Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Some business owners enjoy subterfuge.
They believe a little fee here and a little fee there won't get noticed. Customers are busy. If it's just a few dollars, they'll just pay it rather than endure the hassle of complaining. It's not a new strategy. I still don't understand half the items on my Comcast bill.
The travel industry has, though, made a speciality out of nickel-and-diming customers to exhaustion. These days, the classic is the resort fee, something you pay whether you use any hotel facilities or not. Or whether the hotel has any sort of resort facilities or not.
A new example, though, has emerged, one that caused me to temporarily lie down and consider the position of the moon.
Writer and businessman Brian Cohen tells of his stay at the Sleep Inn Beaver -- Beckley. This West Virginia establishment seemed to offer him a reasonable rate of $69.55 for a night. However, on receiving his final bill he saw that the actual cost was $71.15.
It's hard to imagine anything in a hotel costing a mere $1.60, including tax. Please consider, then, Cohen's mood when he carefully scanned his bill and saw this item:
Safe w/ltd Warranty. $1.50.
Yes, it appears he'd been charged for the use of the safe in his room. A safe, Cohen added, that he didn't use.
I've heard of a few outrageous fees. I confess, however, this one is new to me. Was the hotel really trying to slip a little charge onto Cohen's bill, one that he says wasn't revealed when he booked? Or when he checked in.
And what in the infernal blazes distinguishes a safe with a limited warranty? Was this an alert that the safe might not be all that, well, safe?
Cohen says he called the hotel, was told this was a standard charge and that he should have known about it. He did, however, get the mischeivous $1.50 removed from his bill.
The objective eye might tremble at the idea that such a small and ridiculous fee might be normal. Perhaps many people don't notice. This, then, would amount to an interesting revenue stream.
Naturally, I contacted the hotel's parent company Choice Hotels to ask whether this was standard procedure or whether something might have gone awry. A spokeswoman told me:
While all the hotels in our system are independently owned and operated, our franchisees are required to comply with all brand rules and regulations, and local, state and federal laws. Per brand and company policy, all automatic hotel charges must be disclosed to the guest at the time of booking. Upon learning of this issue, we reached out to the franchised hotel to get more information. Based on the information received, a credit for the $1.59 charge was applied on 12/31/19, and the hotel was reminded of these brand policies.
I can, though, already hear your plaintive cry. Is a charge for merely having a safe in your room -- never mind using it -- a thing at Choice Hotels? The spokeswoman again:
While not a widespread practice, automatic safe charges are permitted if the franchised hotel clearly and conspicuously discloses these charges during the reservation process and upon check-in. They must remove the charges upon request from the guest at or after checkout.
I'll (try to) refrain from ululation.
It's tempting to wonder what on earth may be next. What inventive -- and automatic -- charge will hotels create for things that used to be standard? A clean sheet charge? A window-opening charge? How about charging for every degree of Fahrenheit you change your thermostat?
As an operating principle, deceptive fees are an annoyance. So are annoying fees. Companies that feel they effectively have a monopoly are often more prone to this sort of thing because they genuinely believe -- or least hope -- you won't do anything about it.
However, if you're in any service business -- and I still want to believe hotels are -- how can you possibly justify such apparently twisted behavior?
The sad reality, however, is that many hotels and airlines entice with an apparently good price and then add all sorts of charges that merely serve to rile.
Who can forget Marriott Hotels CEO Arne Sorenson declaring that resort fees are here to stay and they're just the same as airline baggage fees? Congenital pedants -- and anyone who travels -- would insist they aren't. You do have at least some kind of choice with baggage fees.
There's a great advantage to be gained from revealing the total cost of your service and being seen to charge fairly.
Trust, after all, is one of the most precious -- and rare -- commodities in the world today.