The Ramada Plaza Hotel in Orlando claims Nancy Nutting smoked in her room and charged her credit card a $350 cleaning fee.
Just one problem: She doesn’t smoke.
“We are 100 percent smoke-free and have never smoked — ever,” she says.
The circumstances of this claim are a little suspicious.
Nutting and her wife didn’t have an ideal stay. For starters, their room key never allowed them access to the breakfast included in their room rate.
They were supposed to have a room with a balcony, which they didn’t get. Their room’s mini-fridge froze over, shattering glass bottles and ruining their snacks.
Then, when they needed Tylenol in the middle of the night, the hotel — despite its size — offered nothing in the way of sundries, forcing them to find a 24-hour drugstore.
“When my wife left in the middle of the night, it was cold in the room, so I turned on the heater, but I switched it off after 20 minutes because it smelled like burnt rubber,” Nutting recalls.
On their last morning, the couple woke to housekeeping entering their room, so they quickly packed up and checked out.
At the front desk, Nutting expressed her dissatisfaction about their experience at the hotel. Her conclusion: the hotel staff couldn’t care less.
“The staff member ignored me and said nothing [about my complaints],” Nutting explains.
So, the next day, she wrote an online review detailing her negative experience at the Ramada, and moved on.
The following day, Nutting noticed that $350 had been debited from her bank account by the hotel.
Nutting called the hotel and was finally able to speak to the manager, who was unsympathetic. The manager claims the smell of smoke was detected 15 minutes after check-out.
“Their attitude was that, ‘We have your money already so we don’t care,’” says Nutting.
This isn’t the first time a hotel guest has been hit with such fees. In the last decade, many hotel chains stopped offering smoking rooms to guests, and converted their entire property to smoke-free status. In doing so, hotels adopted policies to punish violators in an effort to recoup the cost of cleaning the room and lost revenue during the process. Hefty fees are deterrents to would-be violators, as well.
But what proof do they have that the Nuttings, self-professed non-smokers, violated the policy? Shouldn’t Ramada need physical evidence of smoking in order to debit their bank account $350?
And, by the way, shouldn’t Ramada inform the guest of the fee? It seems pretty unfair to unilaterally levy a fine without even a notification to the guest, whose only notice was from her bank.
Ramada’s website only states that this particular location is “100 percent non-smoking,” and does not detail its procedures for imposing fines to violators of its policy.
So what gives? Shouldn’t Ramada need some evidence of smoking to impose any fine, and especially such a hefty one?
Update: Nutting wrote to me with a news about her case: “I got my money back by disputing the charge with my bank. Then I had to cancel my card because Ramada kept trying to recharge it after it was charged back. I contacted corporate but was informed it was a franchise and was ‘out of their hands.’ Ramada was rude and unprofessional throughout the entire situation and we will NEVER stay at Ramada again”