Chris Elliott: In the travel business, they get impatient over payment

  • May 10, 2014 - 2:00 PM

No one seems to know how the TV in Room 1018 of the Wyndham Avenue Plaza Resort in New Orleans ended up with several long, deep scratches on the screen that made it unwatchable. And if they do, they’re not talking.

But here’s what Michael Chua, who occupied the room at the time of the alleged damage, did know when he contacted me: Wyndham wanted him to pay up — immediately.

Chua, of San Francisco, had received an e-mail from Wyndham giving him 24 hours to accept its offer to pay $300 for the scratches. Otherwise, the hotel threatened to charge his credit card double the amount, which was the cost of a new TV.

“I did not damage their TV,” he says, “and I will not pay $300.”

Although travel businesses have a well-deserved reputation for taking their time with refunding our purchases, they are less patient when it comes to us paying our bills. Car rental companies are the best-known examples of corporate impatience, although airlines and hotels are known to press matters, too. Travelers’ remedies are limited.

A Wyndham representative said that Chua’s case was special because he’d launched a social-media campaign to persuade the company to stop its collection efforts. “Normally, we give guests more time to respond to a claim,” said Wyndham spokesman Adam Schwartz.

If you happen to damage a rental car, companies are less willing to wait. Consider what happened to Robert Cerulli when he rented a vehicle from Enterprise in Bridgeport, Conn., this year. “The car was covered with ice, dirt, salt and sand, making it impossible to see the color of the vehicle, let alone any kind of damage,” says Cerulli, of Trumbull, Conn. When he returned the car, an employee informed him that the bumper was damaged and handed him a repair bill for $487. “They told me to pay or it will go to collections and reflect negatively on my credit report,” he says. Cerulli paid his bill immediately, even though, he insists, he didn’t damage the vehicle.

After Chua turned to me for help, Wyndham agreed to revisit its proposed solution to the damaged TV. Chua’s case also prompted the company to launch an internal review of how it handles disputes of this type. But by then, it had already charged his card $600, the full amount of a new set.

As a goodwill gesture, it agreed not to fight his credit card chargeback — an unexpectedly generous fix.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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