Annika Pigford finds a $250 hotel cleaning fee on her bill. Why did Candlewood Suites charge her? Does she have any way of appealing the fee, or is she out of luck?
I’ve been a guest at the Candlewood Suites Hawthorne in Hawthorne, Calif., several times. After my most recent stay, the hotel charged my debit card an extra $250. I was clueless as to why the hotel would be putting extra charges on my debit card.
Immediately I called the hotel to ask about it. The woman who answered the phone quietly listened to my concerns and then quickly transferred me to a number that rang busy, and then disconnected me. I called several times after that but got no answer.
I felt like something suspicious was going on so I reported it to my bank and to Candlewood’s parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). An IHG representative promised there would be an investigation.
So I waited a few days and I called the hotel back. I spoke with the manager, who told me the $250 was a smoking fee. I explained that I’m a nonsmoker and a traveling nurse. The hotel manager said they took a picture of tobacco in the trash can from my room, “So we have proof.” She said when I checked in, I signed a smoking policy, and that I had disobeyed that policy.
I’m not a smoker. The manager said I could do whatever I wanted, I would not get the $250 back. I’ve called IHG again and they promised to escalate my case, but so far I’ve heard nothing. Can you help? — Annika Pigford, Atlanta
If you didn’t smoke in your room, you shouldn’t have to pay a $250 hotel cleaning fee.
But the Candlewood Suites Hawthorne says it has photographic evidence that someone used tobacco products in your room. If they have time-stamped pictures of your room with cigarette butts in the trash, then it would be difficult to fight a hotel cleaning fee.
I contacted Candlewood Suites to see if they could share the photos. I’ll tell you what happened in just a moment.
But first, I have a few thoughts on smoking in hotel rooms. When you light up in a hotel room, the stench of the smoke lingers for the next guest to inhale. I’m fine with you doing that kind of thing in your own home, but please don’t subject future travelers to your carcinogens. In other words, I fully support the right of a hotel like the Candlewood Suites Hawthorne to charge their guests a hotel cleaning fee for smoking in the room.
But there’s a right way and a wrong way, to do it. The hotel should have contacted you after your stay, presented you with the evidence, and offered you a way to appeal the smoking penalty. Adding a charge without explanation is the wrong way.
How to appeal a hotel cleaning fee
You needed to push this case up the chain of command in writing. It looks like you started with an email but then called IHG’s corporate headquarters. The problem with calling is that there’s no documentation of your conversation, at least on your end. If you had sent a brief, polite email to one of the executives at IHG, you might have resolved this long ago. I list the names, numbers and addresses of all the relevant managers for InterContinental Hotels Group on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.
I never found out if Candlewood really had photos of your alleged tobacco products. After I contacted the hotel, a representative reached out to you for more information. The hotel refunded the hotel cleaning fee.
Are these fees a scam?
I’ve been getting complaints about hotel cleaning fees for years. No, decades. And while a few are legit, many are not. (Here’s a related story.) So my question for you is: Which is it? Are these hotel cleaning fees covering a hotel’s costs, or are they padding their profits?