When Samantha Armstrong sees a mystery charge on her hotel bill, she’s told it’s because she smoked in her non-smoking room — and they say they have photos to prove it.
Q: I need help fighting a case with Residence Inn by Marriott Phoenix, where I recently stayed. When I checked out, I saw a $250 charge on my credit card in addition to the $89 for the room.
No one ever said anything about the charge. I called the front desk and they said it was a “smoking charge.” But I don’t smoke.
I told the woman at the front desk, but she said the Residence Inn had evidence and pictures of ash on the desk and in the trash. They said I could dispute the charges with my bank but there’s nothing they could do for me and they refused to transfer me to a manager.
I left a message for the manager but never received a call back. I feel like Residence Inn is trying to make some extra money from me. Can you help?
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— Samantha Armstrong, Glendale, Arizona
A: If you don’t smoke, you shouldn’t have to pay a cleaning fee. But hotels don’t necessarily see it that way. As far as they’re concerned, if anyone lit up in the room, and they see evidence of it, then the person who is responsible for the bill should pay the $250 fee. And that would have been you.
Is that fair? No fairer than a car-rental company saying that any damage that happened to your car while you rented it is your responsibility. But it’s not a perfect comparison. After all, a hotel is a more controlled environment. If you were the sole guest in the room for one night, and you don’t smoke, then maybe someone else smoked in your room.
Don’t laugh. I remember bumping into a housekeeper at a hotel as I checked out. She was puffing away on a cigarette. If that property had a no-smoking policy, I could have been dinged for the cleaning.
I reviewed the correspondence between you and the hotel. In an email sent to you, the general manager correctly notes that it has a “strict” nonsmoking policy. “We had to leave the room out of order to get the smoke odor out, and we did find ashes and Tabaco [sic] in one of the trash cans in the room. We also have your signature up on checking on the do not smoke registration sheet, unfortunately there will not be a rebate on this transaction,” he wrote. But I didn’t see any photos of the alleged evidence.
I happen to agree with Marriott’s nonsmoking policy. Certainly, a hotel guest has the right to smoke, but if you’ve ever stayed in a hotel where the previous guest smoked in the room, you know the stench of tobacco lingers for days and gets into your clothes. I would pay extra to breathe clean air, a fact Marriott probably knows.
I also agree that the $250 is fair. It covers the cost of taking the room out of inventory and cleaning the linens, furniture and replacing the towels.
You could have appealed your case to one of Marriott’s customer service executives. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy website: elliott.org/company-contacts/marriott/.
It’s true that Marriott gets more than its fair share of cleaning-fee complaints, but not enough for me to think it is using these fees to generate revenue in any systematic way. It’s simply too risky. Still, I thought Marriott might want to review your case one more time.
I contacted the company, and it refunded the $250 cleaning fee.