As you prepare for summer travels, take a tip from Marsha Krieger: Be careful of hotel mini-bars with automatic sensors.
Krieger was in Las Vegas recently when she and her husband were surprised by an $8 charge on their hotel bill for “refreshment center food.”
The Copley Township woman recalled opening the mini-bar refrigerator and removing a can of Coke. But she decided against drinking it, so put it back.
Krieger said she knows hotels charge high fees for items from mini-bars and some try to dissuade guests from removing or replacing the mini-bar contents and using the fridge to keep their own food or drinks cold.
But without any clear signs near or on the mini-bar, Krieger thought it was unfair. The only notice she saw was a sticker on the Coke can after she pulled it out of the fridge.
Krieger wasn’t charged for the Coke, but for a bag of chips sitting on top of the fridge. She didn’t eat the chips, but might have touched them to read the label. She didn’t realize until being told by the hotel clerk that they were on a scale and when the weight shifts, a charge ensues.
“They sit on top of the dressers. They look inviting. Gosh, if you have kids and they pick them up, you could have a lot of charges,” she said.
When she phoned the hotel this week to dispute the charge, the hotel returned her $8 fee and also gave her another $25 off her “resort fee” — a charge for amenities — without a fight.
When Krieger did some Internet research, she found many travelers complaining of similar issues. Most got refunds, but only after they complained.
“Everybody said online ‘there has got to be a better way.’ It gives you such a bad taste,” she said.
Here are other travel tips from the Federal Trade Commission:
• Shop for travel. Buy from travel businesses you know that have a trustworthy record.
• Get recommendations: Ask family and friends for recommendations. Go online to see what consumers say about service and prices.
• Verify reservations and arrangements: Get details about any “five-star” resorts or “luxury” cruise ships — including what other travelers have reported. Some companies market below-average vacation accommodations as “luxury” or “five-star.” Get names, addresses and phone numbers of the airlines, car rental companies, and hotels. Then confirm all arrangements yourself. If you can’t get a person from the travel company on the phone to answer your questions, consider not booking with them.
• Get cancellation and refund policies before you pay. Ask “What if ... ?” Consider whether you need or want cancellation insurance. Make sure the product you’re being sold is a licensed insurance policy. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association maintains a list of licensed companies.
• Pay by credit card: It offers more protection than paying by cash or check. If necessary, you may be able to dispute charges with your credit card company. Don’t give your account number to anyone until you have verified a reputation.
• Consider a travel app for your mobile phone: Travel apps can help you search for airfares and hotel rates, get fare alerts and real-time deals, and manage your itinerary.
• Ask about mandatory hotel “resort fees”: When you book a hotel room online, you expect the rate you see is what you’ll pay. But extra costs called “resort fees” — for services such as fitness facilities or Internet access — can add to your charges. When the fees are mandatory, you pay regardless of whether you use the services. Many people don’t find out about fees until they arrive — or worse, when they check out. You can’t compare rates unless you know all the fees. If you’re not sure whether a website is showing you the total price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory charge. Listing the “resort fee” near the quoted price or in the fine print — or referring to other fees that “may apply” — isn’t good enough. If you find out a hotel hasn’t told you everything about mandatory fees, complain to the company and file a complaint with the FTC.
• Ask questions before joining a travel club: Sometimes, a “free trial” membership can result in monthly charges on your credit card. Find out what you’ll get for your money and how you can cancel.
Travel scam signs
Scammers may call or use mail, texts, faxes or ads promising free or low-cost vacations. Those offers might end up charging poorly disclosed fees or may be fake, plain and simple. Here are signs of a scam from the FTC:
• You “won a free vacation” — but you have to pay some fees first: A legitimate company won’t ask you to pay for a prize. Any company trying to sell you on a “free” vacation will probably want something from you — taxes and fees, attendance at mandatory timeshare presentations, even pressure to buy “extras” or “add-ons” for the vacation. Find out the costs before you agree to anything.
• The prize company wants your credit card number: If they say it’s to “verify” your identity or your prize, don’t disclose it.
• They cold-call, cold-text, or email you: With any company you don’t know, call the attorney general’s office and local consumer protection agencies in the company’s home state. Check for complaints. Search online by entering the company name and the word “complaints” or “scam” and read what people say.
• They don’t — or can’t — give you specifics: They promise a stay at a “five-star” resort or a cruise on a “luxury” ship. The more vague the promises, the less likely they’ll be true. Ask for specifics, and get them in writing. Check the resort’s address; look for photos of the ship.
• You’re being pressured to sign up for a travel club for deals on future vacations: Pressure to sign up or being warned you are missing out is a signal to walk away. Travel clubs often have high membership fees and limited choice of destinations or dates.
• You get a robocall: Robocalls are almost always illegal if you haven’t given the company written permission to call you. That’s true even if you haven’t signed up for the national Do Not Call Registry.
If you think you may have been targeted by a travel scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or call 877-382-4357. For more on travel scams, go online to ftc.gov/travel.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty