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November 12, 2012

Choice Hotels: That Room Safe Could Cost You

Filed under: Business,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

A regular Mouse Print* reader, Bob, recently returned from a cross-country car trip and wrote to complain about what he calls the “hotel safe scam.” Here’s his story:

You check into a hotel, and you are asked to initial a registration form in several places and then sign it. You initial to accept the hotel’s rate. You initial to acknowledge the non-smoking policy. And again for the no-pets policy. Some hotels also ask you to initial the “optional” safe fee. Then you sign at the bottom.

People are tired, distracted, in a hurry, or perhaps their English isn’t so good. If you stay in enough hotels, it all becomes routine. Many consumers just do as they are asked without reading.

The safe fee is usually $1.50 per day, but sometimes a different amount. Supposedly, it’s for the use of the safe. In some cases, I found the safe locked and unusable, but that made no difference to the charge.

An “optional” fee is rather extraordinary. The hotel form often says that you can ask for the fee to be removed. Some say they will remove the fee up to 60 days later. If you ask up front that the fee be removed, some tell you to ask again at checkout. In every case, when I insisted that the fee be removed, it was, although I had to ask twice sometimes.

The safe fee is a hidden-in-plain-sight scam. The hotels expressly tell you about the fee and rely on inertia to get your money. The hotels know that most people won’t notice or won’t object. Checkout at most hotels doesn’t require any action by a consumer. The hotel often slips a bill under your door, and you can leave without stopping at the front desk.

Sure enough, some Choice hotels tack on a “safe with limited warranted” charge of $1.50 a day onto your bill:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Choice safe charge

Mouse Print* contacted the PR folks at Choice Hotels to ask for an explanation of this charge and why they chose a sneaky way to raise the cost of a hotel room. The company did not respond.

The lesson here is clear: don’t blindly initial all the Xs on that card when you first register at a hotel, and scrutinize your bill for “optional” charges that the hotel might tack onto it.

• • •

15 Comments

  1. The real scam here is, for an $80 room, there is $10.30 in taxes….

    Comment by Jim — November 12, 2012 @ 9:19 am
  2. @Jim many states/cities have higher taxes on hotel rooms than anything else. You will see this in places that usually have no state tax (ie florida and nevada). All those services need to be paid in some way. That is how. Plus you have 0 representation so they will tax you however they like.

    One sneaky thing some places do is charge you for ‘car park’. Even though you showed up in a taxi… They just charge everyone and hope most do not catch it. Knew someone who did auditing at one of those places and they asked. They senior accounting manager just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘some percentage will not use it but pay anyway’. It is cheaper for them to charge you always then hope you do not bitch about it. As there is a very small percentage of people who do. Plus getting the charge off is easy enough for the front clerk to deduct, if someone asks.

    Comment by me — November 12, 2012 @ 9:52 am
  3. There is definitely fault on both sides of this one. Consumers for not reading (or caring about) their charges and businesses for taking advantage of that. I wish businesses would just charge people what they feel is necessary to stay in business rather than sneaking charges in wherever they feel they can get away with them.

    Comment by Wayne R — November 12, 2012 @ 10:36 am
  4. Watch for a “newspaper fee” also. If you want the newspaper then it is reasonable. If you don’t read USA Today then don’t initial.

    Comment by Kai — November 12, 2012 @ 10:49 am
  5. The abuses and outright fraud at Choice hotels are so frequent that I ceased staying at any of them about four years ago. I even had one Quality Inn refused me the rate that I had gotten by calling their 800 number although they had that as quoted in the communication they received from the Corporate 800 number operator. So I left and found another hotel down the road.

    Comment by Jim — November 12, 2012 @ 11:33 am
  6. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/hotel-fees/1422716/

    From SNL this season on Hotel Fees.

    Comment by Richard Ginn — November 12, 2012 @ 12:36 pm
  7. Choice Hotels was on the TV show “UNDERCOVER BOSS” last season. Some of their Hotels needed some major repairs. Maybe this was how they decided to recoup the cost for those repairs. I have stayed in a few of their other Hotels and have never had that charge. Umless it was something that Clarion Hotel is doing on their own.

    Comment by Pat Rochester — November 12, 2012 @ 12:46 pm
  8. Anybody that signs ANY document WITHOUT reading it is an idiot!

    Comment by Gert — November 12, 2012 @ 12:54 pm
  9. That’s a little harsh, Gert. As Bob said in the original story, sometimes you’re tired, distracted, or in a hurry, or maybe your English isn’t so good. How about a little trustworthiness and integrity from the companies that want to sell you something? (Don’t laugh. There are some good ones out there.) I’d rather do business with people that I don’t always have to be on my guard with.

    But you are right. People need to read and understand what they sign.

    Comment by Richard — November 12, 2012 @ 1:35 pm
  10. Richard, I know it sounds harsh but it’s true! Yes there are ‘honest’ businesses out there but they aren’t the norm (which is sad).

    Comment by Gert — November 12, 2012 @ 2:30 pm
  11. I love the “Resort Fee” that is tacked on and non negotiable.

    Comment by Rick — November 12, 2012 @ 5:06 pm
  12. Maybe it’s time to skip initially anything and see if they notice.
    Of course, that won’t solve everything that they could tack on and make you remove later, but at least they wouldn’t have any legal ground for option fees (unless there is an implied “arbitrator clause, unless you initial here” option!)

    Comment by RobS — November 13, 2012 @ 1:08 pm
  13. I’ve learned about the safe fee years ago and make it a point when checking in to remind the desk to not to charge me if a safe is available in the room. I double check with the desk when checking out and so far I’ve never had a problem – regarding of where I stay. Just remember to double check your bill when checking out. And one more thing. Never turn in your card key. I always keep mine and destroy it once I’m home.

    Comment by Frankie — November 14, 2012 @ 12:41 am
  14. @Frankie – why destroy the key and not turn it in?

    Comment by Tom — November 14, 2012 @ 12:26 pm
  15. I agree with Jim about Choice Hotels policies as deceptive. I travel frequently and have comepletely given up on any Choice property. Their rewards program is nonexistent. Their business model includes not honoring their mistaken offers. There really is a difference in chains. I don’t trust them anymore and never recommend that anyone risk them.

    Comment by Susan — November 26, 2012 @ 10:00 am

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