The blatant, in-your-face scam that’s catching us all
They are all getting scammed.
It’s been going on for a while, but I only became aware of it last week when somebody I know had to travel to Melbourne for a couple of days, and then onto Sydney for three more. They stayed at a couple of different hotel chains in each city. And in each city they were scammed. Not by Nigerian princes or identity thieves, but by big-name international hotel chains.
This is the scam where a hotel or resort or whatever effectively double-charges you. They hit you up for the room, which is perfectly fine. That is their business after all. But then they will pile on these “pre-authorised” charges which are for…
Well, who the hell knows?
If you query the charge you might be told it’s to cover the mini bar… even if no minibar actually exists. Or if the only thing in there is a carton of long life milk.
Or you might be told it’s cover ‘damage’ to the room, if you decide to let your inner rock star off the leash. But the sums don’t add up. I’m sure Liam Gallagher could do thousands of dollars of damage to a room if he put his tiny mind to it. The hundred bucks a night which seems to be the average pre-auth hit wouldn’t begin to cover this.
It’s just a scam. And the annoying thing is they each run the scam differently. Some take the money or hit your credit card and then take their own sweet time refunding it when you don’t clean them out of long life milk or throw a bass guitar through the window. Some demand cash or an eftpos transfer up front. Some only take a dollar.
But if they are going to bite you, they’ll often bite hard.
I threw a query out on Twitter last Friday, asking if anybody had experience of this particular shakedown, and the tweet went off. Hundreds of people replied. Almost all of them really, really angry.
Some, as I mentioned above, were business travellers. Their employers had covered the full cost of their stay – room and incidentals – but they found themselves mugged at the front desk for hundreds, and in one case thousands of dollars in these bogus charges.
A friend I ran into at the supermarket on Saturday, just back from a month’s travel overseas for work, had nearly $15,000 racked up on his Amex at one point. At the other end of the scale, I heard a lot of really distressing stories from average punters who’d simply tried to have a weekend away with their partner, only to discover that the hotel they’d checked into had gobbled up every dollar they had in bullshit preauthorisation charges.
One guy was turned out of bed at 11.30 at night because the hotel had tried to put through a week’s worth of pre-auth and the card had bounced. Others had trouble checking in late at night, far from home, because they simply hadn’t budgeted for the extra cost. And why the hell should they? I question whether these charges are even legal. I got a tweet back from a Sydney hotel last week sniffing that preauthorisation was an industry standard practice.
So what? Sticking a knife in someone’s face and demanding their wallet or you’ll cut them is industry standard practice for muggers. And we don’t let them get away with it, do we?
This is one of those issues that never seems to make it into public discourse. I can understand why. It’s embarrassing. In fact, it’s close to humiliating to get caught out like this, to turn up at the check-in desk thinking you or your employer have paid for everything, only to find that you might not have enough money on your card to be let into your room. Nobody wants to admit that.
But you know what? Most of us run most of our cards up to the limit because most of us live from one pay check to the next. And shakedown rackets like this one by massive businesses with very deep pockets and no conscience about how they fill them are one of the reasons everybody is so broke all the time.
If I was a politician on the make, and surely there’s a couple of them around, I’d be making this my touchstone issue. I’d probably be referring it to the ACCC for an investigation. Because here’s the thing. I don’t think this is legal. They’re not providing a service for the money they’re taking, and they do effectively take the money, because you don’t have use of it while it’s locked up by their preauthorisation charge. You or your employer already paid for the room. If you’re travelling for business your employer may have agreed to cover incidentals. So these bastards are really double charging for the room.