$5 and an opportunity missed – a hotel customer service lesson



It really isn’t a big deal. I didn’t lose any money over the incident and the hotel acted fully within its rights. Yet by a simple action (or inaction) what had been a very pleasant stay ended with us saying that we would stay elsewhere when we next return to the same place.  Here’s what happened.

We’d stayed four nights and were checking out before a morning drive to the airport, some three hours away. I handed over my credit card to pay for the incidentals, which came to around $50. The lady on reception was not the staff member who had greeted us before and appeared to be an emergency stand-in; she betrayed a complete lack of confidence as she spied my credit card and reluctantly dug out the terminal with a look of trepidation.

A moment later and she sighed in frustration, saying “I’ve done it again!”. She showed me the slip and sure enough, she’d entered the date, 12.13.12 into the wrong box and pinged that amount ($1213.12) out to the bank. After scrambling through various instructions she managed to organise a refund payment and eventually took out the correct amount. I know I should have paid with cash.

$1213.12 duly appeared on my credit card statement later that day. The refund took five days to arrive. In that time the pound rose against the dollar and by the time the money was returned to my account it was worth £3 less than when my card had been charged.

I’d lost £3 ($5) down to the stand-in receptionist’s mistake. It’s hardly a big deal, but as I had already told the hotel that I would let them know when I received the refund I wrote to them and mentioned the small cost to me as a result of this incident.


Now it’s at this point that the hotel had two options (maybe it had many more, but two seemed obvious to me).

One: they could view it from their side. They are not responsible for exchange rate fluctuations and having immediately refunded the amount mistakenly debited they need do no more.

Two: they could view it from my side. What would make me, a paying guest, delighted with my overall experience at the hotel and willing to share my views on Tripadvisor and elsewhere? A simple acknowledgement that I had been inconvenienced as a result of their mistake and an offer to return the money would have left me full of praise for their approach to customer service.

They chose the first option. In doing so they did nothing wrong (that’s why I haven’t named them here). They took out a certain amount and refunded it immediately.  The issue with exchange rates was out of their hands as they told me in the email reply.

Yet for such a small amount they missed a golden opportunity to delight an already happy guest. $5 is neither here nor there but if they had returned this they would have shown that they were not thinking primarily about their own processes and liabilities, but rather about the overall experience of their guests. By telling me instead that they couldn’t do anything about exchange rates they left us with the impression that they were only willing to see the issue from their side.


What do you think? $5 is a small amount but was the hotel right to say they could do no more? Did they ignore the bigger picture in not refunding the money? How much are our overall perceptions of hotels influenced by the way they deal with minor issues like these? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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10 Responses to “$5 and an opportunity missed – a hotel customer service lesson”

  1. I’d say that if you have an issue with anyone, it should be with the credit card company. I mean, they debited your account *immediately*, but took five days to process your refund. Something not right there, surely?

    February 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm
    • True Keith – it’s annoying how banks take so long to release money yet can collect it in the blink of an eye. In this case it was the hotel’s bank that didn’t release the funds to my card company until the following week. To be fair to my card company, they refunded me £3 without question when I asked them about it several weeks later.

      February 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm
  2. A first year undergrad student of Economics will probably point out that you could have earned interest on the paid amount in the five days it was missing. You could also have exceeded your credit card limit in those five days and wouldn’t have been able to use the card to pay planned costs – having had to make a transfer from your savings account and losing bonus interest. There are millions of ways in which delays result in extra costs. The hotel is simply playing stupid not to see those.

    February 14, 2013 at 1:58 pm
    • You make a good point Anna – I was indeed close to my card limit at that point and this was a concern when I hadn’t seen the credit appear for several days. Interest as you know is negligible at the moment, but the risk of needing to move money around to cover the loss of free credit is a real issue. The point is that the hotel doesn’t know these implications, but should be more aware of the potential consequences of their mistake.

      February 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm
  3. I think their lack of forsight is terribly disappointing. I’m with you. It’s very unlikey I’d return to this hotel, particularly if there’s a lot of competition around. I’d rather prefer give another place the chance to make me feel like a valued customer.

    February 15, 2013 at 1:45 am
  4. This is unfortunately another incident showing the lack of customer service these days.

    I agree with you that the hotel could have refunded you the 3 pounds. However with the exchange rate even that might not have come through as the actual difference between your two charges).

    It is infuriating how long it takes for refunds to appear on credit cards – I recently had one take about 2 weeks before it appeared on the statement. When it is an online transaction and an online refund it is easy to be dubious about whether the person telling you that he or she has processed the refund. I have learned that I have to be patient and if it hasn’t arrived after about a week call the bank to check that it is in the pipeline.

    Great blog by the way.

    February 20, 2013 at 8:34 am
  5. It really annoys me when hotel staff doesn’t have a clue about customer service – or when they do, until something goes wrong. I found that very common in Asia to be honest.

    They were the most amazing and friendly staff, until you had an issue, and they had no idea how to deal with it, trying their hardest not to lose face and never apologized.

    I think it should be in order to give something small to the customer as a nice gesture, like they do in cafes – if the staff screws something up you get a free muffin and stuff like that.

    February 21, 2013 at 7:07 am
  6. Tara Protheroe #

    I’m slightly deviating from the question posed, but as someone who works with credit card terminals I’m struggling to see how this mistake would have occurred through a credit card machine with error only on the receptionist’s side.

    The date/amount is entered prior to you entering your pin for you to see and check as you enter it – did you not notice that $1213 was the amount you were paying?

    If not, then I would say that you are also at fault, and the small amount lost should serve as a warning to check what you’re paying in future and keep an eye on your money.

    Of course if the hotel was dedicated to customer service then they should refund the money either way, but if the credit card terminal is the same as those the world over, then you should learn from the mistake and let it go!

    February 21, 2013 at 8:43 am
    • Hi Tara,
      Sadly I can’t take any of the blame here as the payment went through without me doing anything – there’s no PIN entry anywhere in the US and once they enter the amount it goes through automatically, with the signature only serving as a back-up (from what I understand). So by the time I knew anything about it, the bank already had my money…

      February 21, 2013 at 12:03 pm
  7. weavingtapestries #

    Last year I was in Delhi, i went to a restaurant and ate food for 284 Rupees which is hardly anything. Maybe 5$ more or less. Anyways they swiped my card for 28,400 Rs. I was visiting Delhi and the card reached the limit. I was lucky that I checked it immediately and they entered a void sale and gave me the receipt. I know it was not a mistake. They probably thought they would get away with it. My problems did not end with that. The amount was blocked on my card for over three weeks.
    When i mentioned it to a few other shop keepers in Delhi they said oh it happens so i would advise everyone to be very careful when using their card there.
    I was lucky to have cash to pay for my hotel but I had to buy my ticket with my card and I barely had enough to get me back home. i could have been stranded there.
    I think every hotel has a policy and so does the hotel you were in. Your suggestion would make them a better hotel no doubt but they already made your stay comfortable and good so i think you should remember them for that and not for the unfortunate incident. We tend to harbour more negative feelings then positive ones which unfortunately taint our memories.

    February 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm