Hotel Chain Advertises Free Local Phone Calls, Policy Is To Charge For Them Anyway

Extended Stay America has had a customer-friendly policy dating back years of not charging for local calls. They’ve advertised this since when in-room phone revenue was a thing (before everyone had cell phones with unlimited domestic calling) and the chain stills promote ‘free local calls’ on their website.

Yet for several months they’ve been charging for local calls, a $1 per call ‘connect fee’ (that’s actually $1 plus tax). One reader tells me that the hotel they’re staying at promised the fee wouldn’t apply to 800 numbers, but they were automatically charged for these anyway.

The Extended Stay America website still says they offer free local calls on at least one page (emphasis mine).

Extended Stay America provides the business and leisure traveler with more than just a hotel room. All suites come equipped with a full-size kitchen, free in-room Wi-Fi, free local phone calls and personalized voicemail. The hotels also provide free grab-and-go breakfast, on-site laundry facilities, pet friendly accommodations, and at select locations, pools and fitness centers.

Yet when I reached out to the chain to ask them the policy, I was told “$1.00 per call will be charged for local and long distance.”

They haven’t explained to me the disconnect between their policy and their marketing (including statements currently still on their website) and the lack fo communication with customers about the changes.

No doubt they’d blame ‘the pandemic’ but the best available science suggests that the virus doesn’t spread through telephone lines and this isn’t marketed as a fee for cleaning the telephone. Instead it’s a hidden charge meant to extract additional revenue from unsuspecting guests.


Credit: M.O. Stevens via Wikimedia Commons

The North Carolina-based long-stay chain operates approximately 625 hotels and is largely owned by Blackstone and Paulson & Co. and 6.5% by Starwood Capital.

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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Comments

  1. If memory serves, wasn’t free local calls in North America a benefit of elite status in legacy Marriott Rewards? It’s not a benefit in Bonvoy.

  2. @Charlie – Sir, kindly piss off with that self centered view. You can’t imagine using a hotel telephone, so everybody who stays at a hotel must be just like you and have no use for a hotel telephone, eh? Have you ever thought that cell phones rely on these things called batteries, signal, and service plans? Extended Stay America is often in rural areas with poor connectivity. The clientele is not of much financial means, and is likely to be using a discounted phone plan. Many discount phone plans are discounted precisely due to reduced access to cell towers.

  3. Okay. Now that I’m done schooling @Charlie – I’ll point the finger at the hotel chain’s marketing team. Obviously the hotel chain was coordinated enough to implement a fee and train customer service reps on what the fee is. The marketing team responsible for updating the website has dropped the ball. Maybe they got laid off at the start of the pandemic.

    A lawyer might chime in the comments below me to assess whether the hotel chain can be held to the out of date marketing copy.

  4. Fraud in the inducement.

    https://www.mccaberabin.com/business-copyright-faq/what-is-fraudulent-inducement/

    A person booking a room is acting reasonably when they rely on information on the website stating that calls are free.

    Low value frauds like this are a textbook example of why the idea of class action lawsuits exist. No one person will have suffered a harm great enough to warrant suing, so in order to discourage this kind of behavior a group can sue as one making the stakes, and the risk to the offender substantial.

  5. Wait, upon actually visiting the website, I see no mention of free local phone calls except in the fine print of the landing page of their affiliate program. All other benefits, like WiFi and breakfast, are advertised prominently on the main web page as well as the room booking flow. Breakfast is advertised as “currently suspended” which speaks to the abject laziness endemic in American culture but that’s neither here nor there.

    I don’t have any respect for marketing teams. They’re ex-communications majors / frat bros who probably spent 4 years butt chugging Coors Light while others were getting a real education. But, failing to scrub something in the fine print tucked away on an obscure web page is not as bad as advertising something prominently and not delivering. Maybe I am too young but I have never heard of Extended Stay America having free local phone calls until this blog post.

  6. During a recent stay at an Extended Stay America hotel, I used the in-room phone to call ESA’s toll-free number to make a reservation for a future stay at another ESA property. When I checked out, I saw that — AMAZINGLY — I had been charged a $1 fee (plus tax) to make the “toll-free” call!!!! Is it legal for a hotel to charge for “toll-free” calls? I will never again stay at an Extended Stay America hotel —nor will any of my colleagues. That $1 fee will end up costing ESA over $100,000 per year in business!

  7. 1. I am a longtime fan of this blog , but a first-time poster. I had an identical experience to Vic’s. I am the CEO of a small company, but we have typically spent $50,000 to $75,000 per year at Extended Stay America hotels. No more!!! This is a matter of principle with me. We have been good customers for 20 years, and have appreciated the few amenities offered by ESA, but mainly free local calls. (It’s a long story, but we have found this to be a great convenience.) Now, as per Gary’s article (and Vic’s comment), ESA is charging $1 (+ tax) for local calls, and, more outrageously, the same “connect fee” for toll-free numbers. If a company wants to make a stupid business decision that will cost them many times in lost business (and lost profits) what they can make by gouging some customers, they are free to do so. But, like Vic, I question the legality of charging for “toll-free” calls.
    2. If it is legal to charge for “free” calls, it shouldn’t be. And I intend to make it my personal mission for “toll-free” calls to become, by law, 100% free. As soon as Merrick Garland is sworn in as the new A.G. of the USA, I will be contacting the DOJ about this. Moreover, I will be contacting my Congressman, my 2 U.S. Senators, and Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and every other powerful pro-consumer member of Congress to pass a law making ESA’s practice of charging for “free” calls illegal.
    3. My brother-in-law is a prominent class-action lawyer. He may be interested in filing suit against ESA (if their practice is currently illegal.)
    4. I was already upset about this matter, but Gary’s blog-post has inspired me to teach the arrogant morons at ESA a lesson!

  8. In the 1980s–2000s, I remember hotels that charged not only for calling local & toll-free numbers from the room phones, but also access numbers for calling the access numbers of long-distance calling cards which started with “950” and even COLLECT CALLS!

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