Hotel Digs Out Old-School Carbon Credit Card Machine, Forgets To Actually Charge Customer

What do you do when you’ve received a product or service, but were never charged for it? Legally, in most cases you’re not required to do anything, but what about those pesky ethics? Rebecca was traveling to Europe for business, and the hotel had trouble processing the transaction on either her business or personal credit cards. The hotel clerk hauled an old-school carbon copy device out of, we assume, some kind of Museum of Antiquated But Still Functional Financial Devices and took an impression of Rebecca’s personal credit card. The bill was settled. Rebecca’s company reimbursed her for the hotel stay. But six weeks later, the hotel still hasn’t charged her card, and she isn’t sure what to do.

During the last week of March I traveled to Germany for business. I checked out of my hotel early on the morning of April 1 to make my flight out of Frankfurt. At the hotel desk the only clerk on duty checked me out and ran my corporate AmEx and the card failed. I then offered my personal Visa and it also failed. After a few minutes the clerk finally figured it out: the hotel was changing ownership and name as of April 1 and their card processors something-or-other wasn’t recognizing the hotel. I was the first person to check out after this official name/ownership change. He mumbled something in German along the lines of “they said this might happen…” (my german isn’t so good, but I’m pretty sure that was it)

So, he dug through the drawers in back until he found the old school carbon copy devices. They didn’t have one for AmEx so I used my personal Visa. I left my personal and work phone numbers with the desk clerk in case there were any problems. He scanned my Visa, hand wrote the carbon receipt out, I signed it, I got my copy and a copy of the settled hotel bill.

I expected the charge to take a while to clear since it was the old manual process and an international charge. After a few weeks the charge had still not cleared so I sent an email to the hotel. After three days with no response I called and spoke to an employee who could find no problems with the record of my stay but would “have a manager contact me”. I never got a return phone call, though I have called back twice to try and speak to this manager. In the meantime I completed my expense report (since I had the final detailed hotel bill) and got reimbursed by my company for my expenses. We are under a time limit for completing our expense reports so I had to submit it before the charge cleared.

I am left with a dilemma about what to do next. I stayed in a hotel and incurred an approximately 400 Euro bill. I have the credit card carbon receipt and paperwork from the hotel stating that the bill has been paid. I have expensed this hotel stay and been reimbursed for this expense by my employer. Yet nearly six weeks have now gone by and the charge has not appeared on my card. I have made an effort to follow up with the hotel but they seem rather unconcerned about this if their lack of response is any indication.

I *want* to pay this bill. The money is sitting in my bank account, having been reimbursed, waiting to be applied to my personal Visa once the charge clears. While it’s nice to have the extra cash in the bank account it’s not exactly mine and each day that passes I feel guiltier about it sitting there. I’m looking for advice about where to go from here – any tips from you or the readers would help.

My advice would be to let the money sit there, or even let it sit in a savings account at a tiny interest rate, until someone at the hotel finds that credit card receipt and sends it to Visa. It might be at the end of May, it might be at the end of the year, but it’s entirely possible that someone is going to notice that charge and apply it.

An alternate idea is to speak to the person in charge of travel at your employer: maybe they’ve run into a similar situation before with another traveler and can offer advice. Or they might want the money back, making this a less appealing option than “wait and see.”