As a seasoned traveller, I’ve been mugged in all sorts of exotic places – from neon lit Tokyo to the sweaty markets of Marrakesh. A minority of the time, the mugging is committed by actual thugs. The rest of the time, hotel managers fill in for them:
1. The Double Room Service Rip-Off
This is an outright scam, which has been popular since the ’50s. According to travel agent Dorothy Kang:
“In the room service scam, the service staff will ask you to sign a receipt after collecting payment for the meal. But actually, signing the receipt means you are charging the meal to your room account.
When you check out, you will be asked to pay for the meal a second time. Refusing it is quite difficult, since you signed the receipt. It’s also rumoured that some hotels are in league with their staff.”
Dorothy says her agency has received complaints of this from “mainly Vietnam, India, and Thailand,” but it’s not exclusive to those countries.
So the next time you’re calling for room service, ask if you need to pay the server directly. And always clarify what you’re signing for with the front desk.
2. Low-Ball Prices
Hotels negotiate with plenty of discount sites (just Google “book a hotel”). Some hotels are honest when dealing with those sites. The others are so slimy, garden slugs look at them in awe.
Less savoury hotels consider the online booking price to be a “base package”. When you check in, they’ll tack on the cost of questionable amenities – stuff like “extra towels”, “deluxe toiletries,” and probably “door” or “electricity” if they can get away with it.
This drives the expected prices up by more than double. Dorothy says that the practice began with resorts, and has since spread to hotels:
“This is the reason some people come to us (travel agents) instead of booking on their own. I know one couple who booked a room for USD 72 per night, and when they got there, the hotel imposed a mandatory charge of USD120 for complimentary breakfast and champagne.”
Dorothy says that the practice is prevalent in prime tourist areas, and on holiday seasons. Hotels know you can’t easily find other accommodations.
Don’t imagine the website can do much for you either; at most they’ll de-list the hotel. That should help you get your money back, sometime between now and the heat death of the universe.
Either stick with trustworthy booking sites (I like The Luxe Nomad), or go through a travel agent.
3. Hotel Touts
Hotel touts hang around airports and train stations. The second tourists arrive, they swarm them like pissed-off wasps, aggressively pushing cut-rate rooms.
Sometimes, the tout is genuinely offers a good discounted rate. Just like sometimes, you can win Toto with your first ticket. The rest of the time, they’ll gouge you for a fat commission:
“And their commission is whatever they can sell above a base rate,” Dorothy explains, “So the hotel may get a minimum of $40 a night, and whatever amount above that the tout is free to keep.
They can be quite aggressive in their sales tactics, and some people end up paying a ‘special rate’ that is much higher than even the normal rate.”
Dorothy advises booking beforehand, rather than listening to touts. If you must find a hotel after arriving, make sure to go in person and check the rates.
4. Phone Calls
Don’t make phone calls from your hotel room, even to local landlines. Simply checking the prices with the front desk will explain why.
“I’ve seen anything from $3.50 to $8 per minute,” Dorothy warns, “They don’t care whether you are calling a local friend, making reservations at a restaurant, calling the Singapore embassy…they will overcharge like crazy.”
In an emergency, even using your mobile to call home might be cheaper. If you need to call for a cab to somewhere, or make dinner reservations, always go through the concierge.
Have you ever been ripped off at a hotel? Comment and let us know how!
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