the hotel for a job interview was charged to my credit card — without my authorization

A reader writes:

In mid-September, I was contacted by a defense contractor to come in for a job interview the first week of October. The company’s travel agency sent me email of the hotel reservations at the end of September. The email stated that the hotel room and taxes would be direct billed to the company. Also, the company’s policy states that the hotel will be direct billed to the company.

On check-in, I confirmed that my credit card was to cover incidentals, not the hotel room and tax. The front desk people told me that there was a note to direct bill the company. I had ordered room service for breakfast since I had to check out around 6:30 AM. The bill, that is slipped under the door overnight, showed the hotel room but not the room service was charged to my credit card. I contacted the front desk about the error before I checked out. They corrected the hotel room error because of the direct billing. On check-out, I received a new final bill at the front desk which showed only the room service charge billed to my credit card.

A week later I found out that a separate charge for the hotel room and taxes were charged to my credit card. I’ve contacted my credit card to dispute the charge. I also contacted the company that I interviewed with about the problem. The company’s representative for the reimbursement of the travel expenses said that there must have been a misunderstanding and she would look into it. The hotel is claiming that the travel agency for the company did not set-up the reservation as a direct bill through the hotel’s accounts payable.

At the end of October, three weeks after the interview, I emailed the company to find out the status. No response. It is now a month after the interview, I have not received any response from the company. My credit card company has asked the hotel for a copy of the bill. And they asked me to contact the company for proof that they paid the bill. The hotel is telling my credit card company that it will take up to 30 days to get a copy of the bill to them.

Any suggestions on resolving this issue? Also, how can I prevent something like this in the future?

Before you assume the worst — that the employer is trying to get out of a bill that they seem to have intended to pay — first assume a simple mistake. And continue assuming a simple mistake (or ineptness or slowness) until you really have evidence that it’s something more than that. But right now, all you have is one email that wasn’t returned, and there can be all kinds of reasons for that — from it accidentally getting overlooked to someone being out of the office.

That means that you should just assume they need a reminder, and you should contact them again. Forward that email that you sent three weeks ago back to the person you’re dealing with and say, “I haven’t heard back about this and I’m still being billed for the charge. What can we do to get it fixed?”  Cc the email to the person you interviewed with.

Then, wait a week. If you still haven’t heard back at that point, pick up the phone and call your interviewer and ask for their assistance in getting it resolved, and/or call the person you’re dealing with directly. At that point, you might point out that the simplest way for them to fix this would be for them to simply cut you a reimbursement check, rather than messing around with the hotel and the credit card company, and request that they do that.

Yes, it’s a pain that you have to follow up on this and they didn’t take care of it as soon as you told them what happened. But it’s far, far more likely to be ineptness or oversight than anything more troubling.

As for what to do to prevent it in the future … I don’t think it’s that kind of thing. They told you they’d have it direct-billed to them, the hotel confirmed that it was set up that way, and then something went awry. Sometimes mistakes happen, but I don’t think there was anything you could have done to ward this off or that it requires doing anything differently in the future.

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