Here is the most ridiculous hotel theft charge I’ve ever seen (Thanks, Choice)

This hotel theft charge is most ridiculous -- pillow thievery.

Now it’s time to reveal the most ridiculous hotel theft charge ever: pillow thievery at a two-star hotel.

During a recent stay at a Quality Inn, it never crossed Tim Kendall’s mind to steal the luxurious pillows in his room. But that didn’t stop the manager of this Choice Hotels franchised property from branding the elderly man as a pillow thief. And you won’t believe the outrageous value that this guy placed on two standard pillows.

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Now Kendall wants the Elliott Advocacy team to help clear his name.

This case, unfortunately, highlights what appears to be a growing problem in the hotel industry. It seems that some franchise owners are actively searching for additional sources of revenue. And with their guests’ credit cards in hand, many are liberally applying wacky charges they can’t substantiate.

How much do two standard pillows really cost at a Quality Inn Hotel?

Lois Kendall contacted the Elliott Advocacy team in an outrage. Her 76-year-old husband was on an adventure — a bucket list of sorts. He was riding his motorcycle, exploring the world, having a fabulous time when this ridiculous situation began.

And Lois wasn’t having it.

“In a nutshell, my husband was accused of hotel theft — stealing two pillows from his room after a one-night stay at the Quality Inn,” Lois reported. “This is outrageous. My husband is a man of honor. He’s never stolen anything in his life. This theft accusation is a grave injustice. And the charge is $60! What kind of pillows are these?”

When I read through this complaint, I had so many questions about this hotel’s theft accusation. Why would anyone steal standard pillows from a Quality Inn? And how on Earth could these pillows be worth $60? And finally, how could a pillow thief make his getaway on a motorcycle? I’m not a motorcyclist, but I imagine pillows would just be cumbersome on a bike.

Everything about this hotel theft charge was ridiculous. I was confident that there was some misunderstanding, and I just needed to speak to the manager, Brian Johnson.

Is there an incident report to support this hotel theft charge?

I reached out to Johnson in hopes that we could quickly fix this problem. I called him, and I emailed him — again and again. No response. I left a message on his voicemail and asked for the evidence of the stolen pillows and the receipts to show that his Quality Inn spends $30 per pillow. Johnson ignored all of my attempts to get his explanation about this charge of pillow thievery. So I assume that no incident report exists, nor do receipts for these very expensive hotel pillows.

If you’re a regular reader of Elliott.org, then you might remember the similarly outrageous case of Doris Weller. She contacted the Elliott Advocacy team’s helpline after a Hampton Inn accused her of saturating her bed in urine. That franchised property manager wanted Weller to pay $250 to clean the mattress. (And presumably, put it back into service — Yikes!)

In Weller’s case, both Hilton (the parent company of Hampton Inn) and the franchise management company, Remington, investigated. The hotel management had failed to document the “damages” and was unable to provide any evidence to support its outrageous accusation. Weller got her money back but Hampton Inn lost a loyal customer.

A basic incident report should be generated any time a hotel damage or hotel theft charge is applied to a guest’s credit card. This protocol is a common-sense approach and a good business practice. In the absence of any proof to support a wild accusation such as the ones leveled at Weller and Kendall, the evidence points to something else entirely. And it doesn’t paint the management of these establishments in a good light.

Choice Hotels refuses to address this hotel theft charge

It’s highly unusual for the corporate offices of a company to ignore the mediation attempts of the Elliott Advocacy team. Our team works hard every day of the week to reach fair resolutions between consumers and companies. Most companies want their side of the story known and wish to correct any misunderstandings or errors within their system. And if the consumer is in the wrong, which is sometimes the case, those executives want to provide the reason why.

So with that in mind, it’s unsettling to report that no one at Choice Hotels responded to my inquiries. I contacted the head of their public relations department via email and phone with no response — several times. And I also tried other channels within the company. I don’t give up easily.

The customer service department did send the Kendalls advice to work it out with the franchise.

The Fair Credit Billing Act to the rescue

This case is the perfect example of why you should not use debit cards to pay for hotel accommodations. The Fair Credit Billing Act protects credit card using consumers against, among other things, unsubstantiated charges. (The Federal Trade Commission explains how to properly utilize the FCBA in its article on the topic.) Certainly, an elderly man being charged $60 for hotel thievery and motorcycle pillow abduction meets the criteria for a proper credit card dispute. Barring any evidence from the management to support this hotel theft charge, Kendall will win.

Choice Hotels may ignore our advocacy efforts, but it doesn’t have that luxury in a credit card dispute. The bank will force the company to provide evidence to support the replacement of these $60 pillows.

An emotional toll

Unfortunately, that won’t provide the vindication that Kendall and his wife want. As Lois explains:

Let’s face it, this isn’t about the $60; it’s about an accusation of theft. This is about fraudulently adding a $60 charge onto his bill. This is about being victimized by an establishment he chose to patronize. My husband did not steal from this hotel room. He’s never stolen anything.

In Tim’s words, this was his “last hurrah.” He’s ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway several times and enjoyed it immensely. But he will be 77 years old in September, and the trip is getting more difficult and tedious for him. He said, “This will be my last trip.”

Now, he’ll never have that last good memory. All he will remember is how this Quality Inn accused him of stealing two pillows. Really, does anyone honestly believe this man wanted or needed two pillows? And that he sped away on his motorcycle, carrying those two standard pillows? What a bizarre accusation.

Tim is distraught over this attack on his character. This situation has taken a terrible toll on both my husband and me.

Choice Hotels: No apology and no explanation

Regrettably, I can’t extract an apology from Choice Hotels for the Kendalls. What I can do is point out the similarities between Kendall and Weller: seniors traveling alone to a franchised hotel property. And our team will keep an eye out for this pattern and continue to fight for consumers who have found wacky additional hotel charges on their credit cards after check out.

And Lois Kendall? She’s a former journalist, and she’s not giving up this fight to clear her husband’s good name from this hotel theft charge. He didn’t steal from his hotel room. He’s not a pillow thief and she is on a mission to vindicate him by telling his story in as many outlets as possible. She’s sure this is a new form of elder abuse.

She might be right.

Update:

Right before this story went to publication I received this “non-response” from a first-name-only customer service executive at Choice Hotels:

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your e-mails. Please be advised, Choice Hotels is unable to discuss this matter with you as you are not the guest. Our offices have already responded to the guest accordingly and have advised what steps they need to take to see this matter resolved. No further responses will be made to your requests and inquiries.

Thank you,

Jose A.
Executive Guest Services

The response Jose is referencing? Choice Hotels sent a reiteration that this is a franchised property, and Kendall and her husband will need to work it out directly with the property.

And for the record, as we do with all the companies we contact, I provided Choice Hotels with a release from the Kendalls which permits me to advocate on their behalf.

Update July 16: The good news about this hotel theft charge

Today Lois sent me the fabulous news that Choice Hotels finally responded, positively. I’ll let Lois explain:

Michelle, You’re the first to know – it’s over!  I just got a call from Michael Thompson, project manager for Choice Hotels.  Customer Relations reports to him.  I told him my story, including how you have been advocating for us, and I referred him to your web site to read the story and the comments.

He said it never should have happened.  I agreed.  I said if someone had had the courtesy to respond to me – or to you – this could have been resolved weeks ago.

Anyway, he apologized to Tim, was extremely friendly to him on the phone and said the charges would be canceled and he would add points to our account.  He said he wanted us to have a good experience with their hotels.  I told him I didn’t want anything from him – only to tell Tim they no longer accused him of stealing and that the charge would be dropped.  I guess he thought I was looking for a free room or something – I wasn’t. You know I just wanted Tim to be vindicated.

Choice Hotels public relations finally answers my email and phone calls

I also heard from the public relations department of Choice Hotels:

Hi Michelle,

While the hotels in our system are independently owned and operated, guest satisfaction is very important to us. We contacted the guests directly and have reached an amicable solution.

Best,

Alannah Don
Coordinator, Public Relations
Choice Hotels International

Gee, thanks for finally responding! And now that Choice Hotels has vindicated Tim, we can put this story to rest — without two used Quality Inn pillows.

What do you think about Choice Hotels’ response to this case? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Should Choice Hotels have provided more assistance to Tim Kendall?

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