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The Monday Rant: Nonsmoking Rooms . . .That Aren't

Carol Sottili

Have you ever specifically requested a nonsmoking hotel room only to find that the previous guest has ignored the rule?

It's not a huge problem if there are other rooms to be had, but when a hotel is sold out, it can be a big hassle. Even worse, you don't smell smoke when you walk in, but when you settle your head onto the pillow that night, an unmistakable hint of l'eau de smoke hits your nostrils. You either have to live with it or get dressed and packed to move rooms.

Hotels have heard this complaint again and again. Many, including Marriott and Westin, are now totally nonsmoking. And it's not a rule without teeth. Light up in a Marriott room, and you'll get hit with a $250 cleaning fee. Westin charges $200. Disney has upped the ante to $500. In Chicago, Swissotel gives out $10 rewards to tattling housekeepers, and then charges scofflaws $250.

Cruise lines are also tightening the screws, with many placing more restrictions on where you can smoke. Some, such as Azamara and Regent, not only don't let you smoke in your cabins, but they also prohibit smoking on private balconies. Oceania has probably the most stringent penalties: Get caught smoking in a prohibited area and you'll be charged "up to the fare paid for passage" plus the captain also reserves the right to kick you off the ship.

I have no problem with the tough penalties. As long as the hotel/cruise line is upfront about the no-smoking rule and gives their paying guest ample notice, fair is fair. Some who have been hit with the fee have complained in various blogs and articles that they didn't even know about it.

But isn't it up to smokers in today's world to ask about whether it's okay to smoke before they book the hotel room or the cruise cabin? And who are they to ignore the rules, anyway? There are still plenty of places that allow smoking: Go there. Or follow the rules.

What have your experiences been with "nonsmoking" rooms?

By Carol Sottili |  February 4, 2008; 7:20 AM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili , Hotels , Monday Rants
Previous: Way to Go: Our Annual Travel Guide | Next: Monday Rant, Part 2: United's New $25 Checked Bag Policy

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I totally agree w/you - "There are still plenty of places that allow smoking: Go there. Or follow the rules." They believe rules are made for other people, not them. Yes, smokers should ask, just in case the reservationlist does not mention. If they don't adhere, they should not book.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 8:19 AM

Enterprise now charges a $75 fee for smoking or pets in the cars.

I think banning smoking on private balconies (on cruises) is going a bit too far. Rooms, yes, but outside should be fine.

As for smelling smoke when you hit the pillow - it doesn't always mean smoke in the room. Pillows could have been moved. And frankly, I've smelled some pillows where smoke was the least of their funk. And thats even at nicer hotels.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 8:45 AM

Yes, this is a huge pet peeve. The worst offender I've experienced is the Crowne Plaza in Times Square - our room REEKED of smoke, on what they swore was a non-smoking floor, and what's worse, they claimed there wasn't a single other room available that they could transfer us too, except for a room where we could sleep on a cot. It's very frustrating because you feel like you have no control over a situation that isn't just annoying, it has real health implications.

Posted by: Amanda | February 4, 2008 9:06 AM

Last year, I stayed in a non-smoking room at a Holiday Inn Express, right across from a smoking room. The smoke wafted into my room all night, making it impossible for me to sleep. They said there was nothing they could do! Because the building was part smoking part non.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 10:06 AM

I think a lot of hotels just generally have bad air quality in their rooms - old AC units with filters last changed in Year 1, unventilated baths (which breed mold), lots of upholstery for dust mites to live in. Residual smoky odors are just a gracenote. That said, large hotels with poorly-designed air exchange systems can have problems with smoke from one duly designated area (like a casino) wafting through the vents into the rest of the facility.

Posted by: BxNY | February 4, 2008 12:01 PM

Worst non-smoking/smoking conflict: non-smoking cabin in a ferry from Bergen, Norway, to Newcastle, England. over crew quarters with chain smokers. All night, the vents carried the smoke into our cabin, which was below the water line. Was not a problem from Newcastle to Bergen. Took me 6 months to get better after one single night. Still wary of ferries and won't go cruising.

Posted by: Allergic to tobacco smoke | February 4, 2008 2:10 PM

Smelling smoke is annoying, but even the most nauseating lingering tobacco odor doesn't match up with the headache bedbugs can be. I'll take fumes over insects any time.


Posted by: Nan | February 4, 2008 3:43 PM

They are doing smokers a big favor by charging extra fees and restrcting smoking in many locations. It's a dirty habit that is ruinous to your health. Smokers rights is b.s. Smokers are entitled to extra help to cut down or quit.

Posted by: Tom | February 4, 2008 5:15 PM

I booked a room at the last minute and was told the only room left was a smoking room. I needed a place to stay and was too tired to shop around, so I booked it. Big mistake. I seriously considered sleeping in my rental car instead of the nasty bed. Left my luggage in the car until just before I showered the next morning so my clothes didn't have enough time to pick up the odor before I headed out for the day.

Posted by: Casey | February 4, 2008 5:37 PM

Westin's now include a "Breath" card in the folder with the room key which highlights how fresh and clean the "smoke free" rooms are...well...I wish the card had magic powers because on my recent stay my room still stank. I wish Westin would have applied part of that $200 cleaning fee to my bill, or at least provide some sort of guarantee on that "Breath" card.

Posted by: Mr. Sanders | February 4, 2008 6:18 PM

I have had this problem on at least two occasions.

In the first, they couldn't move us because the hotel was booked on the account of the high season coupled with a wedding party (Hood River Inn/Best Western, OR; and then they had the gall to charge us for a movie, when in fact we never turned the TV on since we were never in the room long enough.

In second situation (professional conference) they thankfully moved us the following morning, but not soon enough because one night was enough to make nearly all of my stuff smell like smoke (Sheraton Baton Rouge, LA). A pretty dumpy hotel in general.

In a third situation (another wedding trip) I suspect they put us on a floor that allowed smoking, perhaps on a room by room basis. I couldn't help but notice a smoke odor in our room when we first walked in (Embassy Suites Raleigh Durham, NC). Otherwise, an excellent hotel.

Posted by: CJM | February 4, 2008 9:50 PM

Full disclosure: life long non smoker, with ongoing sinus problems caused by second hand smoke, which makes me relatively intolerant.

Attitudes change slowly, and we need to accept a couple of things:

For a very long time, smoking was not only acceptable, but aided and abetted by government policy that handed out free smokes to the military while passing on huge subsidies to tobacco farmers, and making the manufacture and sale of this stuff practically tax free.

The smokers have gotten in the way of thinking that this is a "right."

Now times are changing, and there is general recognition of the fact that this stuff can kill you, either indirectly, or indirectly. Ozzie Nelson, a lifelong non smoker, died of lung cancer.

No one who has enjoyed a right, particularly one they never should have had, is going to give it up easily, and giving up tobacco is said to be tougher than giving up heroin.

Nevertheless, this tends to bring out the worst in the smokers, who will happily lie (sacrificing their integrity and honor) to be able to cadge a smoke, and who obviously don't give a hoot about anyone except themselves.

Posted by: Judy from Fairfax | February 5, 2008 6:53 AM

As a former smoker, I try to be tolerant on this issue. It helps that our n/s hotel rooms have not had an air of stale smoke lingering in them. We have had the unfortunate situation of only a smoking room being available -- it was so putrid that we declined and kept driving.

Regarding cruise ships (a favorite form of vacation): Smoking on a balcony can adversely affect those on adjacent balconies by drifting up/down/sideways to other balconies. Smoking in a cabin on the previous cruise can leave the stench behind. Smoking in adjacent cabins can infiltrate nearby cabins with non-smokers. In other venues such as bars and the casino, smoke invariable wafts over to the n/s side. Grrr. Unfortunately, the staff on the spot are asked to "police" these situations but are exhorted to please all passengers at all times, so no action is taken. Their livelihood depends upon tips from both smokers and non-smokers. Ship management seems to vaporize into thin air. Guest relations agents pretend to listen, but nothing happens. I suspect they will listen when future bookings go up with lines having more stringent policies that are enforced.

Posted by: Cathy in NVa | February 5, 2008 8:23 AM

This is an easy way for businesses to mess with passengers. I recently rented a car from enterprise. After I turned it in I got a very polite message on my voice mail, telling me that my credit card would be charged $50 for pet hair in the car. I don't own a pet. so now I'm supposed to examine the back seat of a rental car for pet hair just to make sure that the car company doesn't screw me?

I'm glad I can get a non-smoking room. I'm just waiting for a hotel to charge me (a non-smoker) a $250 cleaning fee, which i will then have to use my time to dispute, and it will be my word against that of a housekeeper who is already getting extra money for turning me in.

I don't have enough confidence in hotels or rental care companies to want them to get to decide if I broke the rules and therefore charge my credit card with extra fees.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 10:33 AM

Booking a balcony suite on the new Azamara Quest for a Panama Canal cruise in November, not a word was said about the ship being a *non-smoking* ship. My best friend (a smoker) and I arrived to find that she could only smoke in two places on the ship -- at three or four tables located aft-portside of the outdoor pool area, and in a rear section of an indoor, upper-floor disco/live music lounge. Arriving at a port in Colombia, it felt like it was 125 degrees outside with 100 percent humidity! Going into the indoor lounge so that she could have a cigarette, we noticed that there were no ashtrays at any of the tables. She was relegated to the stifling heat outside. We felt we should have been told about the smoking situation at the time of booking, and if they do offer TWO smoking areas, one inside and air conditioned and another outside by the pool, the least they could do is provide ashtrays.

Posted by: pilotgirl210 | February 6, 2008 12:35 PM

There's a wonderful product called Febreze that non-smokers should pack just in case they find themselves in a non-smoking room that wasn't, and another room (or going elsewhere) is not an option. Also, most hotels (I would imagine cruise ships, too) own at least one device called an ionizer, which looks like a canister vacuum and removes all traces of tobacco smoke and other bad odors. Placing this in a room for one hour after a smoking guest has checked out is all it takes to make a room fresh again, not the labor-intensive "deep" cleaning they'd like you to believe justifies an exorbitant cleaning fee.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 1:43 PM

My wife is exceptionally sensitive to smoke and chemical odors. We have stayed in many "non-smoking" hotel rooms that reeked.
We find that Bed and Breakfasts are much cleaner and less apt to have smoke residue (owners more diligent and close by to notice smoke?). We stayed at a booklovers b and b on the Maryland's eastern shore, which touted non chemical cleaners, ultra hepa filters and UV lights in their air/heat systems.
We breathed well the entire time, especially upon waking. More places should follow suit.

Posted by: Ed Walker | February 6, 2008 3:07 PM

We have had varied experiences with non smoking rooms that someone has obviously smoked in. Several years ago in a Marriott time share unit the Master Bath was just awful. Marriott changed the shower curtain, cleaned carpet, washed walls, and used the ionizer. They were very apologetic and helpful. Other times we have been in smoking rooms when non smoking was not available - a couple of times you couldn't even tell it was a smoking room and once it was horrendous. Luckily I am not one of those people who are truly allergic, so I am only inconvenienced. I don't think 1 night in a smoking room is a true health hazard.

Posted by: Carolyn | February 6, 2008 3:41 PM

We have had two bad experiences with Hertz. Both times we rented a "non-smoking" car only to find that the car must have been rented to a smoker prior to our renting it. Our hint..a terrible spray had been used in the car to cover the odor. The spray made us not only have bad headaches, but we both had trouble breathing. Hertz does NOT fine people who smoke in their cars. Both times we had to go back and exchange the cars.

Posted by: Laurie | February 6, 2008 10:12 PM

I was in New Orleans for almost 3 mos. and stayed at the Residence Inn on St Joseph St. It was a "totally non smoking facility" but that wasnt true. People smoked regularly in their rooms and although the hotel staff said they really cared, if fact, if they didnt "catch" someone nothing happened. Even though the outside had a smoking designated area, people smoked anywhere. The designated area btw was next to the pool and basketball court.
In one room I had the staff did thoroughly reclean the room but the room had a vanity with at least 13 tobacco stains!!! If the hotel charges $250 per violating guest, it could easily afford to replace these vanities. As for those of you who think ionizers take out the tobacco residue, you must not be allergic to the substance.

Posted by: Stefanie | February 6, 2008 11:27 PM

I have a personal interest in this since my mother died of asthma. Her worst trigger was cigarette smoke. These days, with more people allergic to smoke and fewer smokers, I can't understand why this is still such a problem. I book a lot of nonsmoking rooms for my clients and even the smokers really appreciate the increasing number of properties that are going completely smoke-free. Hopefully, the smokers will be more considerate and the vendors will take advantage of the smoke clearing technology and the buying power of nonsmokers.

Posted by: Suzie | February 7, 2008 2:36 PM

If you smelled smoke only when you went to bed, it was probably because someone in the laundry area was smoking when they were processing the laundry. I have had this happen and have even seen it in small hotels.

Posted by: Cathy | February 7, 2008 10:38 PM

As someone whose asthma is triggered by tobacco smoke and residue, I have had horrid experiences, twice forced to abandon a room and sleep in a car.
To prior posting: Fabreeze is one of those awful smells that frequently trigger asthmatic attacks. It should never be used in public rooms. Ionizer work, but several hours should pass before the room is occupied. Best is to run the ionizer for a day and keep it empty for a day before moving in--if the hotel really believes in "clean".

Posted by: en | February 8, 2008 2:20 AM

I stayed in a "non-smoking" hotel this week in San Antonio; the Crowne Plaza. Febreze is a wonderful thing...to a point. The amount of Febreze or other air fresheners in the room and in the halls was almost worse than the smell of smoke from a previous hotel guest. It was obvious that the staff were smoking during laundry activities or some other time that they were in my room and the halls. The room smelled fine when I left in the morning but like smoke when I got back. Great hotel and wonderful staff but my agency will never stay there again. Complaints were very professionally handled but no changes to the smell.

Posted by: antshe | February 8, 2008 6:05 PM

What about the folks that are charged $250 for emptying a car ashtray in their hotel room trashcan? This has happened to several people including my brother and his wife recently. No signage that trash cans are off limits for car trash. This is rediculous. My brother and his wife did not smoke in their room at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Tyler Texas (when they drove here for her mother's funeral)and simply emptied their ashtray because relatives had smoked in their car on the way to the funeral home. The hotel manager took $250 from their debit card 'after' they checked out. The couple ended up stranded in the midst of a mountain snowstorm because (when they attempted to get gas with their debit card)they found that their bank account had been 'emptied'. They should have had exactly $250. They are both disabled and the freezing weather was devasting on their health. She suffered 4 panic attacks, cried uncontrollably and couldn't breathe. It was 3 am and they were helpless and horrified. By the grace of God they made it home, and later learned that the hotel manager, "Steve Cottrell" had retained their debit card number. He withdrew $250 from their bank account because he said a maid saw ashes in the trashcan. Cottrell refused to return my calls. I contacted Marriott liason "Sara Terkelsen" about the matter, hoping she could refund the money in light of the fact that the couple were penniless and had counted on that $250 to buy gas, food, medicine and pay for heat in their modest home. Terkelsen was cold and unyielding and so was Cottrell. Terkelsen stated that the registration card references the fee. Yes, it says $250 for smoking in room (and they did not smoke)but nothing about trash can searches. I wonder what incentives are offered to the manager Steve Cottrell or the maids - maybe splitting the $250 is incentive enough.

Posted by: georganne | February 14, 2008 3:29 PM

My experience at a Fairfield Inn in Hays, KS is comparable to georganne's. Christina Varner, GM, sounds about as delightful as Steve Cottrell. I hope Christina took her staff out to dinner on the $250 she scammed from my VISA card.

Posted by: ehwks | February 19, 2008 2:44 PM

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