Scam Alert: Are Hotels Billing You For Goodies You Didn't Eat, Hoping You Won't Check Your Bill?

Travel superhero Christopher Elliott is wondering if there’s some systematic shadiness afoot in the land of the hotel minibar. He’s been hearing reports of items not consumed showing up on hotel bills, and when the error is brought to the attention of the front desk, refunds are instantly credited with no argument. Hmmm.

From Ellott.org:

Richards’ conclusion — and it’s one I tend to agree with — is is that some hotels are overbilling their customers on purpose, hoping that they won’t check their final receipts.

Which hotels are doing this? Richards thinks many are trying.

For a long period of time last year I was staying at a W almost weekly. It got to the point that before I took possession of the room I would have them come remove the “goodie box.” Recently at a Marriott I was charged $5 each day for a bottle of water I did not even touch, much less consume.

Have the frequent travelers among you noticed this? It may sound cynical, but we’ve noticed that whenever refunds are instantly credited with no argument — the probability that something shady was going on increases dramatically. We picture the hotel employee whistling while she removes the charge from your bill. Nothing to see here…

Scam alert: beware of hotels that charge for what you don’t eat — or drink [Elliott]
(Photo: Richard Moross )

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  1. NightSteel says:

    Could be these hotels are using the automated sensors that I’ve been hearing about. Things like weight plates or RFID sensors of some sort that will detect if you’ve even moved something. Some people are probably eating things and then replacing them later. Others might just be picking them up to look at them. And some of those sensors could be on the fritz.

  2. Angryrider says:

    Obviously it is the RFID.
    But I can’t wait to see the day hotels start charging you for food and water that you kept in your suitcase.

  3. helloashley says:

    These hotels are the ones that use automatic sensors in their mini fridges. Usually the error occurs when a person moves stuff in the mini bar or picks something up.

  4. arniec says:

    I stayed at a Hilton in Minneapolis and was charged $4 for a snack I did not eat. I will admit to perusing the snacks, but decided none were worth the $4 and passed, so I always thought they had the motion detector to find I had touched the food, but I consumed none of it.

    A quick discussion with the front desk clerk had that amount refunded immediately.

  5. rhobite says:

    Some minibars have weight sensors built in. Even if you pick something up and put it back, you may get charged for it. It’s never happened to me but I’ve been warned about this by front desk staff.

    As for those bottles of water they leave on your desk, which I’ve seen for up to $6: Totally underhanded. A hotel room is your home for the night, and I don’t appreciate strangers leaving things lying around in my home which don’t belong to me. I’ve been charged for water which I never took, but as the article says it’s easy to clear that off your bill.

  6. WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:

    So I wonder if this would allow you to clean out the minifridge for free with just a simple word to the front desk…

    Not that I would condone such actions.

  7. crabbyman6 says:

    I read somewhere (maybe here) that some hotels charge you for even opening the mini-bar. I think sometimes hotels take liberties in assuming you’re going to be using X service or product.

    Just this weekend I stayed in a hotel who charged me $36 for valet parking when I hadn’t valet parked as I’m perfectly capable of walking from my car to the door. When I brought this up they took the charge off no arguments whatsoever. I thought this was kind of odd, but maybe its not all that uncommon. This same hotel also had sensors under all the items in the mini-bar and there was a sign that said don’t even move the items or you’ll be charged.

  8. ab3i says:

    I get dinged for this about once every 2 weeks or so. Although i do not disagree that people might be ‘replacing’ stuff in the mini bar, i get billed for the ‘untouched’ bottles of water in the room. The front desk is very efficient about ‘removing’ the charge if you dispute it while checking out, but if you notice it later, it can be a hassle getting them on the phone. Marriott’s are usually not so bad about this,but Hilton properties are another story altogether.

  9. SkokieGuy says:

    Sensors that detect movement are likely triggered by the opening and slamming of the fridge door, or the cabinet above or below, perhaps even vacuuming.

    Hotel’s aren’t going to want the labor to manually enter fraudulent charges, but if the sensors automatically computer-generate charges that are perhaps only challenged (and credited) 25% of the time – that leaves a lot of new ‘revenue’.

    Hell, with the mark-ups, even if you actually consume the products, the hotel is way ahead.

  10. evslin says:

    @WiglyWorm: I’m sure it would “allow” you to get the charge temporarily removed, but what happens when the cleaning service goes into your room an hour later and finds that the fridge is in fact empty?

  11. fjordtjie says:

    @crabbyman6: they put a sign up that says that?! ridiculousness!

    what if you want to use the fridge for food you purchase outside of the hotel? or your kids bump the damn thing and something shifts. are they charging you to rearrange it after you leave? b.s.

  12. boomerang86 says:

    This has been going on for many years, well before RFID.

    I stayed at a non-chain hotel in Montreal once in 1991 and they tried that game with me; the minibar had a tamper seal which I moved but did not break. Of course they removed the charge with no hassle.

  13. loganmo says:

    I used to work in a hotel during college in the summers and the truth is, the front desk workers don’t want guests to be making a scene in the lobby, so charges for anything will typically be taken off upon request.

  14. bostonhockey says:

    I travel quite frequently for work. As of late, I have been noticing that I’ve been charged for in-room Internet a couple of nights per trip. I usually browse for a free WiFi signal, but that’s it. If there aren’t any ‘free’ signals, I just wait until the next day at the office. Same goes for the in-room cat5 cable. Once I plug in and am asked if I want to connect for a daily fee, I decline and shut down my laptop. Either way, the front desk immediately removes any of these disputed charges, no question(s) asked. Makes me want to almost be unethical and start to use the services only to deny it later.

  15. AD8BC says:

    A bunch of us stayed long term at a Marriott near Heathrow about 5 years ago. They had a mini-bar with photo sensors under the product.

    One of my co-workers discovered that, if you removed a product, and then colored the sensor in with a black Sharpie, you would be charged for the first time you removed that product but it would not detect the subsequent times….

    I’ll never forget the time that my friend Mike first got over there and removed all the items from his mini-bar so he could put a pizza-box in there. He put all of the mini-bar products in a bag and took them down to the front desk. They removed the charges, of course, but he had a three-page receipt with all of the mini-bar items and all of the refund credits…

  16. crabbyman6 says:

    @fjordtjie: The sign also said not to put outside food or drink in the fridge, not that any would fit with all the little scales in there, sorry to rain on your parade even more. The hotel also advertised that its rooms had mini fridges, but this was the only fridge in the room and I was afraid to even look at it or be charged $7 for a pack of M&Ms.

  17. airhed13 says:

    I’ve definitely seen this. In my case it was a charge for the room safe that had never even been touched, much less used.

  18. nahcyrag says:

    most of the higher end hotels has motion sensor inside the fridge. I was staying at a hotel in Aruba. They have a notice on top of the fridge. I was disappointed that I can’t store my stuff in there like I alway do.

  19. suebob says:

    I stayed at the W Chicago Lakefront and was charged $15 a day for internet access that I never used. I disputed and they took it off, but it made me wonder. It was especially odd because I was staying there as part of a convention and the W had offered all of us free internet access.

  20. cmdrsass says:

    On arrival, wrap the minibar in duct tape and drape with crime scene tape.

  21. Yup. “Charge removed instantly without argument or hesitation” is a dead giveaway that the employees know the charges are fake and are embarrassed.

  22. SybilDisobedience says:

    Yes, they certainly do this. On 2 separate occasions, the Omni hotel in Dallas did this to me and my boyfriend. (We dismissed it as a mistake after the first time, but stopped patronizing the hotel after it happened twice.)

    The 1st time: we were billed for supposedly drinking a bottle of Evian – $8! Sorry, but my trashy ass sticks with free tap water, thanks. When we protested, they removed it.

    The 2nd time was not a minibar story, but related. When we arrived at our room, there was a tray on the floor next to the door with a half-eaten dessert sitting on it. We called the desk to have someone come get it, because knowing my clumsy ass I’d trip while walking out of the room and do a face-plant into it. They came and picked the dessert up – and billed our room for it! Once again, we protested, and it was removed from our bill. But that was enough for us. No more Omni. You’d think a pricey hotel could afford to handle billing properly.

  23. smonk says:

    The Viceroy in Santa Monica charge me $25 for items from the ‘Body Bar’ that I didn’t use. I got the charge removed after being grilled for a bit.

  24. msbask says:

    No mini-bar horror stories here, but the hotel I stay at on my annual trips to Foxwoods charges $1 per night for the hotel safe. Even if you tell them ahead of time that you don’t want to use the safe, they charge you for it and you have to ask them to remove the charge when you check out.

  25. BlackFlag55 says:

    Thank you, Lord … I no longer have to business travel. What a viper’s pit of iniquity and doing people dirt. On the rare occasions we do travel, for pleasure, we stay here … [www.vrbo.com] (or) [www.cyberrentals.com]

    Have never had a problem, have stayed in GREAT real estate, and completely avoid the idiot management of hotel chains.

    For instance … [www.cyberrentals.com]

  26. cortana says:

    Just offer to call the police and let them sort it out. If the hotel doesn’t want you doing that, then they’d better do a little bit better than just taking the false charge off the bill. Use the situation to gain a benefit if they want to play games like this.

  27. Anyone who’s ever stayed at a hotel other than Motel 6 has encountered the in room mini bar. This is not a new phenomenon; it’s been around for years. I am astonished that people still don’t understand how they work.

    If you touch something or move it, it charges you. It does not magically add a charge to your room for any other reason. Hotels are not randomly charging you for untouched items. They charge you when the sensor is activated. So, if you don’t want something: Don’t touch it, dumbass! Are you 9 years old where you have to touch everything?

    Also, if you are tempted by something in the minibar refrain from looking at the price list until after midnight because the later it gets, the better the prices appear to be. That $6.00 beer that is a total rip-off at 9p.m. seems like a pretty good deal at 1:30 in the morning.

  28. MyPetFly says:

    I wonder if they’ll start charging for luggage like the airlines.

  29. sgodun says:

    Walk me through this, Consumerist.

    The charge appears on the hotel bill. You go to the front desk to dispute it.

    If they DON’T argue with you, then the charge on the bill is evidence of some nefarious scheme to bilk you of more money.

    If they DO argue with you, then the hotel’s customer service is poor and you won’t be going back to them.

    So, tell me Consumerist, how exactly should a hotel behave in this situation? From the way I see it you’ve painted a no-win situation for the hotel.

    How about this for an alternate theory?

    Maybe it was an honest mistake. Maybe the hotel management has recognized a pattern wherein customers who complain about mini bar charges — rightfully or otherwise — don’t return to the hotel. (The honest ones get insulted that the hotel accused them of ‘theft’ and the dishonest ones don’t want to push their luck with subsequent visits.) So the hotel simply eats the cost of a Snickers bar or a shot of whiskey or whatever, the customer remains happy, and the hotel gets more return business.

    What a concept, eh?

  30. InsaneNewman says:

    @fjordtjie:

    I just stayed at the Westin Market Street in San Francisco, and they have additional mini fridges available upon request that you can use for personal storage – gratis, no charge.

    On checkout, though, I did get dinged for a $5 energy bar that the minibar sensors claimed I took, but once again, there was no hesitation on the removal of the charge.

    Incidentally, the stay was fantastic, made even better by the $109/night Hotwire rate. Great, great experience.

  31. InsaneNewman says:

    @sgodun:
    So, tell me Consumerist, how exactly should a hotel behave in this situation? From the way I see it you’ve painted a no-win situation for the hotel.

    My thoughts exactly. This is an example of GOOD customer service – although the companies that manufacture the minibars should figure out a better way to avoid false positives. RFID proximity, instead of weight, perhaps?

  32. smirky says:

    @InsaneNewman:
    @sgodun:
    It really isn’t good customer service if the hotel tries to screw you up front. I see the main scam being the piss-poor way they ‘monitor’ your mini-bar use. They know it sucks so they gladly give credit to anyone who askes for it but not once have I ever heard them address the situation up front. Either employ a reasonably accurate method or drop the practice.

  33. aparsons says:

    happened to me at Marriott Inner Harbor (Baltimore, MD). I never questioned the charge (client was footing the bill). I wondered what would happen if you just unplugged the fridge and took all of the items out.

  34. TVGenius says:

    What really annoys me is the hotels that add a $10-15 ‘convenience fee’ that gives you wi-fi access and access to ‘self’ parking. Why not just add that to the rate? It makes it a nightmare for when I’m traveling for work and have to explain why the price of my room goes up 10%, since it didn’t mention any of that when I booked it…

  35. sgodun says:

    @smirky: It really isn’t good customer service if the hotel tries to screw you up front.

    Agreed. But there’s exactly 0% proof here that the hotel has tried to screw anyone out of anything. That’s the point that’s being missed here. People are ASSUMING things based off

    @smirky: I see the main scam being the piss-poor way they ‘monitor’ your mini-bar use. … Either employ a reasonably accurate method or drop the practice.

    This is another no-win situation for the hotel. The “honor system” will clearly result in a loss leader for the hotel, so some method of monitoring the mini bar must be used. There’s already a huge amount of outrage over the use of automated systems like RFID tags so let’s put that one on the shelf. Even things like proximity RFID tags won’t work. What if you want to show something to your husband/wife/whatever which forces you to leave the RFID tag range — then you put it back, untouched? You can’t go by weight either; a resourceful scammer could simply drain a bottle and refill it with water. I suppose hotels could put small vending machines into each room but I think it’s fair to say that having a vending machine in a private area is just begging for trouble. Full sized PUBLIC vending machines get abused and they’re sitting in the open; imagine what trauma will befall a small machine in the comfort of a private room!

    All of which leaves manual checking, e.g., hotel employees monitoring the mini bar. As my original post stated: Maybe it was an honest mistake. Any system in the known universe which relies upon the actions of a human being will only be as accurate as that human being, and let me tell you, we’re not a very accurate bunch of people.

  36. MyPetFly says:

    @TVGenius:

    Because adding that “fee” up-front would make them look more expensive compared to the other hotels that add the fee afterwards. : )

  37. sgodun says:

    @TVGenius: What really annoys me is the hotels that add a $10-15 ‘convenience fee’ that gives you wi-fi access and access to ‘self’ parking. Why not just add that to the rate?

    Because not 100% of a given hotel’s patrons require wifi access and/or parking. It may be an annoyance to you but to the reasonable percentage of people who aren’t forced to pay $10-$15 “convenience fees” for things they don’t need, it’s a money saver.

  38. InsaneNewman says:

    @smirky:
    Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear… I was specifically referring to the practice of quickly removing disputed charges as good customer service… I absolutely agree that the fact that there are so many false positives needs to be addressed.

    I disagree with the Consumerist’s depiction that “we’ve noticed that whenever refunds are instantly credited with no argument – the probability that something shady was going on increases dramatically”… this implies to be that in spite of all the complaints about bad, slow, unresponsive customer service, Meg enjoys the difficult fight, rather than simply being happy that the hotel is doing the right thing. (And I understand this feeling, as I always feel strangely let down when I gear myself up for a fight with a rep, only to have them agree with me… I mean, where’s the fun in that?) That’s OK, but decent service =/= shadiness.

  39. smirky says:

    @sgodun: But there’s exactly 0% proof here that the hotel has tried to screw anyone out of anything.

    When a business knowingly has a system that is inherently flawed against the customer yet continues to use it, that IS trying to screw the customer.

    Do I think they are manually adding the fees? Not at all but they happily offer a service that not only has a horrible track record for accuracy but one that also only favors the business when mistakes occur.

  40. citygirl1222 says:

    I stayed in a Wyndham in Chicago once and we found some mini-bar charges on our bill when we hadn’t even taken the key to the mini-bar. They must think that my lock picking skills are better than they really are.

  41. billbobbins says:

    This happened to me at the Flamingo hotel in Vegas last month. I checked my credit card bill when it came in weeks later and there was a $4 charge for the bottled water in my room. Funny thing is that I don’t drink bottle water. What a scam, but it must work well.

  42. chrisjames says:

    @sgodun: The customer service is great. So is WebLoyalty’s (Reservation Rewards) customer service.

    There is possibly statistical evidence that shows that these charges are happening at a rate that the hotels should be aware of them. If they are adding them deliberately, that’s fraud. If they aren’t, then they need to be taking extra precautions to make sure that customers aren’t being charged for mini bar items they didn’t consume, i.e. confirming the charges with the customer before trying to bill them. THAT would be even better customer service and would probably create a lot more repeat customers. If they are willing to bill for charges that they are even suspicious are wrong, that’s no better than the WLI* scam, as Consumerist is implying.

    However, I don’t agree that the evidence–anecdotal as far as I can tell–indicates anything is up.

  43. picardia says:

    They tell you that you can’t use the fridge for your own stuff? To hell with that. That is something I would dispute immediately and be aggressive about. If they’re worried about keeping minibar stock straight, they’d be welcome to come up and get all the food out of there that second.

    Of course, I usually stay at hotels too cheap for minibars.

  44. picardia says:

    @sgodun: Good customer service might be instituting a system that doesn’t routinely make these kinds of mistakes. But they routinely DO make these mistakes, and as others have pointed out, the mistakes are almost invariably in the direction of making the hotel money on stuff the guest didn’t use. The hotels have a choice between fair and efficient systems or mistake-ridden systems, and they go with the latter to make more money. It’s not so cool.

  45. borsk says:

    I also stayed at the W in NYC and noticed a huge charge (like $100) tacked onto my bill. I requested an itemized list and they listed what amounted to almost every drink in the mini bar. I disputed it and they removed it quickly. The W seems to be major offender for this.

  46. S-the-K says:

    I was sent to a conference two years ago at Disneyworld and stayed in the Swan resort. I brought my own snacks (I know of minibars but am not rich enough to stay in hotels that have them). One of my snacks happened to be the same brand as in the minibar but in a completely different package. Even a visually impaired person could tell the difference.

    Before checking out, I checked the bill and found that they billed me for the item from the minibar although I never touched it. Housekeeping must have seen it in the trash but didn’t verify that it was missing (or the same packaging) as in the minibar. It took a week of calls and faxes between the office manager and the Swan resort to remove the unauthorized charge.

    RFID. SchmarFID. They’ll charge you for bringing your own snacks anyway.

  47. HeartBurnKid says:

    @The Rude Bellman: Living up to our name today, aren’t we?

  48. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @InsaneNewman:

    If they’re giving up _too_ easily, that means that they know something shady is going on.

    Example story my father told me from his college days (back in the late 40s). Local bar had a condom machine in the men’s room – with nothing in it. So, you put your dime (remember, late 40s) in, and got squat. If anyone went to the bartender and complained, they immediately got a refund. The bar was counting, however, on the fact that very few people would be willing to go up to the bartender and say “I tried to buy a condom, and it didn’t work,” so the bar just got free money.

  49. stuny says:

    Here’s a fun one. Staying at a luxurious overseas hotel, I needed to print my boarding passes for my return flight.

    Hotel charged $15 for any amount of time up to 15 minutes of internet access in their office center. Also, $3 a page to print. While expensive, we accepted this price, despite the internet cafe next door charging something like 50 cents per hour. (Being slightly paranoid, but worried about potential keystroke loggers at the cafe.)

    But the kicker was that the hotel printer was set up default to print a cover page and they dared charge me for the cover for each boarding pass. They wanted us to pay almost $40 to get 4 pages. A lot of arguing finally got them to drop the cover page charges, but that’s simply usurious.

  50. The Hudson Hotel in New York City tried once to put a $30 water bottle in my bill. Considering I only spent 2 hours in that room I could clearly remember I didn’t touch anything there.

  51. BytheSea says:

    There’s a sensor in the bar. If you move anything, it charges you for it. They waive it because they know people put their leftovers &c in there. You justh ave to look.

  52. theblackdog says:

    I stayed at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta recently on a trip and when I checked in, the front desk asked me if I wanted the key to the mini-bar in the room. I declined it.

    Imagine if there had been charges showing up on my bill, I would have been screaming.

  53. antimir says:

    I am pretty sure I know why a front-desk clerk would drop the charges immediately…
    because they don’t set the prices or control the bills, generally (yes, they can charge stuff to your room, but why would they? i’ve never known anyone who was that dishonest and was able to stay employed at a service level).
    I have, however, heard many, MANY stories from friends who work at hotels about their managers being “huge money-grubbing hogs”. Chances are, a clerk will immediately drop a disputed charge because he/she is only getting paid a little above minimum wage and wants to avoid a screaming fit from the angry customer. “Don’t shoot the messenger”, as it were.

  54. razremytuxbuddy says:

    Whenever possible, I stay at a Super 8. I got sick of the pseudo luxury hotels a few years ago, with their overpriced rooms, institutional ambience, and pretentious staff that made me feel like I was lucky to be staying with them. If my meeting is in a snooty overpriced hotel, there is always a clean, new Super 8 just around the corner. No mini bar or bottled water in the room, one price for the room with no surprises, coffee any time, friendly staff, and virtually the same room as an expensive hotel, but for a fraction of the price. And breakfast is included.

  55. Tiber says:

    Though there probably is, somewhere in existence, a hotel that does scam people this way, there are too many factors to say offhand whether its a scam or not.

    However, there is something to be said about the number of people being charged for things they did not buy. I’d say good measuring stick is, “Would the error rate be acceptable if the error was in the consumer’s favor?”

    If they truly cared that people were being charged for things they did not buy, then how hard is it to put up a sign that says, “This fridge uses motion sensors to detect if an item is taken. Please check your bill to avoid accidental charges.”?

  56. tanja341 says:

    Recently stayed at the Thompson in Beverly Hills & had a random charge on my card a few days after checkout. Emailed them and received no response but the charge was taken off my account. Was a fabulous hotel but perhaps there is some merit to his claim.

  57. LUV2CattleCall says:

    The worst was a certain hotel that now charges for the soap/shampoo/conditioner/lotion/etc when you use it! It’s still in those tiny things…I should have been suspicious when there were so many extra bottles “given” with the room…

  58. jonworld says:

    I don’t know if this was intentional or not…but while staying at the Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, NH, they “mistakenly” charged us for a $200 dinner we did not eat, at a restaurant we had never been to. Despite this, they effortlessly removed the charge from our bill.

  59. freejazz38 says:

    Happened to me TWICE in Las Vegas. Funny how it always seems to happen at the pricier chains. Like I always say, the bigger the company, the bigger the scumbag. Someone needs to do a public expose of this and expose the scumbags. That’ll stop it.

  60. theczardictates says:

    I miss the days of minibars with actual keys that you could decline at checkin, thus pre-empting any dispute at checkout.

    @InsaneNewman: if one person has a fake charge and they fix it instantly and without difficulty, that’s good customer service. If lots of people systematically have fake charges and they fix them instantly for those that notice and complain, while pocketing the money from those that don’t, that’s a scam and they know it. See the difference?

  61. sgodun says:

    @smirky: When a business knowingly has a system that is inherently flawed against the customer yet continues to use it, that IS trying to screw the customer.

    You are missing the point; try rereading my second response. ANY system tied to the mini bar will have some flaw in it. NO system is perfect, especially when humans are involved. The point is, Consumerist is automatically assuming that the hotel is trying to screw the customer “just because”.

    Consider this fast food analogy: You go to the counter and order a burger, fries and a Coke. You pay for it, but when you check your receipt you find that the cashier charged you for onion rings (which cost a bit more) instead of fries.

    Now, did the cashier make an honest mistake or is it part of some nefarious plot to suck away a little more money out of you? If you’re really cynical or a Consumerist staffer, it seems that the latter is more likely. In reality, the former is FAR more likely.

    @smirky: Do I think they are manually adding the fees? Not at all but they happily offer a service that not only has a horrible track record for accuracy but one that also only favors the business when mistakes occur.

    Of course they’re manually adding the fees. Unless the mini bar works with RFID tags or some similar tech, the fees are added by human hand and errors are bound to happen.

    Want a non-nefarious scenario? Fine. Let’s say the hotel visitor in room 604 didn’t touch the mini bar. Let’s also say that the hotel visitor in room 406 slammed down a couple of beers. When the hotel staff checks the mini bars in all the rooms, there’s a moment of dyslexia. As a result, the guy in 406 gets free beer and the guy in 604 gets charged for them.

    HONEST MISTAKE. INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.

    So far you and the rest of the Consumerist staff (or at least the one who wrote this article) has demonstrated ZERO PROOF that this was anything other than an honest mistake.

  62. booga says:

    I’d would like to add my two cents to this discussion. I’m writing from the front desk at a 4 star inn (a very slow night). I’ll admit we are behind the times and do not use pressure sensors in our minibars or any seals of any kind. It is a simple basket that holds the items.

    When our housekeeping staff fixes the room they restock the minibar and fill out a slip for the front desk listing what they put back in. These items are then charged to the person who was in the room since the last time housekeeping was in.

    The vast majority of contested charges come from people who did not inform us they used items before they checked out. The bill they have doesn’t show the charges as they would have been posted after they left. We mail out a copy of the updated bill and credit card slip but I imagine this just gets a “what the hell is this? no no this isn’t right” type of response. They call and contest and we take the charges off right away and apologize.

    Why do we do this when our housekeeping staff (most of which have been here for more than 10 years) knows for a fact the items were gone? Because the cost of the items is much less than the profit from a return visit. Because it boils down to a he said she said kind of argument which goes nowhere.

    There is no way to weed out who we made a mistake with, who forgot months later about an item they had, who had two people in the room and it was the other person who ate it (or a guest), and who just ate one thing hoping to not get charged.

    End result is the same in all cases: Eat the loss and hope they come back

    Obviously this doesn’t apply to all places and I am totally against the pressure sensor minibars but people shouldn’t immediately jump down the throat of the hotel if they find a mistake. If you can honestly remember everything you ate on any given day a few months ago I commend you. You have a much better memory than myself.

  63. TangDrinker says:

    I’m at a Marriott right now for work, so thank you, Consumerist for posting this. I will definitely double check my bill in the am to make sure I haven’t been charged for the bottled water. Fortunately, this Courtyard has free internet and no mini bar (but it does have a frige).

    Did y’all know that they charge you for the newspaper? On the key card envelope it provides a form for you to fill out to opt out of receiving USA today – if you decline it, they give you a 75 cent credit. I noticed it last month at another Marriott hotel in Atlanta (a Suites, which did NOT have free internet) and it’s at this one, too.

  64. sgodun says:

    @picardia: Good customer service might be instituting a system that doesn’t routinely make these kinds of mistakes.

    And presuming that ANY given system could conceivably be absolutely flawless, particularly when humans are involved, is an exercise in frustrated idiocy.

    @picardia: But they routinely DO make these mistakes, and as others have pointed out, the mistakes are almost invariably in the direction of making the hotel money on stuff the guest didn’t use.

    Incorrect, sir. As a matter of fact, people tend to complain FAR more than they compliment. You will, I’m sure, read about dozens of people who have been unfairly charged for mini bar items. What you WON’T read about, I’m sure, is an equal number of people who consumed items from the mini bar WITHOUT being charged.

    The presence of complaints doesn’t prove ulterior motive. It only demonstrates humanity’s affinity for complaining.

    @picardia: The hotels have a choice between fair and efficient systems or mistake-ridden systems, and they go with the latter to make more money. It’s not so cool.

    Describe to me a “fair and efficient system” for this situation which won’t cost the hotel more than the system is worth.

  65. Alger says:

    @The Rude Bellman: Well, I’m not 9 years old, but I do travel with small children. So perhaps the earlier suggestion of using duct tape might help me.

  66. drnmr says:

    If there is a minibar or bottled water in the room, as soon as I get in the room I call the front desk and demand the crap be moved out of the room and I get the employees name and badge number to make sure there is no further scam.

    A Wyndham in Billerica MA, tried to charge me $5.00 a day for the removed minibar, it took a charge back to get my money back.

    Its best to get that scam crap out of your room as soon as possible.

  67. PriceAmphion says:

    When I stayed at the Kitano in New York in April, my
    problem wasn’t with the minibar, but with the two
    bottles of Fiji water sitting on the desk. The hotel
    was kind enough to attach labels showing the price was
    $5.00 a bottle, which I thought was outrageous, so
    whenever I needed to get anything to drink, I walked
    over to the Walgreen’s at the ESB. When I checked
    out, the only charges listed on my bill were for the
    room. A few days after I got back home, I received a
    final bill from the hotel, and this time they listed a
    charge for the two bottles of water totaling $12.46.
    The charge was taken off after I complained. Do I
    consider it to be a scam? Yes, I do, particularly
    since the bill shows that the charge was added after I
    checked out.

  68. TechnoDestructo says:

    @sgodun:

    We’ve been conditioned to assume these things by rampant petty fraud on the part of Corporate America. It’s so routine now that the very idea of an honest mistake seems quaint.

  69. Trojan69 says:

    Here’s why we smell a scam when the desk clerks automatically remove a contested charge – the overwhelming anti-consumer experience in the past few years. Hotels, and other service facilities, have become more and more hard-a**ed about removing charges. It is a major trend.

    I was once a desk clerk and this is exactly how it was at my property. If there was a complaint about the number of local phone calls placed, we just voided the charges, no questions asked, due to the faulty (i said fraudy) system we had. But, we went to the mat on any other charge. This was the one area where the hotel manager himself would back an employee against a customer.

    I also had the special enjoyment of plowing through hundreds of phone, and other receipts, when a chargeback was attempted by a former guest. The hotel won a huge number of those disputes. If the guest won, it was usually due to receipts missing from that entire day. In a small minority of instances, the guest was correct.

  70. Frank_Trapasso says:

    My now ex-girlfriend was quoted a loan rate for someone with much worse credit than hers. When she brought it up, the loan guy didn’t seem upset at all, just printed a new sheet.

    Difference would’ve been over a thousand dollars over the course of the loan. I want the employee to be upset about fucking that up.

  71. shamowfski says:

    Happened to me at the Wyndham in Chicago. I had only been there about 10 minutes and decided to check the tv based bill thing. It said I had spent like $108.00 at the mini-bar. Called and they instantly reversed it.

  72. lexiary says:

    The W is certainly the worst I’ve encountered. I’ve stayed at at least a half dozen W hotels (I travel frequently for work) and have had the mini-bar issue at every one. Even worse, some of the charges did not come through until well after my stay was over (once a couple of days and once over a week later) and I’ve had to contact the hotel after departure to have them removed. The “mini-bar” isn’t really a mini-bar at all, just a box full of snacks and goodies. They clearly need a better system, but I think most patrons wouldn’t notice the charges after the fact. . .

  73. Mr. Gunn says:

    Those sensor-fridges are like booby-traps. They makes for a bad customer experience, because you’re left wondering what else you’ll be charged for. Accidentally flipping to the wrong channel on the TV, using the wrong thing in the bathroom, etc, etc.

    It’s never happened to me, but it just feels scammy.

  74. b7gtfebg847fh says:

    It’s an honest mistake when it happens once or twice. But when it happens six out of six times at the Boston Sheraton, three out of three times at the Philadelphia Hilton, and over five times at Residence Inns, it’s not a mistake, it’s intentional. Twice at the Hilton, we were given rooms that didn’t even have a minibar, but we were still charged for raiding it.

  75. Marshfield says:

    Well, on the flipside, we went to DisneyWorld abt 20 yrs ago, and our son, age 7, had quite a few snacks from the mini-bar. They didn’t charge us for any of them, and we mentioned it at checkout and they just let it slide.