Q: My husband and I recently stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Gallup, New Mexico. We checked in late in the evening. We asked if they had any first-floor rooms because we are senior citizens, and they accommodated us.
When we got to the room, it had an awful odor, but we didn’t want to complain because they put us on the ground floor and we were tired and didn’t want to move. So we opened the door and tried to air it out the best we could.
After returning from our trip, I checked the credit card activity and noticed that there was a charge of $100 for a smoking fee. I called a manager at the Red Roof Inn. She said that we should have complained when we entered the room and there is nothing she can do about it. She said we were lucky they only charged us half the fee. I told her we requested a nonsmoking room, because we do not smoke. Why would we then smoke in the room? She said the cleaning lady said the room smelled of smoke and so we were guilty of smoking.
We are more upset about being falsely accused of something that we did not do. We are starting to think that this is some sort of scam. Please help us. — Mindy Haggerty, Pueblo West, Colorado
A: You didn’t smoke in your room. Therefore, you should not have to pay a smoking fee — or half a smoking fee. Goes without saying, right?
So what went wrong here? Easy. I think you were too polite. When you checked into a room that smelled like smoke, you should have said something. You were still being polite when you referred to it as an “odor.”
The last time I wrote about smoking fees in hotels, I had the audacity to say that if you smoke in your room, you should pay the cleaning fee. Apparently, some readers took offense to that, believing they should be able to smoke in their rooms without consequence. But that’s the world we live in.
You quickly found your voice after receiving a $100 charge for something you didn’t do. When the hotel refused to reverse the charge, you posted warnings on several websites and filed a BBB complaint. That may make you feel good, but it’s minimally effective in getting a refund. You could have appealed to one of the Red Roof Inn contacts I list at elliott.org/company-contacts/red-roof-inn/.
Red Roof did respond to you in writing about your complaint. It said when its housekeeper opened the room to clean it, “there was a strong smell of cigarette smoke.” The housekeeper contacted a front desk representative, who then accompanied the housekeeper to the room and verified that there was indeed a strong smell of smoke. Your room had to be closed for a few days while the hotel cleaned it. Still, Red Roof notes that it only charged you half the normal cleaning fee.
You rejected that explanation because you do not smoke. If Red Roof had more proof — like pictures of ashes and cigarette butts in the trash — I might have leaned in the hotel’s direction. But it didn’t. I contacted Red Roof on your behalf. Separately, you disputed the charges on your credit card. Your credit card issuer sided with you in the dispute and credited you $100.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or firstname.lastname@example.org.