Thanks to Carol G for getting me in touch with the very helpful Christopher Elliott. He’s the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Today he published my case. I found it in the Arizona Daily Star, though not, strangely enough, in our Times-Picayune which usually carries his column in the Sunday Travel section. I can tell you that $83 was very helpful. Orbitz actually refunded our tax paid as well so we came out ahead on this deal.
Travel Solutions by Christopher Elliott : Beware of surprise hotel surcharges
Travel Solutions by Christopher Elliott
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 04.27.2008
Q I’ve been charged a cleaning fee for a recent hotel visit, and something doesn’t seem right. I’m hoping you can help.
I recently booked a few nights at the Grand Caribbean in Orange Beach, Ala., through an affiliate of Orbitz. The room was just $95 per night, which I thought was a bargain. But imagine my surprise when I saw a much larger amount had been debited to my account.
Since this happened before our trip took place, I tried to cancel my reservation. But they wouldn’t allow it.
I asked about the higher charge and was told there was a $166 cleaning fee. The online form did warn that there would be a cleaning fee but did not specify the amount. I assumed that it would be less than the nightly rate. Obviously, I was wrong!
The Orbitz affiliate agreed to refund half of the cleaning fee. After our stay, I filed a dispute with my credit card company. They investigated and concluded that the fee was legitimate, pointing out that the fine print on the online form did specify additional fees.
I think that’s preposterous. What if the fee had been $10,000 or some other ungodly amount that wiped out my entire account? — Bart Everson, New Orleans
A You’re right. I think the fine print should have disclosed the exact amount of the cleaning bill. The hotel rate you were quoted should have included any mandatory fees such as the cleaning charge. If it didn’t, then you shouldn’t have to pay it.
Should a hotel be allowed to tack a $166 fee on top of its room rate? As a hotel guest, I would agree with you that a mandatory cleaning fee is excessive. But I’ve seen these extras in the past, and when they are clearly disclosed as part of the price of the room — and if you agree to it — then there’s not much that can be done about them.
In your case, however, there is something that can be done.
Contacting the Orbitz affiliate was a good move. The fact that it immediately agreed to cut the cleaning bill in half was a sign that you had a strong case. But I might have been a little more persistent. Why only remove $83? Why not the whole amount?
I think it was your online agent’s responsibility to quote a full price for the hotel room. Fuzzy wording in the fine print about “cleaning fees” isn’t enough. And, yes, under the terms of your stay, you could have been charged $10,000 to clean the room — or buy new furniture.
I’ve noticed a lot more surprise hotel surcharges lately, and I find them as upsetting as you do. Hotel guests assume that everything is included in the price of their room — at least all of the basics — but are frequently broadsided with energy surcharges, cleaning fees, concierge fees and mandatory tips.
But some resorts make the opposite assumption. If they don’t specifically say it’s included, they believe they are allowed to charge for it. That kind of attitude will only ensure their guests never return.
I contacted Orbitz on your behalf, and because the cleaning fee wasn’t adequately disclosed, it agreed to refund an additional $83.
● Distributed by Tribune Media Services. Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Update: Mr. Elliott has posted this column on his blog.