A Double Dose Of Bed Bug Related Hotel Complaints

We’d been hearing that the bed bug epidemic has hit hotels, but we didn’t really believe it. Then we got 2 hotel bed bug complaints in 48 hours. The first concerns the Hilton on Kearny Street in San Francisco. Oddly enough, the second also concerns the great state of California, but a different hotel. The Best Western Ocean View in Santa Monica. But first things first.

Maria checked into the Hilton San Francisco on Wednesday May 2nd, and by Friday afternoon she was covered with red, itchy bumps. She thought it was an allergic reaction to something, and didn’t worry about it too much. By Saturday she’d begun to suspect that something was biting her, because the bumps didn’t really look like a rash from an allergic reaction. Maria writes:

After showing the ‘rash’ and talking to a family friend who is a physician, we finally realized that it was probably bedbugs. I spoke to the front desk manager, who, without much reaction, said she would move me to a new room. That was the extent of the help I received from the Hilton. On Sunday I checked out.

Once home in New York, Maria’s doctor confirmed that the bumps were bites.

The second complaint came by way of a link to a blog. Lex checked into the Best Western Ocean View on business, despite warnings by an associate that the hotel was known for harboring a bed bug infestation (or so the internet said,) Lex had stayed at the hotel 5 times before with no incident, so he convinced his friends that the rumors were just that. Lex writes:

Jeremy arrives forearmed with some knowledge on bedbugs that I didn’t yet have, including what they look like (disgusting) and how to find them (move the bed and look between the bed and the wall). The suckers (which I call them because they are, in fact, bloodsuckers), as it turns out, love to hide.

Jeremy enters his room (#202) and immediately moves his bed away from the wall. You will never guess what he finds.

Did you guess bedbugs? Damn, okay, you WILL guess. I guess I sort of hinted at that already.

Yes, Jeremy found bedbugs — some dead, more living — crawling around, on, and near the bed. They are very tiny and were still in “hiding” mode (they don’t tend to come out to insert two little tubes into your skin — one with their anesthetic-laden saliva, the other to do the actual sucking of blood — until an hour or so before dawn most of the time). But they were most distinctly there, if you knew what to look for.

Lex and his friend collected some bugs as samples and went to the front desk to check out of the hotel, where the manager (Robert) insisted that they still pay for the night, despite the fact that they’d not yet slept at all (it was 7pm). Lex writes:

Robert (continued): “What makes you think there are bed bugs?”

Robert is a charmer from the get-go.

I explain that our primary indication that there are bedbugs is the fact that we observed them directly from a distance of approximately 12 inches, tell him firmy but politely that we are checking out, and that we certainly aren’t paying for tonight.

Robert expresses his deep concern about losing money on the rooms — it was about 7pm, and now those rooms would sit empty. I point out that it’s probably a good thing for him NOT to book the rooms with bedbugs, since that would mean, y’know, allowing bloodsucking insects to feast on someone else.

I explain to Robert that, again, I’ll pay for the night I slept there. I explain that neither of us will pay for this night, though, that we feel comfortable with our motivation for checking out. I politely explain that, in all honesty, we’d immediately call our credit card companies to ensure that they didn’t pay, if he did charge us for this evening, and that this would likely end up costing him more than just doing the right thing here.

Robert wasn’t interested. He instructed Anthony to charge us both and hung up the phone.

A few minutes later, he called back and spoke to Anthony. Anthony had just started running the charges on our cards. He passed the phone to me.

Let me preface this next part with a Dave Barry allusion.

I Swear I Am Not Making This Up:

Robert: Listen, I KNOW there are no bed bugs. I have a signed document from Terminix, who was in room 202 TODAY respraying for bedbugs, and this signed document says they’re all dead now.

Did you catch that? Respraying?

Lex: Well, Rob, I have photos of living bedbugs crawling around. Apparently they haven’t seen this document.

Robert: We don’t have a bedbug problem.
Lex: Was Terminix in the room today?
Robert: Yes.
Lex: Why were they RE-spraying the room, Robert?
Robert: I have a signed document from Terminix.
Lex: Right. The ones the bugs themselves didn’t countersign. But why was Terminix RE-spraying the room?
Robert: They have said that any bugs there were dead.
Lex: Robert, they were in the room because BEDBUGS WERE IN IT TOO, right?
Robert: Yes. But now they’re dead.

This goes on and on. Turns out that the manager of the hotel likes to have Terminex come and spray the room, then let it out to someone the same day. As you can imagine, this isn’t really how you deal with bed bugs. But, anyway, back to Maria. Remember her? Here’s her letter in full.

Maria writes:

I checked into the Hilton on Kearny Street in San Francisco on Wednesday, 5/2. The first night felt normal….seemingly clean room, sheets, bed, bathroom, etc. On Thursday afternoon after I had spent the day walking around the city, I got back to my hotel room and noticed some sort of rash on the top of my left foot. It was itchy, red, and there were lots of little bumps. I thought this was probably some sort of contact dermatitis, and didn’t really worry about it. Wednesday night passed with nothing out of the ordinary. By Friday afternoon/evening, I had developed the itchy, red bumps on my arms and legs, and thought maybe I was having an allergic reaction to something I ate. The pattern was patchy though, which isn’t consistent with a systemic allergic reaction. It didn’t even occur to me until the next morning (Saturday) that it might be something biting me. The red bumps had spread and gotten worse by this point, on my hands, and on my back. After showing the ‘rash’ and talking to a family friend who is a physician, we finally realized that it was probably bedbugs. I spoke to the front desk manager, who, without much reaction, said she would move me to a new room. That was the extent of the help I received from the Hilton. On Sunday I checked out.
By Tuesday I was back in New York (where I live) and decided to go to my doctor because the itching and redness was intolerable. My doctor confirmed that it was bedbug bites and prescribed me a topical steroid and advised me to take antihistamines around the clock to relieve the itching, and that the bites should take about 2 weeks to heal.
I have put in a call to the Hilton, issuing a formal complaint. I was told that someone would get back to me within 72 hours. Its been 48 hours and I don’t expect to hear from them anytime soon.
So the lesson learned is this – no matter how expensive or reputable a hotel seems, always check your mattress. And don’t expect much of a response from hotel staff, because they seem to almost expect bedbugs in their hotels now. So much for customer satisfaction.

So what have we learned here? According to the Harvard School Of Public Health, “Bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters. ” Bed bugs don’t know that you’re staying at the Best Western or the Hilton. They’re just looking for tasty flesh.

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends, (among many other things) checking your bed before sleeping in it, like Jeremy did in Lex’s story. If you do find yourself sleeping in a hotel full of bed bugs, don’t freak out. It happens. The main thing is that you don’t want to bring them into your own home. Harvard recommends that “suitcases should be carefully inspected, scrubbed with a stiff brush, and thoroughly vacuumed. Leaving such luggage for several hours in a closed vehicle in full summer sun may render the items bug free.” If your house does become infected, follow the procedure outlined by Harvard. It won’t be fun, but at least you’ll get to keep your blood where it belongs. Inside your body.—MEGHANN MARCO

I’ll be honest with you: We have had problems with Room 202. [The Lex Files] (Thanks, Kareem!)
~ Bed Bugs ~ Cimex lectularius (Cimicidae) [Harvard]


Edit Your Comment

  1. zsouthboy says:

    This gives me the heebie jeebies.

    Now I won’t be able to sleep in my own freaking bed.

    Grr. *shudder*

  2. AtomikB says:

    My girlfriend got bedbugs in her luggage after a trip to Florida. Although there were only 4 or 5 bugs total, we had to have the house fumigated, we had to toss the mattress, and leave all of our clothes and stuff in black garbage bags in the sun for a few days. Now when we go to a hotel, the first thing we do is pull up the sheets all around the bed and check for bedbugs. Bedbug bites are really painful, and one bug will bite you several times in a row.

  3. crayonshinobi says:

    According the Wiki, bedbugs were all but extinct thanks to generous DDT use in the 40’s and 50’s. Now that DDT use is outlawed, they are making a comeback.

    So, Bald Eagles and bedbugs…good with the bad I suppose.

  4. tracilyns says:

    “Harvard recommends that ‘suitcases should be carefully inspected, scrubbed with a stiff brush, and thoroughly vacuumed. Leaving such luggage for several hours in a closed vehicle in full summer sun may render the items bug free.'”

    does this kill the bedbugs, or make them scurry to some dark place in my car? ’cause i don’t want creepy crawly bedbugs infesting my car.

  5. timmus says:

    I think one huge problem is ignorance. Having combed the Tripadvisor reports I see lots of cases where people think they got bitten by mosquitoes in bed. In December in Oregon?? People also still seem to turn up their noses at the thought of giving mattresses a once-over when checking in. Our smugness and ignorance is going to only help them proliferate.

  6. timmus says:

    Oh… here is a very cool bedbug blog.

  7. malarkey21 says:

    I’ve heard a lot about this problem similar to Maria’s experience. Everytime I stay in a Hilton, I get all itchy the next day.

    There was even an undercovers report about the bugs in every Hilton, at least I think it was undercovers, since it was all in green night vision.

    But I think things are going to change, because I was told Hilton had to spend 45 days being reformed before allowing the public back in.

  8. AtomicPlayboy says:

    I’ve actually stayed in that Santa Monica Best Western, and it was the worst hotel experience I’ve ever had in my often-on-the-road sales engineering career! I was in Santa Monica on business, and brought my fiance along for the ride, which ended up being a bad idea. When we went to sleep that night, we pulled back the sheets (room 201) to discover lots and lots of human hair. No bed bugs (though now I’m sure there must have been some of them, too), but definitely an indication that cleanliness was not a priority here. When we asked the front desk to change the bed, a guy just showed up with a new sheet. We slept on top of the covers. I noticed while I was checking the hotel pamphlets that this Best Western had at some time lost its AAA accreditation (there was a sticker over the AAA mention), and I know why: it was a dirty, dark, and all-around horrible hotel. Avoid at all costs!

  9. gopher646 says:

    @malarkey21: I stayed at a Hilton last week in Philadelphia and got really itchy from the sheets. I don’t think it was bed bugs that caused the reaction, though, but rather the detergent they use to wash the sheets.

  10. Dervish says:

    A while ago I read about bedbug problems becoming more and more common in London. When we went to Europe last October I was terrified that we’d stay in an infested hotel, bring a bunch back in our meager luggage, and infest our apartment. We must have picked the right places though, because we were never bitten and 7 months later our apartment is still clean.

    I’m not usually bug-squeamish, but the thought of staying somewhere with an infestation horrifies me.

  11. vanilla-fro says:

    goher646: better to have a reaction to the detergent than to have them not use it.

    after reading this article, i think i’ll stay in town for a while.

  12. Moosehawk says:

    Damnit. I’m staying at a hotel tomorrow night.

  13. MariSama44 says:

    @gopher646: Hahaha, I think he’s making a reference to Paris Hilton, the more filthy Hilton (In my opinion).

  14. FLConsumer says:

    I’ve fortunately never experienced bed bugs, but I do have to wonder if Best Western (corporate office) is aware of these problems? I certainly wouldn’t want my flag on a hotel such as this. All hotels have beds & toilets; service is what determines a good hotel (and a repeat customer!) from a bad one.

  15. Working in the hotel industry, I know firsthand that bedbugs are becoming more and more common.

    It generally helps to stay at the nicer hotels, and a good indication of how they keep the rooms is to always check the general cleanliness of the hotel (lobby, business area, food areas). Always report when you are in a room and find/get bit by bugs. Higher quality hotels will move you (if there’s an available room), and block off that room to thoroughly clean it. If you do need to get moved, remember that not every room in a hotel will have bedbugs.

    If the front desk/manager refuses to make any concessions/accept responsibility to your liking, do not be hesitate to contact the owner of the hotel (or whatever company it is). Keep documentation (pictures of bites if you get bit, doctor bills, etc), and don’t be scared to have an attorney write a letter/contact the company if need be.

    While the hotel may not be aware of the issue, it is their problem to fix it.

  16. Yaotl says:


    The heat in the enclosed space will kill the bugs. It’s a safer method than chemical spraying. Has to be pretty hot though.

  17. FLConsumer says:

    Hahaha, I think he’s making a reference to Paris Hilton, the more filthy Hilton (In my opinion).

    Picking up bed bug bites would be the least of my concerns if staying in that particular Hilton.

  18. FLConsumer says:

    BUT I would be worried about picking up some other not-so-friendly critters. (crotch rot anyone?)

  19. oldhat says:

    You folks need to stop picking on Paris Hilton. Are you still singling out women for sleeping around and issue never-ending public humiliation?

    Lots of other reasons not to like her. How about being stupid? Rich yet useless? Drunk driving?

    Her having a healthy sex life is NOT one of them, you fucking prudes.

    If she were a hot young famous man, you would NOT be shitting on her. You would be idolizing her or simply accept her.

    Or still be a prude, in which case piss off.

  20. spryte says:

    @Veritech_Ace: I’ve had the same issue. I’ve stayed in a decent number of hotels and never had a bedbug problem, but definitely an unclean-room problem. I’m pretty phobic about germs and such, and knowing how inattentive most hotel housekeepers are to what they’re doing, I ALWAYS go around the room and check for nastiness–hairs in the bed (between all the covers as well as on the fitted sheet and pillows), hairs in the tub (how on Earth do they NOT see those??), etc. I do more than that but if I list everything you’ll all think I’m a freak…which I am, but no need to bore you with the details :)

    I’ve actually considered purchasing a set of cheap sheets to bring with me and changing the bedding when I get there. I tend to have these awful daydreams of who slept in the bed before and what they did in it…. *shudder*

  21. malarkey21 says:

    @oldhat: I think you misunderstood my comment. I didn’t realize that the Hilton I was in had Valrex (not usually part of a “healthy” night) in the personal storage safe. If I had known this previously, I would never had stayed in that Hilton all night (and again the next day for just a little bit in the morning before I did the quick checkout).

  22. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the BBC show How Clean Is Your House? (also available, apparently, on Lifetime, and syndicated in the U.S. on BBC America). As I’ve recorded more and more episodes, I’ve become more and more worried about shit like this. I’ve also started cleaning my bathroom more. And I bought a Dyson two years back, which has seen quite a bit of use recently.

    The most wonderful outcome of watching How Clean…, however, has been that I’ve started…well, cleaning like a middle-aged British woman, I guess. I’m using white vinegar, lemon juice, baby oil, “washing-up liquid” (dish soap), and “biological washing powder” (laundry detergent with lipases and proteases) more than I’m using brand-name cleaners and detergents. In fact, I just cleaned the entire refrigerator in my new flat (I mean, apartment) using warm water, a bit of bleach, and washing-up liquid. Cleaning is fun! And I’m a 27-year-old guy!

    I stayed in a lovely hotel in Mexico last March; while this hotel was a bit more “rustic” than stateside lodgings, it was still quite clean. I find it amazing that, in this age of germ-o-phobia, more hotels aren’t making sure their rooms are ship shape. Of course, any Consumeristers who come stay at my house needn’t worry!

  23. lmkentomologist says:

    The Guidelines for the Control and Prevention of Bed Bug Infestations in California recommend that a hotel room is left vacant for 48 hours following a bed bug treatment. The full guidelines can be found here: