Disconnect soaring calling costs

Short-circuit outrageous hotel telephone bills

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It’s only after receiving your hotel bill that you discover dialing an 800 number isn’t always toll-free. This news is confirmed by the American Hotel and Motel Association’s (AH&MA) 1998 Lodging Survey, which indicates that 40% of luxury hotels and 28% of upscale ones levy service charges for toll-free numbers. But these charges aren’t the only surprise you’ll encounter. Local calls can cost three to four times the rate you pay from home and long-distance calls are billed at peak rates with an additional charge for operator assistance (whether you speak to an operator or not) plus a markup! To make matters worse, if you’re an Internet user, you may be thrown offline when you discover the convenience of an in-room connection could run you $50 or more per day.

So how do you avoid these outrageous fees? Here are some suggestions:

  • Check out the phone charges when you check in. John O’Sullivan, general manager of Hilton Crystal City, suggests, “Thoroughly understanding the rate structure up-front gives you key information for planning your calls during your stay.”
  • Dial around hotel fees. Avoid the surcharges completely by “using your cell phone or the lobby phone for local calls. Your calling card can also help you control long-distance rates,” offers Laurie Berger, editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter.
  • Call at off-peak times. Now fees are posted on or near the telephone. If all else fails and you must use your room phone, call the front desk before dialing to determine off-peak calling times. Bundle your e-mail messages and calls and place them accordingly.
  • Make a formal complaint. If you can’t resolve any problems at the hotel, file a formal complaint with the FCC (888-225-5322 or www.fcc.gov/ccb/consumer_news/) or Consumer Action (415-255-3879 or www.Consumer-action.org).