With travel picking up following the pandemic, many consumers are looking at hotel stays. While most hotel stays are pleasant, there could be negative experiences.

For instance, reader Jeff has run into an issue. He writes, “A local casino hotel comped me a room and I had to use a credit card for a $250 security deposit. Later I looked at my credit card statement and they charged me $750 on my card. They said I smoked in the room which I did not. For sure no one smoked in the room. Is it legal for them to charge more than the security deposit? Is this a typical scam in the hotel industry?”

Hotel damage charges are not unusual

Being charged for damage by hotels after your stay is not unusual. Elliott Advocacy, a consumer advocacy organization, reports that this is a trend that looks to be developing in the franchise hotel sector. The firm says it has been receiving more complaints recently from guests who say that they have been hit with a number of charges after their stay, without any proof.

If you have a card on file with a hotel, it should only charge you for damage that occurred during your stay. And the hotel has to inspect your room following your stay to gauge the situation and put in a charge for expenses, such as cleaning or damage caused by your pet, among other things.

Save yourself from surprise hotel charges

If you want to ward off surprise hotel charges, one good practice is to inspect your room at the time of check-in to make sure previous guests have not caused any issues. Look for any stains, bed bugs or broken furniture, for instance. And if you do find anything, make a note with the hotel staff to clear yourself in advance.

That’s because the hotel will hold you responsible for any damages to property, stains and even smells caught immediately after your stay. And that’s why you shouldn’t light up a cigarette in a non-smoking room. If the hotel staff can smell the cigarette smoke, they could hold you responsible for it. Even if you are in a room that allows smoking, the hotel could charge you for cigarette burns on bed linens, carpets or furniture.

According to CLC Lodging, a firm that facilitates hotel bookings for businesses: “Weary from travel, you may feel inclined to drop your bags just inside the door and crawl into bed, but it’s important to walk through your temporary digs before making yourself at home. A brief inspection of your room is critical in ensuring that you don’t incur a fee for a pre-existing problem.”

Sorting out the damage

Jeff, your first course of action, as in any situation involving a credit card charge you are not on board with, should be to follow up with the hotel manager to present your case and ask for a refund of the charges. If someone lower down is not able to resolve your issue, you should escalate the issue until you reach someone who has the authority to resolve your issue.

If the hotel insists that you pay for the damages, you should file a dispute with your credit card issuer. The Fair Credit Billing Act covers situations where there was a billing error, which would cover this sort of situation. To take advantage of this recourse, you should write to the card issuer at its address for “billing inquiries” (not the address you send your payments to) within 60 days of when you first received the statement with the “billing error.”

Make a statement of your case, and send any supporting documents, by certified mail. The card issuer will then have to look into the matter and reach a conclusion.

You could also file a complaint about this matter with your state attorney general or consumer protection agency.

The bottom line

It seems there’s been a rise in the number of hotels asking guests to pay for damages related to their stay. If you want to avoid such a situation, it’s a good idea to perform a basic inspection of your room after you check in and bring any discrepancy to the hotel’s notice.

In case the hotel charges you for damages and you don’t agree, try to resolve the matter with management. If that doesn’t work, you should file a dispute about this matter with your card issuer. You could even file a complaint with your state attorney general or consumer protection agency. Jeff, hope you can clear the air with the hotel about this matter!

Contact me at pthangavelu@redventures.com with your credit card-related questions.