Holy Markup: Hotel Charged a Man Nearly $70,000 for a Beer, and It’ll Take 10 Days to Get His Money Back

We all know how overpriced minibars can be. And in major cities you have to take out a second mortgage to afford a cocktail in the bar, too. In one case that turns out to be literally true.

Australian journalist Peter Lalor ordered a beer in the bar at the Malmaison Hotel in Manchester, U.K. They accidentally charged him just shy of AU$100,000 or about $68,000 U.S. dollars for it.

Lalor reports the beer was quite good. He had requested something local. The ‘senior bar attendant’ has recommended Heineken.

He didn’t have his reading glasses with him, so didn’t look at the bill when it came time to sign. The bar had “problems with the machine” so he didn’t get a receipt. He did choose to ask, though, how much he’d paid.

Insult to injury? The foreign transaction fees.

There are many strange things about the transaction not least of which that it appears he paid with a Visa debit card, because the man explains he doesn’t just have a charge on his credit card but he’s actually currently out the money and it’s going to take 10 days for the bank to return it to him. Moreover his bank didn’t enforce a daily transaction limit on the card.

Several lessons here.

  1. When traveling abroad use a card with no foreign transaction fees. (Sidenote: when asked if you want to pay in local currency or your home currency, always pay in local currency – the merchant won’t give you as good a rate to convert as your bank will, and if your card charges foreign transaction fees it will still charge those fees on the local currency charge made in a foreign country.)

  2. Use a credit card not a debit card, mistaken or fraudulent transactions actually take money out of your bank account when you use a debit card. Sure you should eventually get the money back but consumer protections on U.S. credit cards are greater and it’s better not to be without the funds while either the bank investigates or a return processes.

  3. Look at receipts before signing them. If something is wrong, you’d rather the transaction get voided than charged and refunded.

  4. Stay away from the bar at the Malmaison in Manchester.

Me, I’ll take my beer in the lounge.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sidenote to your sidenote: whether you choose to be charged in the local currency or your own, make sure you are indeed being charged the right amount in the right currency. Now that the card readers give the currency option, some dishonest merchants have been reported to have charged the local currency AMOUNT in the tourist’s HOME currency, knowing some won’t notice it’s 2,500USD instead of 2,500[###].

  2. Same thing just happened to me last night. I was presented with a $107,000 USD bill for a pizza. Luckily I saw the bill and refused to sign the credit card slip.

  3. @Jose then how do you get cash in a foreign country? Traveler’s checks? ATMs give the best rates for getting foreign cash and the lowest fees if you use Schwab or Etrade. (or newly discovered Chase Sapphire checking which has no foreign currency transaction fees and rebates your foreign ATM fees like Schwab)

  4. This guy keeps over 100k in his checking account? He’s asking to be ripped off!

    W H Y???????????????

  5. @oldkingcole. My bank counts my savings as part of my checking for access if needed. I was in Paris and noticed that my gas company took out $8,000.00 from my checking account instead of $80.00 because the idiot who imputed the data (me) entered it in wrong. The bank honored the withdrawal. Debit cards should NEVER BE USED ANYWHERE.

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