Here's why you should always double check your hotel bill
Shannon Puhrmann was a bit concerned.
After using his Marriott points to book a pair of rooms at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri last month, he was surprised to see a $53 charge labeled "Rm Chrg — Reward Redemption" on his final bill. This was not one of those dreaded resort fees that have become all-too-common at popular leisure resorts and even big-city hotels. Instead, it appeared that the property was requiring an additional fee on top of the points he had used.
This happened right around the time Marriott confirmed to TPG that a similar, previously-reported issue — at select resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean — had been resolved.
Fortunately, Shannon was able to get the charges reversed by reaching out to customer service, and a Marriott spokesperson confirmed that the property "entered data incorrectly" on the reservation — and promised to reinforce training to ensure it didn't happen again.
Nevertheless, this experience indicates just how important it is to double-check your hotel bill to identify any questionable (or downright incorrect) charges.
And a poll launched in our TPG Lounge Facebook group earlier this week gave an indication of just how widespread this issue is.
A whopping 91.5% of respondents indicated that they have dealt with errors on a hotel bill at checkout — ranging from minor problems like a soda from the sundry shop to major concerns like being charged the full cash price on an award stay.
One common source of these mistakes is the in-room minibar. In many cases, readers reported a single item being charged and then immediately reversed after disputing that it was consumed. However, some hotels utilize sensors on these items, and even moving an item could trigger an automatic charge.
A particularly interesting anecdote comes from lounge member Jennifer Bennett after a one-night stay following a red-eye into Paris (CDG). She tilted up every bottle before making her selection — and rather than being charged for the one item she consumed, the property automatically added all of them to her bill.
The front-desk agent "actually chuckled at the charges," she said, "since it looked like I drank almost everything in the minibar in a one-night stay."
Many other TPG Lounge members flagged parking fees as another frequent issue. Often it's a case of either assuming the guest has a car or simply checking the wrong box in the system when you say you aren't parking a car — though some reported multiple charges on reservation with more than one room.
Another regular offender? Charges that are supposed to be comped — including breakfast and premium Wi-Fi. In many cases, these services are included with elite status or by booking a vacation package, but many readers report them showing up on a final bill at checkout, requiring an added conversation to get them removed.
Related: 5 ways to get your hotel breakfast for free
And then there's on-property dining charges.
Many travelers enjoy the convenience of having a drink or a meal in a hotel restaurant, and at secluded resorts in spots like the Maldives, it may be the only option. However, there's always room for errors.
Some TPG Lounge members reported meals they never ate appearing on their bills, requiring them to use a receipt from an off-property restaurant to prove that it wasn't a valid charge. In some cases, it was simply a wrong room number on another guest's receipt, but other times, it appeared a bit more nefarious — where someone deliberately charged a bar tab or restaurant purchase (using the correct name and room number).
But regardless of the mistake and the reason for it being there, it's critical to double-check every, single hotel bill to identify the errors in advance.
Most of the comments we received from readers indicate that the charges were reversed without any hassle. However, that's not always the case — especially if you don't notice the mistake until after you check out. Raising the problem right away could prevent the need to make phone calls and follow up with the property afterwards. And in a few instances, readers were forced to resort to a credit card dispute.
Here are some additional tips for handling these situations (or to avoid them in the first place):
- Be careful about ordering in a crowded restaurant or bar. One lounge member found that a $30 tab at the pool bar had ballooned to over $200 at check out — and then realized she had given the server her name and room number out loud in a packed bar. Some unscrupulous patrons clearly overheard the exchange and took advantage, though the property was able to refund the extra amount.
- Save all of your confirmation emails. Whether you're using points or paying cash, keeping your initial reservation confirmation email can go a long way toward proving that your stay included certain items — especially when using a program like American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. I ran into this issue during a 2018 stay at the Park Hyatt St. Kitts. My stay was booked during a limited-time promotion that included on-property credits per person (not per room). Had I not presented a copy of the confirmation email showing this perk, I may have been out hundreds of dollars.
- Know what's included with your status. If you hold elite status with a given hotel loyalty program, it's critical to know exactly what to expect during your stay. What exactly does "free breakfast" mean? Does my tier of status include premium or standard Wi-Fi? And note that this can always change — as we saw with Hilton's shift to dining credits instead of breakfast at some brands earlier this year.
Perhaps the best advice came from TPG Lounge member Curtis Brinkerhoff: "I always go the night before and ask for a copy of my folio," he said. This allows him to "review and not be rushed at check out time."
Remember too that it's not always easy for hotels to navigate the various inclusions and package options, and ultimately, it's often still a human who's responsible for adding incidentals and inputting the data. Mistakes can and often do happen, which is why it can pay — literally — to review your final hotel bill carefully.
Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy