to be laying out $500+ for a deductible, first. I wonder what they would say if I told them I was forwarding the claim to my insurance company to process?

    2. I always decline the optional insurance. I almost always rent from Enterprise. For a while, they would ask the amount of my deductible after I declined. I would state that it was nothing they needed to worry about. The agent would always look flummoxed and say they needed to put something on the rental agreement. So I would again nicely refuse to provide that information. Once, one guy said he would just put $500 and I stopped him from doing that, because I had refused to give him a dollar figure. Eventually, I would get the car and be on my way. No one has asked me that question in a while, I agree the $487 amount is a random total thrown out with the assumption that most people’s deductible is around $500.

  5. It makes me, as a traveler, demand a joint inspection upon room or car assignment. If the company refuses to do a joint inspection then they are not able to say what was or was not there upon my taking/relinquishing custody. But one would have to be willing to spend the time doing the inspections. Something I learned after 26 years in the Navy checking in/out high-priced equipment. It pays to demand a joint check-in/out inspection on the record.

    1. Do you really demand that a hotel send someone to inspect the room with you every time you check in?

      Why not simply inspect the room/car/widget,and if you see anything out of the ordinary, report it. or demand a replacement If everything is kosher, enjoy the day.

      1. I don’t demand a hotel inspect a room unless I find multiple things wrong or damaged. But I most definitely will not take a car without a joint inspection – both ways – always. Yes, because of past charges I do not believe I was responsible for.

      2. If everything is OK and later you get a charge for something you do not believe you caused…the important inspection is on the way out of the hotel (and car).

        1. I disagree. If something is wrong as you’re leaving the hotel or returning the car, the onus is on *you* to prove that the damage existed *prior* to your use. If I find *anything* wrong with anything I’m renting, I not only bring it to the staff’s attention immediately, I take pictures, get the damage noted in writing, and get a staffer to sign off on it as proof. I have yet to get tagged with anything like the situations in the OP, likely because they know I’ve covered my butt.

          1. Of course, damage upon pick-up needs to be reported but the problem is when you think you have dropped off a perfect vehicle and later you get a bill for damage the rental agency says you caused. So be sure to get an company employee to agree that you have given back a car with no damage (the employees who wash and fuel the vehicle may cause damage and blame the last customer).

          2. Same way, but it depends on the time you check out and how much of a hurry you are in. If you have ever been wrongly charged, it’s easier to cover yourself (I haven’t had a problem with a hotel charging me for any damage so I’m not very diligent with this either).

  6. All these stories of damage makes me want to inspect every inch of rooms & cars when travelling, and photograph them also. Maybe if we all do that, and advise the hotels & rental agency that we are doing so, they may be less quick to “discover” damage. Except that is no way to travel.

  7. I once got a huge run-around about something from my security monitoring company. They planned on charge me an unreasonable service fee to disconnect and reconnect some alarm points, with an additional fuel surcharge.

  8. Travel companies seem to be ready and willing to take advantage of travelers, who may be jetlagged or otherwise less-than-ready to deal with such issues. It’s far easier (and more lucrative) to get onsite agreement by threatening a befuddled traveler. Too many cave in to the threats to avoid the hassle.

  9. Now Mr. Chua should file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. He has in writing from the hotel that they could fix the problem for $300, then they charged him $600 so they could buy a new TV that his damage (assuming he caused it) did not require. This is nothing short of credit card fraud, and probably violates a number of laws.

  10. In their own eyes, they’re not impatient – their pressure tactics WORK and bozos fork over hundreds of dollars for supposed damages. As long as people continue to pay the corporation, the corporation will continue to scam their customers.

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