Much of the time in life, you can get away without reading the fine print, but when it gets you, it gets you good. Here, travelers to all sorts of places talk about the time that reading the fine print helped them find some surprising charges from their hotel.
What in the world?! Content has been edited for clarity.
The Immaculate Cat
“I stayed at a hotel for about two weeks while looking for a place to live after moving cross-country. On the very first night, I showed them documentation for my cat, who was with me for medical reasons.
Note that my cat is highly-trained. She is so well behaved in public, that even at a July 4 roof party when ten kids were clamoring to pet her, she sat completely chill. She is also toilet-trained. In addition to my documentation, I explained all of this to the manager and booked for a few nights.
After the first few nights, I booked night by night, obviously, because I wasn’t sure when I would find a place.
So every morning for about ten days, before checkout time, I would go down to the desk, the manager would print out a receipt, tell me verbally it was for another night, have me sign, and then update the room key.
Not one single time during any of these encounters did he mention that he had placed a $200 pet fee. Even though I’m blind so I couldn’t see the receipt. He never one verbalized the extra charge.
I didn’t think to ask because it didn’t occur to me he wouldn’t mention it. I had stayed at about ten other hotels (same chain) during the move across country. No other place charged us. One hotel said they would charge a pet fee, and then when I showed the letter, ended up not charging.
It was only after looking at my credit card activity online while budgeting near the end of my stay that I not only saw this $200 charge but also saw the huge range in nightly costs. He never once verbalized that the advertised $109 fee spiked up to $149 on some nights. One could argue that I should have asked every day, and I’ll take that, but I also think it was on him to verbalize anything a sighted person would see on paper without having to think to ask.
Fortunately, I was able to fight the $200 charge and have it removed by having him and housekeeping thoroughly inspect the room right before checkout. There was not one single trace of a cat having stayed there for the past two weeks, so there was no basis for the charge.
Part of his fear was also that I had declined housekeeping for the whole stay because I’m very sensitive to cleaning chemicals due to my other disabilities, not to mention it’s an environmental waste to clean daily, and skipping my room gives the housekeepers more time to turn around rooms for new guests. (I also explained all of this to the manager, by the way.) I guess he figured in his mind that I was trying to hide some sort of mess and he was trying to cover the cost of possibly having to shampoo the carpet or something.
That said, he still should have made his intent to charge clear from the get-go, especially knowing that I could not see that paper receipt for myself.
And for the record, if my cat had made some kind of mess or caused even the slightest damage, I would have gladly paid a fee. I do believe it’s my responsibility to make sure she is safe in public, and I am responsible for any damages. But I also don’t think it’s fair to be charged just on principle—there needs to be a concrete justification.
He should have only placed a charge if I had failed the inspection.”
Apparently a Half Mile is a Long Distance
“The hotel’s restaurant was at best so-so, and I happened to see a place that described itself as a family Italian place on a corner under 1/2 mile from the hotel. That sounded better, but I hadn’t noticed (it was on the other side of the street in a strip mall) if it was open.
I could drive over and look but, if it was closed, I might miss the time to go to the hotel’s restaurant. They closed relatively early so I figured a quick call to the Italian place would resolve matters. It did … they were open to 9:00 PM and it was just 6:40 now. Good choice as it turned out, so I ate there the following night as well.
Then I checked out, and the room had been paid for by the company, so I expected no charges. But wait, there was a long distance charge and I asked what for. Well, you used the phone in your room according to the log. Yes, but just to the Italian place down the road.
Well, that’s long distance said the clerk. About the only place you can call on your room phone that isn’t is the building next door and the two buildings across the street. Everything else is long distance. There’s local long distance which is what we charged you, there’s intermediate … say if you called someplace a mile away and then there’s normal long distance.
How do you argue that? I had to pay it … $12.88 or something like that to call a place less than a half mile away. The whole conversation: ‘Are you open?’ ‘Yes, we’re open until 9.’ ‘Thanks, good bye.’
It was perhaps two months later when I read in my AAA magazine a caution that hotels were beginning to charge as long distance almost any call. Their warning was to ask at the desk just where you could call as a local call if you wanted to avoid a potentially nasty bill. One writer said he’d called his office less than two miles away and was charges nearly $100 for a 20 minute call.
The article cautioned that some were charging even for an 800# call, not the call itself, but for your time on the line. It wasn’t long after that when I became one of the first non-business owners of a modern(ish) cell phone.”
Who Needs That When I Have This?
“I’ve traveled a lot for work, and some years ago, the company I was working for instituted some changes to how accommodation and expenses were charged and paid for. The company used to supply a single purchase order number to the hotel and the accommodation provider would then bill back the company using that number for the room plus meals etc, but there were a number of disputes that happened after the bill arrived where staff were claiming that some of the charges were erroneous. However, with no way to prove it, the company was forced to pay, and in some cases request reimbursement from the staff member if the expenses breached company policy – adult films and copious amounts of adult beverages would have been a breach.
To avoid the hassle, the company insisted that the final invoice had to signed off by the staff member upon check out prior to submission for payment. So I stayed in nice hotel in Nelson and as per the new company rules, I was waiting at check out for the final invoice. They handed it over and did that proforma check preparatory to signing it off, but my eye snagged on a movie charge It was definitely an adult film, charged to my company room. Ultimately it would have been billed to the company account under my name! (I wonder what cost code they would assign that to).
I looked at the guy behind the counter and challenged the expense. There was also people in the queue behind me listening with interest.
‘Ah – excuse me, there’s a charge here that doesn’t belong to me.’
He said ‘I’m so sorry, which one is an issue?’
‘There’s an adult movie here – and I didn’t watch it, this isn’t my charge.’
He then asked me delicately if perhaps I’d had someone stay with me. Maybe they’d watched it and I didn’t know.
I quite flatly stated, ‘no.’
He was kind enough to point out that if needed, he could remove the charge from the company account and make out a separate invoice for personal payment.
I cut him off, then I held up my laptop and pointed out that if I wanted to watch adult movies, I had my own laptop and access to free wifi, meaning that I could view unlimited material if I was so inclined. And I wouldn’t be charged $6.99 for the privilege of doing so.
He credited the charge.”
Always Check Your Charges
“It was a business trip to NYC sponsored by a client. My only costs were 1) transportation to and from the hotel and 2) Food beyond the provided meals. I was staying at a hotel right across from the Freedom Towers – this place wasn’t cheap.
I stayed a total of three days. During that time, I didn’t even touch the minibar or the provided snacks. There was no way I was going to ‘splurge’ on a $10 candy bar. My company would have never covered that. And by didn’t touch, I mean physically didn’t touch.
When I checked out, the bill was $0. I had only slept in the hotel and made sure of that.
A few days later, I was back at work. Our system was automated, and I had to load receipts for all of my charges on my corporate card.
Baggage fees? Check.
Shared van to and from the airport? Check.
NYC pizza for dinner on Night 1? Check.
Dinner in the Detroit airport on the way home? Check.
…a $50 charge from the hotel? Wait…what?
I checked over my receipts, and my charge was $0. Why was it suddenly $50? While $50 was minor in general, I still had to account for it.
I called up the hotel and was transferred around before leaving a voicemail for someone in accounting or the like. Being it was four years ago, I can’t remember exactly who I spoke with right now.
I called every few days for a week before she finally picked up. The entire time, I still had that $50 charge on my card. By this point, it had been about two weeks since the trip.
She explained that since I left before housekeeping could get to my room, they would have to assume that I used the minibar. That justification made no sense.
- I didn’t use the minibar throughout my trip. If that was the case, why wasn’t the charge reversed AFTER the housekeeping went through my room?
- If this was the case, why wasn’t I told of the charge when I checked out? I would imagine that I would have had to agree to this charge.
- Wouldn’t your minibar at a hotel this swanky have pressure triggers that would indicate a purchase? In that case, you wouldn’t have to wait on the housekeeper.
They reversed the charge, but it still left a nasty taste in my mouth. Is this a NYC problem or a $400/night hotel problem? I couldn’t figure it out. It felt more like they were trying to get away with something in hopes no one would notice. I hate to think the worst of the situation, but it’s tough not to!
Moral of the story? It pays (er…saves?) to carefully check your charges!”
Crusin for a Bruisin
“One time my wife and kids and I took a Disney cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida. Instead of parking at the cruise terminal, we took a deal from the hotel we stayed at a few days before departure and left the vehicle there. Part of the paperwork was what ship we were on and our return date and contact info. A shuttle to/from the terminal was included.
At the end of a cruise, they put you off the ship early in the morning. We caught the shuttle after a bit of a wait and got back to the hotel. Our car would not open. It was dead. Electrical dead, so electric door locks and rear hatch (it’s an SUV) didn’t work. As I got inside with the manual key to pop the hood, I noticed a drenched note on the windshield to see the front desk.
I also noticed the battery had been disconnected. I went inside. They sent out a maintenance man to reconnect our battery (I could have done that although my tools were in the wayback and I’d have to climb over seats). Meanwhile my tired family had to wait out by the car.
Then I got a bill for $90 for locksmith services. Apparently, the rooftop luggage carrier we had was rocking the vehicle and setting off the alarm the first night of our cruise, in the high winds. Guests were complaining about the noise. Instead of calling the shore to ship number we left, or calling our cellphones (which worked since we were following the Florida shoreline south within sight of the coast), they just broke into our vehicle, and disconnected the battery.
if they’d called us, we would have given them permission to move the vehicle or remove the rooftop carrier (which didn’t require opening the doors). I told the manager I wasn’t paying. He said he already charged my card on file. I told him he had no authorization to do that (I never signed anything authorizing it). He said too bad, his guests come first.
I left and posted a not so nice review on the brand’s website for that hotel. I also told the manager that I was going to dispute the charge if he didn’t remove it from my card. When it showed up on the statement, I filed a dispute with the card company. About 30 days later, the dispute was resolved in my favor. Then the manager issued me a credit…AFTER the chargeback processed.
That manager was not only mean, he was dumb. He ended up compensating me twice and getting a poor review to boot. Needless to say, on the next cruise we stayed elsewhere and parked at the terminal.”
It’s a Trap!
“In 2014 I rented a beach house right outside of Sanibel Isle, Florida. We rented the house for a week. It had a pool, hot tub, Lanai, canal for fishing, and the house was huge! I got it for $750, which was a steal! I actually worried it was too good to be true, and turns out, I was right.
During the week we were careful not to damage anything: my 2 sons, husband, and I. I am a bit OCD, so I cleaned the bathrooms and kitchen upon checking in. On the day we were to leave, I woke up early to pack and cleaned the home from top to bottom. I was trying to make the best impression so we could rent again. The realtor came, and he commented on how clean the place was. He checked everything and signed over to release my $500 deposit. We hit the road for our long 11 hour drive home. Somewhere off 75 in Georgia we decided to stop for dinner. Upon doing so I decided to check our bank account, online, as I do each and every day. Upon logging in I was immediately upset. I saw a $750 charge on my card from the realty company that we had used.
I of course angrily called, trying my best to be calm and give them the benefit of doubt. When I was informed of the charge I was again furious. Blinds. He said the blinds in the dining room were missing one of the long pieces. I knew this wasn’t possible as I’d checked the house inside out and even closed them in front of him. He checked the blinds with me and again stated how nice and clean everything was. I told him I’d get my money back and would leave him a lovely review. We had a heated exchange and I hung up. I went online to leave a scathing review and what do I find? 11 other reviews, mentioning a scam! This is how they got you in, renting the home so cheap! The owners were German and the only good reviews were from fellow German travelers. The agency, out of Naples Fl, was also Owned by Germans and apparently Americans and Canadians were their targets.
I called the credit card company and emailed copies of the reviews and a copy of the paper he signed releasing my damage deposit. I got every penny spent back! I also learned a very good lesson! I check out realty companies before renting from them. One thing that surprised me was the credit card company knew of this scam. I wish they’d mentioned it to me when I made the charge, to rent the home.”
I Thought I Already Paid for That
“I booked a Valentine’s Day long weekend in a beautiful corner room suite with a fireplace for my wife and me at The Morgan Hotel in NYC. I made a lot of very special plans. I had flowers, expensive adult beverages and chocolate covered strawberries waiting in the room when we checked in. I booked her a spa day at a place used by the celebrities with a limo ride to and from. Tickets to a Broadway play. Dinner at a celebrity chef restaurant every night. There were other things, but those are the highlights.
Some of the plans were made in advance as reservations and pre-payment were required. Others were just winged in the moment between me and the concierge. Each time I interacted with the concierge, I tipped him generously depending on the task he performed for me. Those tips varied between $20, $50 and $100 each.
I assumed that I was covered for all but the actual cost of whatever product or service was being procured for me. When I checked out, my bill was about $400 higher than I expected.
After asking about the service charge, it was explained to me that my tips were only that and were pocketed by the concierge. If, in order to procure a product or service for me, there was a surcharge or tip that the concierge had to extend, he was apparently adding it to my bill without discussing it with me. Restaurant captains and hostesses, ticket scalper (agent) surcharges, etc. They were not itemized, so there was no way to check any of it. They were simply a line item, ‘Misc. Service Charges.’
I paid the bill and, even though I still get emails from The Morgan Hotel, I’ve never been back. And now I make a point of being more specific with concierges.”
At Least Justice Was Done
“This happened a few years ago on our trip to Bali. We stayed there for 5 days and for the first four days, we were on a series of day tours. Our tour guide picked us up at 7:30 AM, then dropped us off no earlier than 7:00 PM. On the fifth day, we were checking out very early at 5:30 AM since we needed to be at the airport by 6:30.
I booked our hotel room thru Agoda and paid in full, so we were surprised when the receptionist was asking us to pay $40 for ‘internet charges.’ The hotel has free wifi and my husband and I used it for the duration our stay.
The receptionist explained to us that our room was charged for internet use for conference calls, which included printing of several documents and visa application forms at the business center. The document he showed us indicated that we allegedly availed of business center services on the first three days of our stay. The times indicated were all after lunch, between 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM, times when we were not even at the hotel because we were out on our tours.
I told the receptionist that there was clearly a mistake, since we never even set foot at the business center, much less needed documents for printing. We had our tickets printed at home, and as we were going back home, we didn’t need visas.
The receptionist looked annoyed and claimed that one of us signed the charge slips. I asked him to show me. As expected, it was clearly not my signature. The form was filled out in somebody else’s handwriting. I showed him my passport, my driver’s license, as well as credit card slips I had in my wallet. The signature shown on the charge slips was clearly not mine. My husband got annoyed and demanded to see the CCTV footage.
Surprisingly, the receptionist cancelled the $40 charge and checked us out. He seemed to be satisfied with the signature specimens I showed him.
When we got home, I wrote to the customer service desk and promptly received a reply from the manager. He promised me that he would look into the incident and would give me an update.
A few days later, the manager sent me an e-mail saying that an investigation was conducted, and the people involved were ‘dealt with accordingly.’ He apologized for the inconvenience caused and thanked me for informing them of the incident.”
Being a Tourist Can Often be Taxing
“We’ve mostly been lucky with this sort of thing. We typically book and pay in full in advance, and my wife is fastidious about making sure we know exactly what is included in our price, and what is not. But the one that has caught us out a couple of times are ‘tourists taxes’ applied by the city.
These are particularly common in major European cities and are in addition to the Sales Tax (VAT), which is usually itemized on the bill at the time of booking.
They are typically collected by the hotel directly, so you do not pay them in advance if you book through a third party the booking agent. And a few of the hotels we’ve stayed in have had policies on this that have caught us out.
First time we stayed in Paris as a family (we were visiting Disneyland Paris, but staying off site), the booking agent did not mention that the city tax was going to be a thing (they probably buried it deep in the Terms and Conditions, but we certainly didn’t notice it).
It was only a couple of euros per person per night, but there were 3 of us, and we were staying for I think 8 days that time, so it stung a little. The hotel was a little sketchy, they didn’t speak great English and couldn’t really explain it, and I remember probably paying more than the actual fee itself in expensive data roaming charges on my phone, so that I could Google this tax and make sure the hotel wasn’t ripping me off.
Next few times, we were prepared for it, but then we got into the habit of staying in Airbnb places for the next few years worth of visits (we were annual pass holders between 2013 and 2019, so visited often) and completely forgot about the city hotel tax. We found a few hosts we liked, and trusted, and ended up staying with them quite regularly.
However, as my daughter got older, and her sleeping in a travel cot, or in an air mattress on the floor became more problematic, we really needed to find other options. The cheap Airbnb places we had been using couldn’t offer us another bed or room, and the alternatives we found were actually more expensive than some of the cheaper hotels on the area, so back to hotels we went!
First hotel we found was ideal for what we needed in a lot of ways—location, price, facilities—but it was also a little sketchy… cheap hotels usually are!
At check in, they didn’t take our city tax (it is usually paid at check in, and we stayed there more than once, and it was always done at check in later, but I guess they forgot) and we had forgotten about it.
We had a few euros in cash, we always liked to have a fallback, but at DLRP everywhere takes MasterCard, and so most of our money was on a prepaid international MC, it’s just safer that way.
Towards the end of our stay, we knew that we didn’t know when or if we would be coming back to Paris, so we decided to use as much of our cash euros as possible before we left. We were planning to move to Canada less than a year later, and while we hoped to get another couple of visits in before our passes expired, we didn’t know for sure if it would be possible.
So by the time we came to checkout of the hotel, all we had was loose change, and maybe a couple random small bits of paper money that had been stuffed in pockets. At checkout, we handed in our keys, thanked them, and walked towards the door, when we heard, ‘Wait, did you pay city tax?’ So, we went back to the desk, they crunched the numbers, and we pulled out our MasterCard, and they looked at us, pointed to the city tax sign by the desk which had written on it ‘cash only.’
We were on a time crunch to get to the airport, our Uber was already on its way, and I had no idea where the nearest ATM was. We frantically began pulling together all of our loose change and we’re still around 5 euros short. We opened our suitcase, and began checking pockets for anything else we may have had. Fortunately we were able to find enough money in pockets to pay the city tax in the end, but lesson learned!
If you’re ever visiting a major European city, be aware, a lot of hotels collect a city tax at check in or checkout, many will only accept cash, and it’s very common that this additional charge won’t be obvious to you at all when you book.”