Christopher Elliott / Travel & Leisure

What should I do about this $50 phone bill?

Q: I stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham Charlotte Airport, and on the first night, I was having some cellphone problems. Knowing that other Wyndham properties offer free long distance, I decided to look in the hotel services book provided in the room. Under the telephone section, it says: "Local calls are free of charge. Long-distance access in the United States is complimentary."

I read this to mean that long-distance calls would be free, so I proceeded to make two long-distance calls to my wife, totaling maybe an hour at most.

I was charged almost $50 for these calls.

After getting the runaround for a few days, I was finally put in contact with the assistant to the general manager. She informed me that only the access is free, not the actual long-distance charges.

I don't know about you, but that is like saying that Internet access is free, but later you find out that only the access to the Internet provider was free and they are now billing you for actually using the Internet.

I've tried contacting the Wyndham customer service number, but they say it's up to the property to resolve this. Do you have any advice? -- Tyson Howard, Cincinnati

A: I agree. The guest directory looks like long-distance calls at the hotel are free. Wingate doesn't appear to have a chain-wide policy on phone charges, which is fine, since almost no one uses a hotel phone anymore except maybe to call the front desk.

I can remember a time when phones were a major profit center for hotels, and guests complained about fees and outrageously high per-minute rates. Usually, the hotels would back down when guests protested, mostly because they felt guilty about padding their charges to rake in extra profits.

But those days are long gone -- or so I thought.

My advice? Stay off the phone. And I don't just mean waiting to talk to your wife until your cellphone is charged. I mean, stay off the phone when you're trying to resolve this with Wyndham corporate. A brief, polite email would have been far more effective, and less stressful, and wouldn't have required you making multiple inquiries.

Based on your description of the phone fees, I thought you had a strong case for removing the bill. I contacted Wyndham on your behalf, and a representative called you and said corporate Wyndham would cut you a check for $50 to cover the phone bill.

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Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.





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