Do You Dispute Small Charges? Or Am I Just Being Petty?

I checked into a Hyatt Regency property late on recent evening. Three’s a store in the lobby, and it had just closed. I asked at check-in whether there was anywhere else I might get water.

The agent checking me in just told me to take the bottles in the room, they have a price tag on them but they don’t charge Diamond members.

I thought that was nice — I remember three years ago at an event in Denver Gold Passport’s Jeff Zidell mentioning to me they were looking at making bottled water a Diamond benefit. It’s a small item, but you get into a hotel and it’s nice to have that by your bedside at a non-extortionate price.

As these things go, though, I took one of the two bottles and the charge did show up on my hotel folio. (It wasn’t there at checkout but must have been added later, and was included in the folio accessible from my Hyatt Gold Passport account.)

Hotels never seem to leave off charges from my bill. Mistakes always seem to be in the hotel’s favor.

If $3 items were equally likely left off as on I’d probably decide they balance out and not worry about it. If there are charges left off, at least material charges I’ll notice, I will say something to the hotel. So I feel like I should say something when I notice charges that shouldn’t be there.

And though I don’t have an individual incentive to spend time worth more than the charge, I take a sort of Kantian approach* — if we generalized that, and everyone ignored small charges, it would create a very strong incentive for hotels to purposely tack on charges like that, small enough that no one bothers, but at $3++ per room night actually meaningful. All guests would be worse off.

So at some level I figure I have a moral imperative to say something.

Do you bother looking for small mistake charges, and following up to have them removed?

(* for any philosophy PhDs amongst my readers, I am using the term loosely.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hey Gary,

    May seem petty since it’s only $3, but fight for every dollar, always.

    When I worked at a Sheraton the waters in the room were EXTREMELY deceptive, and the price was VERY small. The housekeepers were in charge of letting the Front Desk know in the evening who drank waters and who didn’t. We would then filter out Starwood Platinum (NOT Gold), and then charge everyone else.

    Personally I think the housekeepers made a lot of mistakes with this. I CONSTANTLY had to refund water charges after people left the hotel.

  2. Yes, big time. Hilton are notorious for charging for internet for gold and diamond. On check-in they say “Just hit the charge button, we will obviously credit it on check-out” then of course, volia! a charge. I routinely ask for a print out of the account to check, I take a pen and circle every item, I draw a line under each dated section. I then sign it or query any non-agreed charges, I hand it back, ask them to fix if any amendments, I then re-check, sign it and then ask for a zero balance account. No, you can’t email it to me later.

    Another good thing to look out, always check the rate you are paying is the same as the reservation you made. They are infamous for over-charging because most guests assume the rate is right, even when they confirm the rate with you at check-in. Mysteriously (?) a few times they have told me the rate at check-in and then it alters at final account.

    I don’t trust them.

  3. The credit card issuer is probably more likely to eat the charge then carry through an investigation with the merchant. Thus, I don’t think you will teach the hotel a lesson, though, you are certain to get your three bucks back.

  4. is bottled water not a published benefit of Hyatt Diamond? Even Hilton Silver get 2 per stay.

    p.s. Everything after the * is italicized.

  5. @Robert sorry for lack of clarity, i wasn’t talking about disputing with the credit card company, i was following up with the hotel

    @italdesign yes thanks fixed

  6. Gary – absolutely. Dispute it with the hotel, not the credit card company. I had this happen recently with internet access at at Fairmont. One email to them about it resulted in a refund, apology, and confirmation that the stay posted to my President’s Club account as well as BA Avios. That’s why they have accounting departments.

  7. Yes, I do check my bill and dispute small charges, especially since I have to send it to clients with my invoice. I also do it for personal travel since, after all, it is my money.

    Paying something like $12 per gallon for water is really outrageous, so if I can I’ll wait until the next morning for the local market to open. The only place I’ll buy hotel water is where I don’t trust the local water system.

  8. Yes, you most absolutely should follow up and contest this…especially since it came after you checked out and should have been free in the first place.

  9. Always! If they charged $3 more I probably wouldn’t care, but they I can’t let them steal from me…

  10. You should follow-up with the hotel and inquire about the charge, specifically on the FD agent’s comment. If the person made up the policy, then they need to be retrained.

  11. It’d annoy the sh!t out of me for wasting my time, but yes, I would definitely call the hotel to dispute it.

  12. If the charge appeared at check-out was only $3, I probably let it go. If I do express check-out and then my credit card has the $3, I’d call the hotel. After the fact bothers me. Hotels seem to be doing this more after the fact, extra charges.

  13. When I’m given an assurance — orally or in writing — I think the person who gave me the assurance, or the institution the person is representing, has an obligation to honor it. (I do my level best to live up to the assurances I give others.) I absolutely will ask that the “mistake” be rectified.
    Especially in the case you described, you were told one thing and, for whatever reason, innocent or otherwise, the hotel did something very different. You were (are?) right to insist that the hotel live up to its assurance to you.
    While in some cases I’m sure there is no such effect, we can hope that if those who either carelessly or disingenuously do something different than they said they would are called to account enough times, there will be fewer such occurrences in the future.

  14. Give me a break. My time is too valuable to worry about $3 and waste more time dealing with the hotel. Its really your Ego talking and really you want to benefit from this very small mistake and maybe receive some extra points, e.t.c.

  15. Had an unauthorized charge from a Hyatt stay (breakfast buffet which was supposed to have been comped due to room not being ready). Emailed the hotel, no response. Emailed the Hyatt customer service folks; no response. Tweeted to Hyatt and the hotel and the charges were rescinded within 30 minutes and bonus points added to my account.

  16. When I stayed in Radisson Blu Vilnius, the hotel charged me bottled water that was part of my Gold Welcome Gift (a fruit basket and a glass bottle of water). Charge was removed when I spoke to front desk. It must be the housekeeping staff who was unfamiliar with what’s chargeable items and what’s not. (The complimentary water has different packaging than the mini bar water).

  17. Now $3 one time isn’t worth the time to deal with it. $3 every time once they figure they can get away with it, that’s worth contacting the hotel. And I’d contact the hotel and not the credit card.

  18. Contacting the hotel is a must. It’s even better when it’s small charges like $3, because it may even cost them nearly as much, or more than that to fix it.

    If everyone fought the little stuff, they wouldn’t try to get away with it.

    As a punitive measure, I always like to put in some arcane request like, “Please fax me a copy of the refund slip,” to make it more of an administrative burden and add to the hassle and costs to the hotel.

  19. It’s similar to medical providers, they know that most will overlook it or not bother contesting. Almost criminal. So the next time you get a colonoscopy, don’t check the box indicating a family history, because they will charge you or your insurance a different amount even though it is the same procedure. They know that 99% will have no idea about DRG / ICD codes and modifiers to procedures. That is why our medical system is so screwed up, pure greed.

  20. Lets put it this way. Per hotel charges I have never been undercharged by a hotel. I had some of these water bill charges and other incorrect charges. I fight them all. Once in Vegas there was $100 sushi dinner on my bill which was a scam. Somebody at lunch *maybe a waitress) took down my rom info and passed it to a friend. Signature on that bill was not mine and they must have seen I was staying at the Penthouse and would not notice.

  21. Sorry, but guys like Steve are part of the problem. People and institutions must be held accountable, and being too lazy (or “too busy”) to do your part is encouraging bad behavior. You did right.

    But, +1 on Lexy’s comment. Kant? Really? Don’t see that connection.

  22. I say something when I think about the thousands and thousands of dollars these companies make by lying to their customers. I certainly need my $3 more than Hyatt does.

  23. And, for what it is worth – the credit card company is NOT likely to eat the small charges. They are in the business of money as well.

  24. Yes, point it out to them. I tend to point out when hotels (or other establishments) make a mistake, whether it’s in my favour or theirs. Normally if they’ve left something off the bill, they just thank you, but don’t add it on the bill, so you’ve not lost anything. The only time I can think of when I didn’t bother was when a restaurant double charged for one item and forgot to charge for another. I figured that it balanced out and I couldn’t be bothered to get it sorted. But you do have to be careful, it’s quite common to end up with other charges such as items for another table.

  25. I may not scrutinize the bill closely enough to notice it, but if I did, I’d definitely bring it to their attention.
    Though in a hotel in the U.S. I’d just drink the tap water. Bottled water is mostly a scam, and environmentally unfriendly, where there’s a good water supply.

  26. Dispute.

    And, bravo on the post length. I am surprised you didn’t discuss every time you were overcharged for the past 15 years.

  27. I would dispute, even though the amount is insignificant just because of the principal. Small things like this leave a bad impression. The hotel should know when the customer is not happy with something that is easily correctible. It should help them improve their systems to avoid such instances in future (assuming someone is actually paying attention).

  28. I would raise it with the front desk on checkout.

    @ROBBO, Hilton hotels now have a portal where you can select “I am a Hilton Honors Member” and you just enter your HH username, password, and room number, avoiding the “room charge per day” page.

  29. Everyone is going on about water charges. How about telephone access charges to make a toll free call. Hotels, especially in Asia, do this as a matter of routine. Last year in Japan they tried to hit me for several hundred dollars! I always dispute these charges and always have them taken off or reduced. What a scam!

  30. Just dispute anything not consumed at the frontdesk. Afterwards my time might be more valuable than chasing 3 bucks, but might still do it as a matter of principle.

  31. Once in the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago we removed all minibar contents from the fridge, so we could keep our own things cold in there. Replaced everything back to original state in the morning. Had a ~$100 bill for the minibar at the checkout. Turns out their state-of-the art minibars have sensors under every item. Those sensors trigger ‘purchase’ every time you remove the item.
    I explained the situation and the bill was promptly removed, but it just shows how far hotels go in monetizing this.

  32. Yes, I am inclined to contest small charges, but have not had much luck with it. IHG hotels (formerly Priority Club) in Germany charge me for the wifi, which is to be complimentary, under ‘city tax’. Just thinking of it makes me annoyed. I contested this and it just was a very long correspondence which never got resolved in one instance. Have another charge now pending, which I will contest with consumer service. This was charged after I had asked at check-in if all taxes were included. This was confirmed.

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