Motel 'security insurance' won't let you sleep better

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We had stayed overnight at a Ramada Inn off the New Jersey Turnpike near Trenton, and we were about to partake of their continental breakfast.

A man was arguing vociferously with the desk clerk. He said, "I already told you I didn't want to be charged for that." The desk clerk said he'd have to take it up with the manager and a second desk clerk said she resented the man using such a belligerent tone of voice with her.

After our sumptuous breakfast of coffee, juice and a bagel, my wife Merrilee went up to the desk to pay the bill. They wanted her to sign the American Express charge before she saw the itemized list of charges. When she looked over the bill she saw a $1 item for "security insurance."

"What's that?" she asked. "That's for use of the safe in your room," she was told. "But we didn't use the safe," Merrilee replied. "Well, you have to tell us when you check in that you don't want to use the safe," the clerk said. "How can I tell you we don't want to use the safe if we didn't know there was a safe in the room?" Merrilee wanted to know.

The clerk said Merrilee was told our room was $90 a night, plus tax, and the security insurance fee was part of the tax. Does all of the $1 fee go to the state of New Jersey? Merrilee asked, and the clerk said part of it did.

Merrilee then inquired if the security-insurance fee was the reason the man got so upset, and the clerk said it was. It seems he had checked in and informed the desk clerk he wasn't going to use the safe. For some reason the next day he checked out and then checked in again and upon rechecking in he did not inform the clerk he didn't want to use the safe so he was charged the $1 fee and that's why he got so angry.

To add insult to injury, the clerk told the guy that he'd have to take his case to the manager but he or she wouldn't be on the premises for another two hours-and-a-half.

Merrilee was told we could also plead our case to the higher authority, and the clerk said the manager often waives the charge. But like most travelers we were anxious to hit the road so we weren't inclined to wait around.

Ramada's official line is that individual franchisees decide whether to offer in-room safes and also whether to charge for them. Merrilee and I stopped at another Ramada in North Carolina and they didn't have any "security insurance" charge because they didn't have any in-room safes.

My assistant, Mary Hryniszak, called a dozen Day's Inn, Hilton, Red Roof, Courtyard and Best Western franchisees, and none of them offered in-room safes. Ramada in Oak Forest, Ill., does have them in its rooms and charges $1 for their use. When people check in they are asked to initial the room rate and the safe charge. Howard Johnson's on International Drive in Orlando, Florida, charges $1 for the room safe and you get the key from the front desk.

But whether or not most motels and hotels charge extra (and in some cases bury the charge) I am hereby issuing an orange-level travel alert, just to be on the safe side. I'm sad to be the one to inform you that a $1 "security insurance" charge on your bill doesn't mean that the establishment has hired extra guards to patrol the premises while you sleep.

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