Help! I’m being charged $574 for hotel room damage I didn’t cause

Hotel room damage charges are difficult to fight.

Kevin Kiernan has many memories of his recent trip to Australia, but shattering the TV screen in his Melbourne hotel room isn’t one of them. So why is he being charged for this hotel room damage?

Question

We recently completed a trip to Australia, booked through Qantas. After our return, I noted a $574 charge to our credit card from The Prince at St. Kilda, our hotel in Melbourne.

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When challenged, the hotel said that we damaged the television and they sent a picture of a TV with a damaged screen. We received no notice prior to the charge and we adamantly deny we caused this damage.

We are 61-year-old experienced travelers and have never had a problem like this. I did not document the room condition when we left so we feel at somewhat of a disadvantage.

Do you think you can help? Kevin Kiernan, Bothell, Wash.

Answer

What an unpleasant way to conclude your trip Down Under!

No hotel should indiscriminately charge your credit card hundreds of dollars without your permission or knowledge. But that is exactly what The Prince Hotel did. Sans any explanation or conversation, the management processed a $574 charge to your credit card.

And since you had prepaid your hotel through Qantas Vacations and had only provided your credit card to the front desk for incidental purchases, you were perplexed.

Mysterious hotel room damage

The Qantas representative who booked your vacation emailed The Prince hotel to find out what happened. She discovered that after you had checked out, a maid reported that the TV in your room was damaged.

Apparently, that was all the proof the hotel needed to declare you the culprit. Your credit card was charged immediately and no attempt was made to notify you of the hotel’s actions.

When the Qantas representative made no effort to rectify the problem, you sent your complaint to our advocacy team.

Often when I read through a complaint, I can see some way that the situation might have been avoided. And there is usually some lesson that can be learned.

But in your case, I could see no possible way that you could have avoided this problem. You had enjoyed your stay at the Prince. When you checked out of your room, the TV was not cracked and you received a receipt for your stay showing a zero balance. You had no reason to expect that any problem was brewing.

If you are are a regular reader of our site, then you know that we frequently recommend documenting the state of your rental car at pick-up and return — but I can’t say that we have ever recommended documenting the state of your hotel room at check out.

A pre-cleaning inspection detected the damage to the hotel room

I contacted the management of The Prince and asked for clarification about this mysterious hotel room damage accusation. I was also curious as to why your card had been charged hundreds of dollars without so much as a phone call or email explanation. And I requested that the hotel reverse the charge.

The manager of the hotel responded that while he apologized for the way your credit card had been charged without notice, he still believed that the damage charge was valid. He said that the room had undergone a “pre-cleaning inspection” and that is when the damaged TV was discovered.

A pre-cleaning inspection? I had never heard of such a thing, but I asked to see the report from this inspection.
A report may or may not exist — the hotel did not send one. But what did happen is that the manager asked me for a recommendation as to how to handle the situation.

Of course, since I’m a consumer advocate, it wouldn’t be hard to guess the suggestion that I gave the manager.

Someone did crack the TV, that’s true. But you were clear that you had not caused this damage. The photograph that the hotel provided showed a flat-screen TV sitting precariously on a table — not securely mounted on the wall.

Looking at the photo, it was not hard to imagine that the TV could have been easily knocked over by anyone who had entered the room after your left — a maid, a minibar attendant or any other person with room access.

Negotiations

Since there is no way of determining what exactly happened, I suggested that in the spirit of good customer relations, the hotel should give their guest the benefit of the doubt.

The manager told me that he would be happy to discuss this problem with you directly.

Unfortunately prior to charging Mr Kiernan’s card, we were unable to make contact with him to discuss this matter as there were no contact details provided on our check-in card. We tend to respect the decision not to provide contact details as in this day and age, privacy is a contentious matter. We would certainly be happy to speak to Mr. Kiernan directly.

The good news

I forwarded your contact information and the next day you reported that after a friendly conversation with the manager, he was convinced that you had not shattered the TV screen. He apologized for how The Prince handled this incident and he hoped that it did not tarnish your memories of Australia. And your $574 has been returned. G’Day, mate! (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

Have you ever been falsely accused of causing hotel room damage?

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