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Here is the most ridiculous hotel theft charge I’ve ever seen

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Now it’s time to reveal the most ridiculous hotel theft charge ever: pillow thievery at a two-star hotel.

During his stay at a Quality Inn, it never crossed Tim Kendall’s mind to steal the mediocre pillows in his room. But that didn’t stop the hotel manager of this franchised property from branding the elderly man a pillow thief — and applying a theft charge to his final bill. And you won’t believe the outrageous value that the manager placed on two standard pillows.

Now Tim (actually his wife) wants our advocacy team to help clear his name. He’s not a pillow thief, and he wants the world to know!

This case, unfortunately, highlights what appears to be a growing problem in the hotel industry. It seems that some franchise owners are actively searching for additional sources of revenue. And with their guests’ credit and debit cards in hand, many are liberally applying wacky charges they can’t substantiate.

Taking a bucket list motorcycle adventure

Lois Kendall contacted our advocacy team in an outrage. Her 76-year-old husband was on an adventure — a bucket list of sorts. He was riding his motorcycle, exploring the world, and having a fabulous time when she became aware that a hotel was accusing her husband of theft.

And Lois wasn’t having it.

“In a nutshell, my husband was accused of a ridiculous hotel theft — stealing two pillows from his room after a one-night stay at the Quality Inn,” Lois reported. “This is outrageous. My husband is a man of honor. He’s never stolen anything in his life. This theft accusation is a grave injustice. And the charge is $60! What kind of pillows are these?”

When I read through this complaint, I had so many questions about the theft accusation by this hotel. Why would anyone steal standard pillows from a Quality Inn? And how on earth could these budget hotel pillows be worth $60? And finally, how could a pillow thief make his getaway on a motorcycle? I’m not a motorcyclist, but I imagine pillows would just be cumbersome on a bike.

I agreed with Lois; everything about this hotel theft charge was ridiculous. I was confident that there was some misunderstanding, and I just needed to speak to the manager.

A most ridiculous theft accusation — pillow thievery at a budget hotel

I reached out to the hotel manager in hopes that we could quickly fix this problem — and allow Tim to enjoy the rest of his journey without this ridiculous theft accusation clouding the experience. I called him, and I emailed him — again and again. No response. I left a message on his voicemail and asked for the evidence of the stolen pillows and the receipts to show that his Quality Inn spends $30 per pillow.

The manager of the hotel ignored all of my attempts to get an explanation about this accusation of theft of his pillows.

If you’re a regular reader of our site, then you might remember the similarly outrageous case of Doris Weller. She contacted our team after a Hampton Inn accused her of saturating her bed in urine. That franchised property manager wanted Weller to pay $250 to clean the mattress. (And presumably, put it back into service — Yikes!)

In Weller’s case, both Hilton (the parent company of Hampton Inn) and the franchise management company, Remington, investigated. The hotel management had failed to document the “damages” and could not provide any evidence to support its outrageous accusation. Weller got her money back, but Hampton Inn lost a loyal customer in the process.

If a hotel applies a damage or theft charge to a guest’s bill, their team should also generate a basic incident report. This protocol is a common-sense approach and a good business practice. In the absence of any proof to support a wild accusation such as the ones leveled at Weller and Kendall, the evidence points to something else entirely. And it doesn’t paint the management of these establishments in a good light.

No hotel manager should be able to freely and without repercussions help themselves to additional fees. This type of business practice can allow for unscrupulous cash grabs. And we know from experience that some hotel managers aren’t above fudging facts:

Choice Hotels refuses to help this guest

Since the hotel manager never responded to me, I assumed he didn’t have any documentation that supported his accusations — or the $60 charge. So I decided to escalate the Kendalls’ complaint to the corporate level of Choice Hotels, the parent company of the Quality Inn franchise.

It’s highly unusual for a company’s executive level to ignore our team’s mediation attempts. We work hard every day of the week to reach fair resolutions between businesses and the consumers they serve. Most companies want their side of the story known and wish to correct any misunderstandings or errors within their system. And if the consumer is in the wrong, which is sometimes the case, those executives want to explain why.

So with that in mind, it was unsettling that no one at Choice Hotels responded to my inquiries. I contacted the head of their public relations department via email and phone with no response — several times. And I also tried other channels within the company.

I don’t give up easily.

Choice Hotels: No further response

Finally, after more attempts to get an answer for the couple, one customer service agent sent a disappointing response.

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your e-mails. Please be advised, Choice Hotels is unable to discuss this matter with you as you are not the guest. Our offices have already responded to the guest accordingly and have advised what steps they need to take to see this matter resolved. No further responses will be made to your requests and inquiries.

Thank you,

Jose, Executive Guest Services

And then, the customer service department sent the Kendalls an email and told them to work it out directly with the manager — the same guy who was ignoring all of our inquiries.

Can the Fair Credit Billing Act help?

This case is the perfect example of why you should not use debit cards to pay for hotel accommodations. The Fair Credit Billing Act protects credit card-using consumers against, among other things, unsubstantiated charges.  I thought a hotel charging a guest $60 for hotel pillow thievery and making accusations of a motorcycle getaway should qualify for a credit card dispute. Barring any actual evidence from the management to support this hotel theft charge, I knew the couple would get their $60 back. But that wasn’t really what the Kendalls wanted.

As Lois explains:

Let’s face it, this isn’t about the $60; it’s about this ridiculous accusation of theft by the hotel. It’s about fraudulently adding a $60 charge onto his bill. This is about being victimized by an establishment he chose to patronize. My husband did not steal from this hotel room. He’s never stolen anything.

In Tim’s words, this was his “last hurrah.” He’s ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway several times and enjoyed it immensely. But he will be 77 years old in September, and the trip is getting more difficult and tedious for him. He said, “This will be my last trip.”

Now, he’ll never have that last good memory. All he will remember is how this Quality Inn accused him of stealing two pillows. Really, does anyone honestly believe this man wanted or needed two pillows? And that he sped away on his motorcycle, carrying those two standard pillows? What a bizarre accusation.

Tim is distraught over this attack on his character. This situation has taken a terrible toll on both my husband and me.

Lois Kendall describing the impact this accusation has had on her family.

The good news about this hotel theft charge: Here’s your refund

A few days after we first published this story, Lois sent me the fabulous news that Choice Hotels finally responded positively.

Michelle, You’re the first to know – it’s over!  I just got a call from Michael Thompson, project manager for Choice Hotels.  Customer Relations reports to him.  I told him my story, including how you have been advocating for us, and I referred him to your web site to read the story and the comments.

He said it never should have happened.  I agreed.  I said if someone had had the courtesy to respond to me – or to you – this could have been resolved weeks ago.

Anyway, he apologized to Tim, was extremely friendly to him on the phone and said the charges would be canceled and he would add points to our account.  He said he wanted us to have a good experience with their hotels.  I told him I didn’t want anything from him – only to tell Tim they no longer accused him of stealing and that the charge would be dropped.  I guess he thought I was looking for a free room or something – I wasn’t. You know I just wanted Tim to be vindicated.

Lois Kendall

Choice Hotels executive office (finally) responds

Hi Michelle,

While the hotels in our system are independently owned and operated, guest satisfaction is very important to us. We contacted the guests directly and have reached an amicable solution.

IHG corporate contact

And now that Choice Hotels has vindicated Tim, we can put this story to rest — without two used Quality Inn pillows.

How to protect yourself against a false hotel theft accusation

  1. Before booking, check reviews of the hotel:
    More and more major hotel chains are franchising their properties. Unfortunately, this can lead to a wide fluctuation in the quality and service level at each property. To avoid getting a big, unpleasant surprise at your next franchise stay, make sure to look for reviews of the establishment before booking. Many third-party sites like TripAdvisor can give you a great insight into the hotel and whether other guests have experienced problems there.
  2. Use a credit card
    Our team receives a substantial number of pleas for help from hotel guests blindsided by false accusations of damage and theft after check-out. It’s fair to say that most of these complaints come from debit card-using consumers. Remember, the Fair Credit Billing Act only applies to credit card transactions. If at all possible, do not use a debit card to pay for your hotel stay. When you provide your debit card number to any merchant, you’re granting them access to your bank account — a dangerous prospect. Some hotels put temporary holds on these debit cards to cover any potential damage. This practice lowers your available balance in your bank account. And, of course, if the hotel decides to accuse you of theft or damage, you could get hit with a much bigger problem.
  3. Do a thorough room inspection at check in
    As soon as you check into your room, it’s important to do an inspection. Does the room smell fine? Are all the basic amenities and furniture present? Check the TV for scratches or other damage. If there are any problems in the room, report them immediately and ask for another room. If no other rooms are available, document the problem with the front desk employee and ensure you have that person’s name. Take photos and a video of the problem.
  4. Document the state of the room at check out
    Similar to our guidance about documenting your rental car at pickup and return, you’ll want to do the same in your hotel room. This appears to be especially true for franchised hotels, which seem to generate a disproportionate number of these types of surprise damage and theft claims.
  5. Ask for an incident report and photos of the problem
    If you find that a hotel has charged you for damages you didn’t cause (or a theft), ask the manager for an incident report with photos and any other corroborating evidence. If the hotel refuses to provide any supporting documents, contact Consumer Rescue’s company contacts lady and then follow the tips I provide in my problem-solving guide and escalate your complaint above the franchise level.
  6. Contact the Consumer Rescue team
    Of course, if all else fails and a hotel helped itself to your cash by surprise, contact the Consumer Rescue team. We promise, we’ll investigate and fight for you — we’re always here to help.  (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

*Don’t forget to check out Consumer Rescue’s tips for searching for and booking a hotel.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.
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The franchise owner should be charged with fraud.

Maria K. Telegdy

Thanks for solving this issue, Michelle. Is there any honesty in people any more.? How can they sleep at night after accusing a 76 year old gentleman of stealing.


Wait, “And now that Choice Hotels has vindicated Tim, we can put this story to rest — without two used Quality Inn pillows.”sounds like “we still think Tim stole the pillows, but it’s not worth the $60 to continue this conversation”!

Michelle Couch-Friedman

The owner of the franchise never provided any evidence to anyone that what he accused Tim of was true. That quote is mine… Not the corporate office. (I fixed the quotation marks to make that clear!)

Sarai Flores

Hello Michelle, my family and I recently visited a hotel in Tulsa, OK for my baby shower. While there we experienced lots of issues with our reservation, because of this the third party company we booked through refunded us $169.00. Weeks later we noticed a $100.00 charge on our credit card statement from the hotel. We called the property and spoke to the general manager, in short words he refused to help us and was very unprofessional. He kept insisting we stoled 2 pillows. We tried to explain to him would never steal nevertheless pillows from a hotel. The craziest part is the charge was processed the day we checked in. Which makes no sense, how could we be charged before checking out for “stolen pillows.” I was wondering if you could please help!

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