by Alan Karmin
The Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts happens to be one of the nicest hotels with old New England charm but with some very questionable check-in policies that can leave you with a huge problem in your bank account.
Upon checking in, the front desk person welcomed us, and then asked how we would be paying for our room. When I handed her my debit card, she then informed me that, in addition to charging the card the full amount ($628) for our stay right away, I was also going to be charged an additional $628 for a security deposit, “just in case something happens.” Now understand that, when using a debit card, debits hit up in the bank account immediately and the funds are removed from the account, whereas when an establishment issues you a credit, those funds are not likely to be available for at least 72 hours. Obviously a banking policy that is quite unfair in any realm. So when I told the clerk that, although I have always had my card “run” upon check-in, it had never been “charged” until check-out, and I certainly had NEVER been charged a security deposit, let alone charged DOUBLE “just in case” something happened, she curtly told me that I could give $100 in cash for the security deposit. She “educated” me about hotel policies around the world. “Sir…every hotel does it!” Really? We have travelled quite a bit and I have NEVER encountered anything of the sort. Is it New England? Puzzled, I just stood there frozen. So I guess she thought I was too stupid to effectively ascertain the situation and said, again curtly, “There’s an ATM right behind you if you are short on cash.”
We were not short on cash but we were getting quite short on patience at this point. While one of us was ready to leave (and I won’t say which one), we decided to stay and make the best of it. I handed the clerk $100 for the ridiculous security deposit. And then…the clerk handed me the invoice. Instead of $628, she charged my card $928…overcharging me by $300. I calmly (really)…I WAS still calm at this point – pointed out the mistake. She sheepishly apologized and handed me back my $100 in cash and told me I no longer needed to leave a security deposit. WELL? What about my $300? She said she was going to refund it. Yeah…and I wouldn’t see that for at least three days. “Oh…you will see it back in your account in three to five business days sir.” That means – given the holiday weekend, I would not get it back for at least a week. That did it. I wanted my money back – ALL of my money back…ALL $928 OF MY MONEY BACK and we are leaving. But not until I get the money back. The clerk ran the refund immediately. But would not give me a receipt documenting the refund. No matter what establishment you might go to…if you are credited anything back to your charge card…you are ALWAYS given a receipt. This is the point that things began deteriorating – the attitude, the ridiculous policies, the mistake (which was probably an honest mistake of just hitting the wrong key of 9 rather than 6), the poor attitude (again) after the mistake, the money being taken from my account and not available to me.
The clerk asked if I would like to see the manager. Of course I would! The manager took me into her office and proceeded to tell me why I should not be upset. Why the hell not? You have $928 of my money. You TELL me it was refunded. However, you REFUSE to give me ANY documentation that the charge was, in fact, reversed. And I am supposed to be happy about this? I repeatedly attempted to explain why this was unfair and I just kept getting pushback and asked to calm down. So I asked her, “If you were on vacation…and you had a finite amount of money in your bank account to cover your expenses…and you had most of it taken from you…and you weren’t going to get it back for a week…what would YOU do?” The manager stood there…looked at me…and just said, “Let me see about getting you a print out of the refund.” OK…I’ll wait. We were outside in front of the hotel seething…and after 10 minutes we still hadn’t heard anything. So I went back inside and approached the front desk only to hear the clerks giggling on the other side of the front desk. I kept my cool and asked to see the manager again. She came out…looked at me…and told me that she could not get me any documentation.
OK…THAT was it! Now…I am USUALLY not the one with the hot temper. I usually step aside when it comes to the tempers flying and allow someone else (wink) to set the house ablaze. But I am OUT OF MONEY (at least for a period of time) and I have NO PROOF that a refund was issued. I told her, “I am not leaving here without any proof that that refund was issued!” I was furious!
Suddenly, we found out that the general manager just happened to be working that evening. He brought us to his office. I repeated the circumstances and it was clear that he just wanted to diffuse the situation. So somehow by a miracle, or perhaps it was that Salem Witchcraft, he was able to produce a printout of both the charge AND the refund of $928. However, I KNEW that the money would not be back in the account for a while. The general manager graciously offered that, if we still wanted to stay at the hotel, he would give us one night free and provided us with a $50 gift certificate to their restaurant. It seemed like a nice gesture and, hey, the hotel WAS really nice. So we did accept the offer and kept to our plans. However, I did have to be charged for the room again, because the first charge was fully refunded. But this time, I gave the card for my business account and it was charged $417…and NO security deposit!
The room was great. It was very nicely appointed, very clean, and provided for very peaceful nights. We were even treated to a spirit or two. Salem, remember?
The restaurants were nice, with some great dishes for breakfast. We really enjoyed the continental buffet and the service was excellent.
Oh yeah…the money. Well…every day I checked to see if the money – the $928 – had been made available to us. One day, two days, three days, I KNEW it! My account was short the $928. What if we NEEDED that money? What if we were AWAY and needed that money? It was inconvenient, it was unfair. SIX DAYS AND COUNTING…I finally called my bank to inquire about the charge and the now missing credit. The bank informed me that hotels, in general, have a working agreement with the banks and that there is a “hold” that is in their contract, thereby holding the funds for specified period of time unless a specific authorization of release of funds is submitted by the merchant. The bank official informed me that the Hotel Hawthorne had an agreement whereby funds are automatically “held” for nine (9) days before that hold “expires” and the funds are released. And although the hotel had, in fact, issued a “refund”…a “release of funds” was never executed.
On Day 7 of “Funds being Held Hostage” I contacted the general manager’s office and left a voice message. I got a return call that day from his assistant who told me that he was the one who dealt with the banks with these situations but denied that the hotel was “knowingly holding onto the funds.” Well, my friend, if you are the one who deals directly with the banks and you are so well-versed with the contracts, then how can you deny that you know of the “9-day hold” policy that your hotel has with the banks? And how could you NOT know that you had to issue a “release of funds” in order to allow us to have access to our money before the nine days expired?
The bottom line is that the Hawthorne Hotel is actually a wonderful place in the heart of Salem…but it seems like there is a lot of unethical and unfair financial practices brewing in some black cauldron that pop up as their check-in policies. If you can get past that black magic, you can really enjoy a nice stay.
#HawthorneHotel, #Salem, #Witchcraft, #NewEngland, #WheresMyMoney