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* 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.