The Travel Troubleshooter: Hotel burns nonsmoking guest with fee

Question: I prepaid for a room at the Ace Hotel New York through a site called recently. I had stayed at Ace Hotel in Palm Springs a year ago with a group, and had been thoroughly impressed with my stay.
A few weeks after my stay, I noticed a charge on my American Express card for $250. I inquired with American Express regarding the charge and after a couple of weeks Amex informed me that, Ace charged me a smoking fee.

There’s just one problem: I don’t smoke.

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In fact, I suffer from allergies and can’t even be around people who smoke. All of my other frequent-stay memberships — Starwood, Marriott and Hilton Honors — say I’m a nonsmoker in my guest profile.

Is this just another way for hotels to make money? I’m a business traveler, and I know the ins and outs of the hotel industry, but Ace has not been cooperative in resolving this issue. Any help you can provide to shed some light on this ridiculous charging practice would be much appreciated. — Bernardino Suva, Los Angeles

Answer: Ace shouldn’t have charged a smoking fee unless you smoked in your room. If you’re a nonsmoker and are allergic to cigarette smoke, it’s unlikely you’re responsible for fumigating your quarters.

Who did it? It could have been a housekeeper. I once returned from breakfast on the day I was supposed to check out of a small inn on Washington state’s San Juan Islands, to find my luggage stacked outside the door. Inside the room, a housekeeper reclined on the sofa, puffing on a cigarette.

“Ya missed your checkout time,” she snarled, taking another drag and turning her head away.

I could have been hit with a smoking fee, but wasn’t.

It could have been a previous guest, too. Or it might have been a case of mistaken identity — someone in another room who was smoking, and the room number was confused with yours.

Are smoking charges a scam? They can be. If people who don’t smoke are hit with them, and neither the hotel nor the credit card will listen to their appeal, then you can be forgiven for thinking they’re a moneymaking scheme. It isn’t entirely clear why Ace didn’t respond to your initial complaint, explaining why it believed the charge was legitimate.

Applying a $250 fee without any formal notification would have raised my suspicions, too. Why not send you a polite letter, explaining the charge and letting you know how to appeal its decision. Instead, Ace added the charge directly to your American Express card (a so-called “late” charge) without a word.

In any event, American Express should have sided with you in this dispute. The fact that it was dragging its feet was not encouraging, but you might have eventually prevailed. Ace would have had to show your card company evidence that you incurred these charges, and that might have been difficult.

Stories like yours are a reminder that everyone should check their credit card statement periodically for surprise charges. If you don’t recognize an item, contact the merchant and ask about it. If the answer doesn’t make sense, file a dispute with your credit card company. Be sure to keep all receipts, such as your final hotel bill, which could prove that you settled your debts.

I contacted Ace on your behalf. A representative phoned you and agreed to refund the $250 fee. He also promised to make some changes to the way in which future cleaning fee claims are handled, to prevent another misunderstanding.

57 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: Hotel burns nonsmoking guest with fee

  1. Why don’t hotels notify you when they add extra charges to your bill?  The short answer is spouses.  Many hotels take the position that your hotel stay is private and any notification of charges might alert unsuspecting spouses.

    Of course, the hotels sends you a confirmation e-mail, a reminder e-mail, a survery e-mail, etc.  So that answer is BS.

    I was recently heartened by the Sheraton in downtown Los Angeles which send me a revised bill as additional charges were added to my bill. 

  2. Not much to comment on Suva’s case specifically.

    I don’t think the $250 smoking recovery fee is a scam, rather, I don’t think it is something that has consistent enforcement. I also don’t think a hotel applies the fee towards a “deep” clean or that the cleaning costs even come close to the $250 fee. Rather, all I think the housekeeping does is spray that obnoxious flower smelling fragrance to cover up the smoke smell, and hope that the next guest doesn’t notice and the smell diffuses out with time.

    My wife is extremely sensitive to smoke, so she is a good barometer for detecting smoke. We also happen to travel frequently, up to 50 nights in hotels in a year. It really surprises me how many so called “non-smoking” rooms have been smoked in before. Sometimes, its really obvious, other times its not so obvious. Also, in our experience, this a high-end luxury hotel is not immune. Once on business, I checked into an upgraded room at a JW Marriott which reeked with cigarette smoke. Because it was so nice, I was willing to tolerate it, but got vetoed by my wife, hence we had to “downgrade.”

    In our experience up to 25% non-smoking rooms have varying degree of residual smoke smell. If we smell smoke, we immediately notify the front desk, and generally try and have a staff member come up and verify, then be moved to another room. Yes, we probably are a pain-in-the-rear guest, but it helps me guarantee a good nights sleep.

    People who smoke in a non-smoking room are jerks, and one of my co-workers is one of those. He will openly brag about how he always requests a non-smoking room because he can’t stand the smell of smoke, then proceed to light up in the room because he wants to. My wife lit into him when she heard this (no pun intended)

    1.  Several years ago, I visited Bangkok with my father.  We requested non-smoking rooms.  We arrived late in the evening, and while my room was OK, my father’s room was unlivable.  (I’m allergic to nicotine, he just doesn’t like it.)  It reeked of stale tobacco; one felt nauseous entering the room.

      My father was furious.  I found the night manager and convinced him that the room was unacceptable — since the hotel was fully booked, I (politely, but clearly — there’s a way to get this done in Thailand without being an ugly American) insisted that every fabric possible be replaced and the carpet cleaned.  It took just over an hour, at 11PM, but it made the room livable.  Probably cost the hotel more than they were making on the room… 

    2. Actually, hotels have to put an ozone machine in the room and that room is considered out of order, causing lost revenue. It’s not just some cheap, flowery scent sprayed to cover the smell. Well, it might be at those sketchy franchise hotels that pay to carry the brand name, but if you’re staying in those places, you probably expect your room to be less than amazing.

  3. I will add, there is a upscale hotel in the North Carolina Mountains that we have been staying at for years. For years, this hotel had non-smoking rooms and smoking rooms. Suddenly this year, the hotel became 100% smoke free. Yet, upon our most recent stay, there was no evidence of major renovations. I’m curious as to how they “cleaned” those previous smoking rooms that are now sold as “non-smoking”

    I strongly suspect that hotels rarely do any special cleaning when a non-smoking room has been smoked it other than spraying obnoxious fragrance. I can’t prove it, so if anyone wants to prove me wrong, I’ll all ears. Hence, I do think the $250 clean fee is a joke. Its clearly a deterrent, but obviously the system doesn’t work well.

  4. Beware the 100% ‘smoke free’ hotel policies. They may be well-intentioned but guests still smoke in them. On checking in, if I sense any lingering smoke in a room, I call the front desk right away and ask them to make a note to their file about it. Not sure if it helps, but I haven’t been socked with a charge (yet) . . .

    1. Absolutely Bruce…you cannot “assume” that the hotel knows that their guests are non-smokers, so the last guest who occupies the non-smoking room may well be hit with charges. ALWAYS cover your a…CYA…as we say!!

    2. Bruce, that’s a trick that smokers use.  Immediately upon checking in, they light a cigarette, flush it down the toilet and report the smell.  When the hotel offers to change rooms, they decline, saying that’s okay. Then, when the room is smoky upon departure, they dont’ get charged.

      My recommendation to the hotels is that, if someone reports smoke in a room, they move rooms as per hotel policy.

      Chris, as far as that maid smoking in the non smoking room in the San Jaun Islands, there is absolutely no question in my mind that she should be fired, with no recourse.  That is absolutely, positively unacceptable.  That hotel is selling non smoking rooms.  I hope you reported her, and if you didn’t report her yet, I hope you do it now. 

      1. Forcing guests to change rooms is never going to become any hotel’s policy. Forcing guests to do anything they don’t want to do is bad customer service, plus moving a guest is a hassle for the hotel and not even a possibility when they’re at capacity. When they give you the option to change rooms the entire time they’re thinking “Please, please, please decide you’re okay with this room.” 

        As for Chris’s story of the maid, I seem to recall from an earlier telling that this happened years ago. Reporting the lady now would be ridiculous. I can see waiting until a trip is completed to report something to avoid possible retribution, but I think that window closes very quickly. Nobody wants to deal with complaints about things that happened months or years ago. Since they’re long past and unverifiable, I doubt any manager would act upon them.

  5. I feel that hotels should notify any guest if additional charges are made after departure.  Even if there is a refund I think the guest should be notified.  They have your email, phone, and physical address.  Sending an email can’t be that difficult.

    The amount of the charge is more of a deterrent than a true cost so it is set relatively high.  But if the smell is bad enough and the room cannot be rented for a day while being cleaned, it may not be too much.  It the charge is enough, most smokers will think twice about smoking in the room so I see the $250 going up in the near future since it doesn’t seem to be enough to too many smokers I know.  

    What is actually cleaned depends on how bad the smoke smell is.  I would think in most cases, this is limited to the removable fabric items (bed spread and maybe curtains) that don’t normally get replaced after every guest and a spray of an odor masking substance.  In more extreme cases, such as when a hotel goes all non-smoking, I would hope this means they bring in professional steam cleaning equipment and clean the furniture and mattress (if they don’t just replace it) and scrub down the walls.

    Being one of those people who is very sensitive to smoke, nothing bothers me more in a hotel than to get a so called non smoking room that smells of old smoke.  I have been choosing hotels that are totally non smoking and have had better luck with getting clean rooms, but even there it occasionally happens.  I was staying at a nice hotel in Hawaii that had balconies for every room.  It had gone 100% non smoking several year previously.  The person next door would go out on the balcony and smoke which would blow into my room.  I reported this to the hotel and they immediately sent someone to the room to tell that person to stop.  He was adamant that he was not smoking (I could hear him through the walls) until they found the beer can on the balcony full of cigarettes.  What I don’t understand is if you are a smoker, why book a room at a non smoking hotel and then smoke there?  There are still plenty of nice hotels that allow smoking.

    1. The “non smoking” Marriott World Center in Orlando, which states that guests may not smoke within 25 feet of the entrances -actually permits smoking on EVERY balcony…it is referred to by them as a smoking area.

      Some hotels just don’t get it.

    2. Smokers stay in non-smoking hotels because they often have no choice.  And even when a smoker tries to be polite and considerate, they sometimes get crap from others.  So please think before you condemn addicts.

  6. Chris, Let me give you a few different scenarios.  A few decades ago I was in Sacramento and didn’t get to a hotel until  0130 AM.  I went up to the room and opened the door. Someone screamed. The hotel had made a mistake. While I was flustered, what about the person who had his door opened. Why didnt he use the latch too.     In August 1992, while assigned to major university branch with headquarters  in an  AF base near Tokyo.  About 30 went to attend  a three day symposium at a lovely retreat.   All the rooms were No Smoking.  A peer–we  were all college teachers–went on a binge and smoked  in his room all  night.  The retreat owners were horrified.  How could they  completely remove the smoke odor? Bill the university?  Bill the teacher?   I feel  the    teacher should have been immediately fired, just to show the retreat owners that such  behavior would not be tolerated   He  wasn’t.  What could/should have been done?

    1. I feel that person should have been immediately kicked out of the room and left to fend for himself.  He should have also been charged whatever the cleaning costs were.  And he should have been fired for being a jerk.  

      But then maybe I am biased against smokers.  They should all be shipped off to a deserted island without cigarettes until they no longer feel the need to smoke any more.

    2. Really, fired??? Next time you make a mistake, let me give your boss a call and give them the same advice.

      I agree the person should have been kicked out of the room for smoking but fired, come on.

      I bet you’re the same type of person who likes to call up and complains
      at stores and restaurants when you don’t get your way and DEMAND that
      person be fired.

      I’m glad you take someone’s job and livelihood so seriously. 

      1. I own property that is non-smoking, inside and outside. No smokers allowed. If I found out my cleaning crew/person was lounging around and smoking in my house…..they would be fired so fast their head would spin. Employees once hired and are expected to follow the policies of the hotel/motel as the customers do.

      2. Smoking where you know you are not supposed to is not a mistake. 

        Do what our company does – if someone even smells faintly of smoke at an interview they are not considered.  “Not a good fit” is the reason, which isn’t a lie.

        1. Smokers not a good fit? Perhaps like our President?

          Besides, ever heard of this little nuisance called second hand smoke.   Be in the proximity of a smoker or two for five minutes and you will smell more than “faintly of smoke”

    3. That’s a bit harsh.  Smoking in a nonsmoking room should hardly be a firing offense. The teacher should have been billed for the cost of remediating the room.  If the teacher pays it, the matter should be closed.

      1. If you drive the wrong way on a one way street, tell me the officer is going to give you a warning?  The amount for violating this law is not posted on every sign.    The ticket will be issued.  If someone can’t understand “No Smoking,”  ask at the front desk.

        Carver. The university paid the bill for all the rooms.  So, after learning about the violation, the university could have deducted the amount from the person’s pay. If he protested, remind him that he broke a rule which caused the university lots of havoc and goodwill. If he is still so dense,
        give him the boot.   Letting the errant teacher know of the cost and then taking it out is better than try to collect.

        1. That’s a total strawman argument.  No one is suggesting that your colleague was in any way innocent or that he didn’t know what he was doing.  The issue is whether your proposed punishment of termination fits the crime of willfully smoking in a non-smoking room.

          I can’t even begin to artiiculate how over draconian and ill-conceived such a punishment sounds.  And I say this as a rabid non-smoker.

    4. The university should have been billed and then forwarded the bill to him as part of his responsibilities, as he was representing the institution and therefore was responsible for not causing harm to the name and reputation of the institution.

      Or just tell him “thank you, now you get to pay for it”.

      I don’t smoke, I don’t like cigarette smoke, but I won’t tell people they can’t smoke (I just move away); if you violate the rules, you should deal with it (or be forced to deal with it) and not expect your employer to deal with it for you with no personal repercussions.

  7. First of all, this was a column about one person being charged a smoking fee when they hadn’t/don’t smoke.  It’s NOT a column called, “Let’s bash and vilify every single smoker in the world because they suck and need to die.”

    There were a couple of posters here who thought all smokers should go to an island by themselves.  Another who insinuates that all smokers are jerks, and another still who believes that every single smoker in the world walks into their hotel room and lights a cigarette so they can tell the hotel someone smoked there.  Wow, what a dishonest lot we are – all smokers in the world.  How pure, wonderful and self-righteous it must be in your world.

    Not ALL smokers walk into their hotel room and light a cigarette so they can get away with it for the duration of their stay.  Not ALL smokers use the balconies for smoking, in spite of the fact the hotel says we can.  Not ALL smokers sit right outside the front door in spite of the fact the hotel says we can.  I’ve actually been sitting in a cordoned off smoking area (a 12 x 12 space) on the outside of a hotel and had a non-smoker come and ask me to stop smoking because it was bothering them.  I was outside in a 12 x 12 space and the non-smoker had, well, the rest of the great outdoors.  They moved INTO my space and then declared it bothered them?  How about you move, Sparky?  I was sitting on my fat arse minding my own business when you came along to bother ME!

    Seems to me, smokers are a great deal more forgiving of non-smokers and their temper tantrums than non-smokers are of smokers and their addiction. (Oh, and in order to be allergic to something, you have to have been exposed to it.  If you are allergic to nicotine, that means you were a smoker and probably would still be one were it not for your “allergy”.)

    Oh, and the hotel did things wrong.  They should have contacted the OP BEFORE putting the charge on the bill and, alternatively, they shouldn’t have ignored the OP when they tried to put it right.

    1. You are right not all smokers, but imo more often than not, smokers generally don’t care. I live in a high-rise building and I live on the pool deck but have a private balcony with cypress trees on it and you would not believe all the lazy smokers who just throw their cig. butts in my plants rather than the smoking receptacle that is just 10 feet away. I see this everywhere too. You walk by a building in downtown and there are butts everywhere 25ft from any entrance, as well as a cig. butt receptacle. Are people really that lazy to actually throw them away properly?

      1. I agree with you.  People using your planter as an ashtray should be made to repair the damage their cigarettes are going to create.  As a long-time smoker, I DO care.  

        I have lived in my current home for just over 5 years now and not once have my husband or I smoked in it.  We know it’s not our permanent home and by not smoking in it, it keeps it more marketable.  Were we to have smoked in it, a number of potential buyers would turn their backs on it the moment they hit the door.  We also have sand filled tall ashtrays outside both doors with a sign on the door telling visitors it’s a no smoking area inside the house.  

        “But YOU smoke!!!!!”  Yes we do, and it’s also our home and we can choose where to do it.  We live on 4 acres.  You can smoke anywhere but within these 2300 square feet.  And don’t throw your lit cigarettes anywhere but in this ashtray.  We live in a fire hazard area.Not all smokers are assholes, jerks, worthy of being killed, whatever else people have threatened me/ them with here.

    2. Easy now…

      I will re-quote my earlier statement “People who smoke in a non-smoking room are jerks, and one of my
      co-workers is one of those. He will openly brag about how he always
      requests a non-smoking room because he can’t stand the smell of smoke,
      then proceed to light up in the room because he wants to. My wife lit
      into him when she heard this (no pun intended”

      Unless you purposefully smoke in a designated non-smoking room, then you aren’t being called a jerk. Am I missing something???

    3. Nancy, I don’t smoke but do know exactly what you are saying. We have non smoking laws now in bars and restaraunts and it makes my visit a lot more enjoyable. However, if I know people are going have to go out on the patio to smoke, I am not going to also go out there and complain when I smell said smoke. I could have just as easily stayed inside. Plus, the taxes on smokes are outragous. if everyone stopped smoking like people claim they want, then everyone’s taxes would have to go up and people would complain even more.

      Anyway, back to the OP, the hotel should have immediately given a reason for the charge as well as taken any proof the OP may have had showing he did not smoke. I would think any few notarized statements would have worked.

      1. I don’t even like smoke-filled rooms and CAN’T STAND a smoking hotel room.  The smell bothers me to no end.  This is one of the biggest reasons why I try to be a conscionable (is this even a word?) smoker.  However, look at how rabid people became on here, demanding their rights superseded mine simply because they disagreed with me.

        Smoking cigarettes is a perfectly legal thing to do.  It’s not as though I’m shooting heroin in the smoking area.  However, were I addicted to heroin instead of cigarettes, these same people would be falling all over themselves to “help” me with my addiction.

    4. Well Nancy, there are enough smokers that are jerks that it is a significant annoyance.

      – Last night, I went to check into a hotel and there were two smokers standing right in the entrance, blocking the way and filling the whole area with smoke.  It was a posted “no smoking area”.  An hour later, there were three airline employees smoking just to the west of the doorway “upwind” so their smoke was blowing into the doorway and into the hotel.  There were “no smoking” signs in both places and a designated smoking area that was covered and with chairs and tables a short distance away.

      -Earlier this week, I booked into a “smoke free” hotel and was given an upgraded room, which had a patio door opening to a nice green area.  I opened my window, and the guy in the room right next to me was smoking right by my door and his so that I got smoke instead of fresh air.  When I changed to another room and opened the window, I could see where previous guests had butted out their cigarettes on the ledge.  I see this often.

      – in that same ‘smoke free” hotel, which has signs at the entrance pointing to the smoking area and stating “no smoking” in the entrance, there were groups of people continually going, right by the “no smoking” sign and smoking, ignoring the designated area where they were supposed to go.  As a result, tobacco smoke was coming into the lobby of the hotel, polluting the whole area and was also coming in up the stairs and making the whole lounge area smoky.

      I wouldn’t bash smokers if they didn’t do these things.  Whether you are the one polite smoker on the planet or not, the fact remains that there are enough smokers that are inconsiderate and obnoxious that it causes more annoyance and inconvenience than virtually any other group of people on earth.  That’s why we bash them. We’re sick and tired of trying to stay out of their way when in fact, despite having special areas made for them to indulge, they continually ignore it and get in the way of everyone who doesn’t want to encounter the smoke.

      That’s why mention of smoking turns into smoker bashing.

      Every single building that’s occupied by a significant amount of people has smokers outside the doorway polluting each and every person that passes through.  I’m talking office buildings, shopping malls, airports, hotels, you name it.

      Overwhelmingly, each and every way you look at it, enough smokers show a flagrant disregard for their fellow human beings.

      When is the last time you suggested to someone they don’t smoke in the doorway?  Or pointed someone to the designated smoking area? Chances are, you just walked on by.

      Walk around with your eyes open and see what’s happening.  Smokers who are inconsiderate (which seems to be a lot of them) are the cause of all this backlash.
      I would prefer to not deal with smoking issues ever. I am willing to avoid smoking areas.  Unfortunately, I am forced to deal with it every day pretty much when I am on the road, so you better believe that I am going do whatever I can to change the situation.  Not saying they can’t smoke, but they should behave, and they don’t.

      1. “When is the last time you suggested to someone they don’t smoke in the doorway?  Or pointed someone to the designated smoking area? Chances are, you just walked on by.”
        Then you would be wrong.  I can’t stand to see cigarette butts marring an otherwise beautiful job of landscaping some of these hotels can do.  If you knew me, you’d know I don’t leave a whole lot unsaid.  I’m the FIRST one to say something to these people – “Uh, you do know there’s a smoking area about 20 feet that way, don’t you?  Here – I’m a smoker too.  Walk with me so I can show you where it is.”

        Most times, the hotels have a bench or table there, some ashtrays, one Marriott in Phoenix even had a mister, there might even be a soda machine near.

    5. My comment about shipping all the smokers to an island was sarcasm.  The following is not. 

      I don’t care if you are a smoker.  If you choose to smoke, then that is your choice.  What you do in your own house, car, backyard or anywhere else outdoors is your choice and your right.  If I choose not to associate with you because you are a smoker and smoke makes me ill, then that is my right as well.  I do care if smokers ignore the no smoking signs in hotel rooms, rental cars, the Honolulu airport (even though it is technically mostly outdoors) and various other locations because they feel it is their right to smoke.  Those are the ones my disgust is aimed at.  I have respect and understanding for the choices made by those who put up the no smoking signs.  It is their choice to not want people smoking in those locations and since they own those places it is also their right to ban smoking.  I feel smokers should have the same respect and understanding for those choices.

      I am alergic to nicotine because both my parents were smokers when I was young.  They smoked a carton a day between the two of them.   My brother and I were constantly going to the doctor (who always had a cigarrete hanging out of his mouth [this was the ’60s]) with respiratory issues.  When my parents quit smoking, my cronic health issues cleared up. I never smoked because I simply cannot.  (I also never found any compelling reason to start.)

      Most smokers simply don’t understand how ill the smell of smoke can make someone who is sensitive to tobacco.  Their sense of smell and taste is dulled by the nicotine.  I know many former smokers who quit for various reasons and they have all said they never knew how sickening stale smoke was until they quit smoking.

      1. “They smoked a carton a day between the two of them”
        Your parents smoked 10 packs of cigarettes a day between the two of them?  Did they sleep with a lit cigarette in their mouth at all times?  Did they shower with a cigarette in their mouth?  Did they die of emphysema at the age of 30?  Assuming they were awake 16 hours a day, that’s 6 cigarettes an hour per person – 12 cigarettes an hour.  Really?  That’s a cigarette every 12 minutes!

        Now that you’ve shown you prefer exaggeration to the truth, you are no longer germane to this discussion, at least as far as I’m concerned.

    6. “Seems to me, smokers are a great deal more forgiving of non-smokers and their temper tantrums than non-smokers are of smokers and their addiction.” 

       That’s a joke, right?  
      What should smokers forgive us for? What have we done that is similarly systematically polluting the air and the lungs of those around us?  
      My father and his lung cancer–which is the #1 type of lung cancer for NON-SMOKERS, caused by secondhand smoke–are not “temper tantrums.”



      If you are allergic to nicotine, that means you were a smoker and probably would still be one were it not for your “allergy”.)

      You got me.  I confess, I was born and grabbed a cigarette from the Obgyn who oversaw the delivery.  It wasn’t until my father quit smiking when I was 2, after my allergy was diagnosed, that I also quit smoking.

  8. I can bet it’s a scam. Most of the time Hotel make a round in the room to check think and minibar before guest check out.
    I never smoke in  my life, once I stayed in a non-smoking room, at the time of check out, the hotel told me an astray was missing and want to charge me for the ashtray. I laughed out loud and ask to see the Manager on the spot. The Manager apologized for the “misunderstanding” which I interpreted as a “mishandling of an attempt of a scam”, may be not by the Hotel but by the personnel try to scam oversee tourists.

  9. As much as I agree with the $250 charge that hotels apply as an additional fee when someone smokes in a non-smoking guest room, I strongly believe it’s the responsibility of the hotel to inform the guest that such a charge will be put through on the credit card.

    If the hotel fails to inform the hotel guest of the additional charge, then the guest has every right to dispute the charge and have their money returned, no questions ask.

  10. 13 years with American Express with three disputed (and correctly so) bogus charges by hotels with never a positive resolution by AMEX caused  me to drop the card.  They never sided with me even though I had irrefutable proof of my side of the charges.  Minor (less than $100 in each occasion), but a matter of principle.  A local radio program host of a call in program once said, in fact, that American Express hardly ever sides with a card holder in small disputes as it doesn’t want to offend the retailer and lose the account.  Perhaps.

    1. Generally I would not pay a disputed charge. Rather I would close the account, leave that part unpaid, and let the credit card company go to court if it wanted to.

  11. Remember that this same situation/problem exists with rental cars.  Any time I receive a rental car that smells even slightly like smoke, I demand a different car.

    Part of the reason for doing this is because I’m sensitive to the smell of cigarette smoke.   But the main reason for doing this relates back to a problem I had 5-6 years ago.  I picked up a rental at LAX through one of the big-name companies, and noticed that it smelled of cigarette smoke (along with having over 30,000 miles on the odometer).  I rationalized that I was running late already and that I was only going to have the car for a day, so I kept it anyway.

    Upon check-in, I was told that the car smelled like smoke and that I would be liable for getting it cleaned.  Fortunately, I had plenty of time to catch my flight, so I stayed with the car (in the middle of the check-in lane), and refused to let them move it until a manager came out to assess the situation.  I stayed civil through the whole process, and after 10 minutes or so they had to take action because my car was right in the middle of the check-in area and was starting to interfere with the surrounting activities.  Ultimately the manager arrived, inspected the car, agreed with my position, and agreed to sign a note stating that I wasn’t responsible for the smoky car. 

    1. I had a similar situation. The car had an odd smell, like smoke and disinfectant. My guess is they tried to get the smell out and couldn’t. I was in a hurry and only keeping the car one night…and actually liked the car otherwise and the smell was not overpowering. I agreed to keep it only if the agent signed the damage form acknowledging the smell. She refused claiming that isn’t something they would charge me for anyway…so I asked for another car and she then agreed to sign the damage form acknowledging the odor rathing than processing the rental again. When I returned the car, I was asked by the agent checking me in if I smoked in the car. I told him I don’t smoke, he then said he was going to charge me for smoking in the car anyway! I told him the agent checking me out acknowledged the odor on the damage form. He looked at it and seemed surprised saying something to the effect of “they aren’t supposed to acknowledge smoke on the damage form.” I wasn’t charged, but the experience does make me believe the policy and fees are being abused by some entities.

  12. Several years ago, while staying in a really nice hotel in Hong Kong, we requested a non-smoking room. They structure the hotel with alternating floors being smoking and non-smoking. One morning we awoke to the smell of cigarette smoke in our room. Seems that our neighbor, who shared a suite door was puffing away like a chimney. We opened our suite door and stuffed towels under and around the door, then closed our door and did the same. We complained to the front desk, but they looked at us like we were complaining that the carpet was the wrong color. Seems that in Hong Kong, smoking is such a trivial matter it is rarely enforced…

  13. I had a different experience involving my home. My rule is no smoking.
    I had a friend in AF who had spent some time periodically.  He had been there a few nights. Usually he left to work on the AF base before I got up.

    One morning I got up a bit early and he was sleeping late. Entering my office I smelled cigarette smoke.  His bedroom was right across the hall and the door was locked.  Walked into the living room/kitchen and could still smell it.Went back into the office. Wrote him a note.  Before leaving I woke him up, told him to leave and that my house was off-limits now.  Was told by a family member that he never smoked cigarettes.

    About fhree years later, she and I got to talking. He did not smoke cigs. He smoked weed. He would go outside or even open the garage door.  That paricular evening/early he smoked inside my house. I smeled it. Goodbye!

  14. I’m not sure if it’s the smokers’ contrariness, selfishness or feeling of entitlement or pure driven addiction that makes them smoke where they are told not to, even when there are plenty of alternative places for them to go to.

    When I had a small establishment, we had a few of them.  One couple was genuinely shocked that their smoking was discovered…in spite of a no smoking sign on the check-in desk, in the room and on the front door.  In their endeavor to hide their smoking like teenagers, they opened their window wide.   They were not so driven to smoke that they would dress and go outside in the cold.  However, they were so driven that they sat in bed under their blankets with two windows wide open.  Raising the heating bill as well as sending whiffs of cigarette smoke under the door.  We were nice enough to try to clean items ourselves and but charged for every Waverly throw pillow and down bedding item and lace pillowcase that needed to be specially cleaned.  And they were still shocked.

    Another time, a couple was there with a single man.  They seemed to want to impress him.  They knew there was no smoking.  They must have known this man, whom they seemed to know well, was a smoker.  His clothing reeked of it. His room reeked of it.  The couple looked at me sheepishly, knowing they were all found out.  I mentioned it politely to the host couple.  Did no good.  So I told the single man.  He had the nerve to be defensive.  He said if the place burned down, we had insurance didn’t we.  I said insurance companies are not that stupid.  They are not going to just hand over a very large sum blithely.  They are going to look into how the fire started.  However, they would not have to look far in his case because I would give his name immediately.  They would hunt him down and fine him and we would sue him. ( I owned the place so I could say those things other people always wanted to say in such situations.)

  15. My experience with American Express has been completely the opposite.  In my 3 or 4 challenges in 20 or so years, American Express has sided with me every time, with almost no documentation from me.  I use my card particularly when I’m looking for protection.  My number has been stolen a number of times over the years, and every time, they told me before I discovered it.  

    I don’t know why my experience has been so different….

  16. There is no such thing as a smoke allergy.  You can be sensative to smoke but there is no allergy.  It does add some drama though.

    1. I consider myself sensitive to smoke, I can’t stand the smell and it makes me queasy. My sister is allergic. Her eyes will puff up and turn red, she gets congested and will even start wheezing if it’s strong enough.  She’s also allergic to pollen, dust and cat dander, which has the same result.  While not everyone claiming to be allergic is being honest, please don’t assume no one is allergic. 

      An let’s not forget the folks with asthma.  I have a friend who is asthmatic and while it’s rare for him to have an episode, smoke will almost always force him to use his inhaler.  Just another view.

    2. The allergy is not to the smoke itself, but to the chemical compounds in the smoke.  Nicotine, arsenic and various other hazardous chemicals released from tobacco smoke are what cause the discomfort that non smokers feel.  

      On the other hand, hardwood smoke from a barbecue is enjoyed by most people, unless they get a large quantity directly in their eyes, because of the lack of those irritants.

  17. I’ve learned one lesson from this story — never stay at an Ace Hotel as this does not sound like a misunderstanding on the part of this hotel chain.

  18. Out of all the comments, I notice one point that hasn’t been brought up.  While it’s likely the OP is being charged improperly, every hotel I’ve been to in the last five years has a statement at the bottom of the registration form advising of the fee for smoking in a non-smoking room.  That’s notification of the possibility — but, of course, people can’t be bothered to take 2 minutes to read the fine print before signing (we’re not talking a 30-page software EULA, here; we’re talking about at most two inches of language at the bottom of a single piece of paper).

    Granted, that’s not the issue — but a lot of posts seem to be overlooking the probability that the charge itself is not a secret.

    Of course, they can’t deal with this at checkout because they haven’t inspected your room, yet.  That’s why this particular charge can be a major nuisance; it’s the guest’s word vs. the hotel’s with no solid proof on either side.

    1. They don’t read the text at the bottom of the form signed at checkin, the sign that is sitting on the desk in the room, the no smoking emblem on the door to the hotel room, the sticker on the balcony window or anything else in the room either.  

  19. With the almost total hotel & restaurant/bar smoking ban in Hawaii these past few years, it’s a hoot to see how far guests will go to smoke in non-designated areas including their own lanais.  The only tactic that works consistently is to inform the guest they are breaking a state law and subject to a fine or worse.

  20. I don’t smoke, but went out to a very smoky club once, came back and went to bed. The next day I noticed a smoky smell in my room and complained. I realized later on in the day that it was my clothes from the night before that reaked of smoke. (LOL) If guests get charged purely based on the smell, some must get charged for the smell, even if they never smoked! I mean, the charge is to remove the smoke after all.

  21. Uh, Chris, I kind of would like to know which inn in the San Juan Islands you were staying at, especially if the front desk staff did not fall all over themselves apologizing for the outrageous conduct of that cleaning-woman and assure you that she would be fired immediately?  Because its name will be added to my already long “do not patronize, EVER” list… 

  22. I had this happen to us just a week ago! The hotel charged us for $250 and said we smoked in a non-smoking room. My husband and I both hate smoke, and he is allergic to it. We tried working with the hotel and they refuse to work with us, we tried the bank and they said it is between us and the hotel, and Corporate says the same thing. The fact that this hotel can just make whatever charges they want and everyone lets them get away with it is ridiculous. I have lost all my trust in hotels now.

  23. This kind of thing happened to me a few years ago … I checked in late at a hotel I had stayed at for years and left early the next day for a meeting.  I did not process that there was no ash tray, I had one in my truck  I think that hotels were just starting to get militant about non-smoking rooms.  I probably had 3 cigarettes in that hotel room and received a $350 charge on my AmEx.  When I called I was told it was a smoking fee in a N/S room.  $350???  For a guest who has stayed at your hotel 2 dozen times, always in a smoking room?   I finally got the hotel manager on the line, she told me that I broke her toilet so that was the extra $150.  I pointed out to her that I was a Platinum Priority Club member and did not go around breaking hotel toilets and that I had booked a smoking room and should have been told that the whole hotel had just gone “non-smoking”.   I finally agreed to pay half of the smoking charge, since I should have paid attention, but it took 4 phone calls and guess what … I haven’t been back to that hotel since.  Dumb da dumb dumb.

    P.S.  The story about the maid reclining on the sofa smoking after stacking your luggage in the hall  is hysterical.

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