She didn’t smoke in the Country Inn & Suites. So what’s this $250 cleaning fee?

cleaning fee

A Country Inn & Suites charges Rachel Simmons a $250 cleaning fee for smoking in her room. But she says she didn’t light up. Does she still have to pay?

Q: I recently stayed at a Country Inn & Suites in Omaha, Neb. After my husband and I checked out, the hotel charged us a $250 fee. I contacted the hotel after seeing the charge and after several phone calls, an assistant manager told me it was a was a cleaning fee for smoking in the room. He told me the room smelled of weed.

I did not smoke in my room. The manager said I should take it up with my credit card company. I left a voice message for the hotel manager but received no response.

My credit card company sided with Country Inn & Suites when the hotel sent the smoking policy that I had signed at check-in. Again, I did not smoke in the room and I don’t know what to do because it seems it is my word against the assistant manager. I am not sure how to handle this. Can you help? — Rachel Simmons, Freeport, Ill.

A: I’m sorry that the hotel charged you a cleaning fee that you feel was undeserved.

Smoking fees are an absolutely necessary part of running a hotel, and I fully support them. If you light up in a room, it can take days or weeks to get rid of the odor. Hotel managers have told me the distinct smell of marijuana is particularly difficult to eliminate.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: You shouldn’t ever smoke in your hotel room. If you do, and it’s against the rules, you should quickly own up to it and pay the applicable cleaning fee. If you don’t, then the hotel just passes the cost along to other guests in the form of higher room rates. That’s not fair.

You say you didn’t light up in your room. I believe you. But is it possible someone else — your husband or a guest — partook while you were in the room? I’m not saying they did, but it’s not enough that you just said “no” when you’re a hotel guest. A hotel employee smelled weed and had to do a deep-clean after your stay.

How to resolve a cleaning fee dispute

I have a few problems with your case. First, the hotel simply charged your card $250 without telling you why. It should have contacted you, explained the $250 fee, and sent an incident report with any photos or invoices from the cleanup. Instead, you had to discover the late charge and contact Country Inn & Suites.

I’m also unhappy with the hotel’s attitude. By your account, a manager told you to take the matter to a credit card dispute. That’s not the way to resolve a problem. You engage in a dialogue.

If the hotel doesn’t want to talk, then maybe the corporate office will. You can appeal to one of the executives at Carlson Rezidor, which manages the hotel chain.

I checked with the hotel. A manager told me that someone “definitely” smoked marijuana in your room. But he had no evidence of and no written report, only a verbal report from an employee. The manager said that in the interest of “not dragging this out any further,” the hotel would refund the $250 charge.

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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