Q: I’ve been a guest at the Candlewood Suites Hawthorne in Hawthorne, Calif., several times. After my most recent stay, the hotel charged my debit card an extra $250. I immediately called the hotel to ask about it. The woman who answered the phone listened to my concerns and then transferred me to a number that rang busy and then disconnected me. I called several times after that but got no answer.

I reported the charge to my bank and to Candlewood’s parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group. An IHG representative promised there would be an investigation.

A few days later, I called the hotel again. I spoke with the manager, who told me the $250 was a smoking fee. I explained that I’m a nonsmoker and a traveling nurse. The manager said they took a picture of tobacco in the trash can of my room, “So we have proof.”

I do not smoke. I called IHG again and they promised to escalate my case, but I’ve heard nothing. Can you help?

A: If you didn’t smoke in your room, you shouldn’t have to pay a $250 cleaning fee.

But the Candlewood Suites Hawthorne says it has photographic evidence that someone used tobacco products in your room. If they have time-stamped pictures of your room with cigarette butts in the trash, then it would be difficult to fight a $250 cleaning fee.

I contacted Candlewood Suites to see if they could share the photos. I’ll tell you what happened in just a moment.

First, I have a few thoughts on smoking in hotel rooms. When you light up, the stench of smoke lingers for the next guest to inhale. Please don’t subject future travelers to your carcinogens. In other words, I support the right of a hotel to charge their guests a $250 cleaning fee for smoking in the room.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way, to do it. The hotel should have contacted you, presented you with the evidence and offered you a way to appeal the smoking penalty. Adding a charge without explanation is the wrong way.

You needed to push this case up the chain of command in writing. It looks like you started with an e-mail but then called IHG’s corporate headquarters. The problem with calling is that there’s no documentation of your conversation.

I never found out if Candlewood really had photos of your alleged tobacco products. After I contacted the hotel, a representative reached out to you for more information. The hotel refunded the $250 cleaning fee.


Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit consumer organization. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.