That new hotel charge you really hate? It's here to stay

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The Most Infuriating Fees, And How to Avoid Them

Hilton Hotels' CEO says that hotels have to be as annoying as airlines.

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

The hotel industry considered whom it most admired.

The answer was: the airline industry.

Yes, that wily cartel of misbegotten nickelers and dimers who delight in making planes narrower, seats smaller and passengers ever closer to ululating for five hours straight.

This was something to which the hotel industry could look up to.

And so it was that Hilton Hotels decided to experiment with a cancellation fee of $50.

This was greeted with cheering in the streets. At press conferences, world leaders came out in support. The United Nations held a five-minute standing ovation.

Would it actually work? Would it increase customer satisfaction -- I mean, Hilton's profits?

This seems unclear. What is very clear is that cancellation fees are staying. They're going to become a thing.

View photos of 10 hotels with stunning views:

10 hotels with the prettiest views
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That new hotel charge you really hate? It's here to stay
Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown, New Zealand

The interiors of the four-bedroom Owner’s Cottage on South Island feature rustic wide-plank wooden floors, locally sourced furniture, and New Zealand wool carpets. Rooms have expansive views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range beyond. From $865/night;

Photo: Matakauri Lodge
Shangri-La Hotel, Paris

Situated just across the Seine from the City of Light’s beloved Eiffel Tower, the Shangri-La takes its decorative cues from France’s Empire period, courtesy of interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. Shown is the view from the Eiffel Duplex Terrace Suite. From $853/night;

Photo: Shangri-La Hotel
Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Abu Dhabi

Located at the cusp of the Empty Quarter—the largest uninterrupted stretch of desert on the planet—rooms at this stylish resort contain locally sourced Arabian fabrics and artifacts. From $350/night;

Photo: Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
The Peninsula, Hong Kong

Though magnificent views of the skyline can be had from throughout this hotel on the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, perhaps the most striking is the one from the indoor pool. This Greco-Roman example has columns and statues hewn of Italian marble, elaborate friezes, cornices befitting a palazzo, and a waterfall. From $754/night;

Photo: The Peninsula
Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India

Located just 650 yards from the revered Taj Mahal, this hotel’s decor is a tribute to Mughal and Moorish architecture and features lavish filigree and marble inlays, wood carvings, and handwoven tapestries. From $700/night;

Photo: Oberoi Hotels and Resorts
Belmond Hotel Caruso, Ravello, Italy

Housed in an 11th-century palace perched on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, the hotel features intricate frescoes and carefully restored period details. An infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean makes for a truly unforgettable experience. From $537/night;

Photo: Belmond
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Originally the site of a modest two-bedroom log cabin built in 1890 to attract visitors passing by train to the Banff Springs Hotel, the chateau’s current iteration dates to 1911. Inside, alpine-style interiors are paired with oversize windows that reveal one of the most picturesque views of Lake Louise and the Canadian Rockies. From $232/night;

Photo: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Amangiri, Canyon Point, Utah

Architects Marwan Al-Sayed, Wendell Burnette, and Rick Joy conceived this desert marvel, which seems to emerge from its rocky environs rather than overpower them. Furniture and color palettes are kept minimal, and strategically placed skylights and windows throughout the resort make the surrounding slot canyons a critical part of the design. From $1,200/night;

Photo: Aman Resorts
Jade Mountain, St. Lucia

Architect and hotelier Nick Troubetzkoy eliminated the fourth wall from every room at this Caribbean paradise so guests can enjoy the picture-perfect views of the Petit and Gros Piton mountains, which are reflected in infinity pools that grace almost every room. Ecology was a priority for Troubetzkoy, who tapped recycled-glass-tile maker David Knox to clad the resort’s pools and other key design features in handcrafted iridescent tiles of all hues. From $1,185/night;

Photo: Jade Mountain
Tierra Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Chile

The dramatic design of Tierra Patagonia was a collaboration between Chilean architects Cazú Zegers, Roberto Benavente, and Rodrigo Ferrer. The team tapped into nearby sustainable forests to construct the mostly wood structure, envisioning the building as a fossil emerging from Lake Sarmiento. They drew on the talents of local craftsmen for the unique furniture and artifacts that define the interiors. Large glass expanses showcase the stunning views of the lake and the peaks of Torres del Paine National Park. From $833 per person/night (all-inclusive);

Photo: James Florio

As Skift reports, Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta said this during an earnings call: "As opposed to the test, which was quite blunt force, I think what you will see us do -- and we're in the process of doing other tests right now -- is different ways of pricing our products both short, long, lead and more and less flexibility."

A translation of this might be: You know when you book a flight online and you get all those different pricing options, in which if you cancel the cheapest one you lose all your money, well, have you seen how much money the airlines are making these days?

Please, therefore, look forward to hotels aspiring to be as venal as airlines.

One airline fee that especially boggles my brain involves booking an economy plus seat. You pay extra to sit, say, in a exit row.

It used to be that if you then upgraded, you got the seat fee back. Now you don't. Even though the airline will likely sell that seat again for the very same amount.

It's like ordering a dish in a restaurant, sending it back and, instead of having the dish comped, you get charged double.

Nassetta admits that his cancellation fee experiment was " unsurprisingly hated."

But he said the real problem was that going from free cancellation to the ugly fee in one step "is very hard because consumers have been trained for so long around the model as it exists."

Essentially, then, Hilton guests are but monkeys who need merely to be trained in the new way of things.

Of course, one difference is that there's surely a lot more choice when it comes to hotels than there is with airlines.

There seem to be relatively few airlines competing on the same routes.

Hotel groups, on the other hand, not only have to compete against other hotels, but there's also the upstart sharers at Airbnb.

It may be that guests have used their dastardly computers to keep booking and canceling until they get the best rate they can. But Hilton is in the hospitality business.

Instead of finding ways to pinch more money from people's wallets, might another approach be to make Hilton Hotels so irresistible that they're worth staying in, even at increased prices?

Perhaps that's too difficult. Perhaps acting like an airline -- which pinches money from you while its captains tell you they know you (supposedly) have a choice of carriers -- is the simpler solution.

Nassetta clearly believes the whole industry will follow Hilton's initiative.

He sees it as a victory of mind over (customers who don't) matter.

He said: "There are some really intelligent things that I think you'll see us start to do later this year to start to move customers down that journey of recognizing, 'yeah, if you want total flexibility, there's a price for that.'"

Who can wait for these really intelligent things?

And somewhere, Airbnb executives smiled and went out for a bike ride and a kale salad.

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That new hotel charge you really hate? It's here to stay

Hotel Kakslauttanen Igloo Village, Saariselka, Finland

Stay inside an igloo -- whether you prefer ice or glass! -- for the ultimate Finland experience.

Dog Bark Park Inn, Idaho

Dog lovers can sleep inside a beagle’s body (and bring along your dog too!)

Giraffe Manor Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya

​Experience giraffe encounters during your stay!

Las Cabanas del Pais Vasco, Zenuri, Spain

Tap your inner child and spend the night in a treehouse your ten-year-old self would love. 

Palacio de Sal, Uyuni, Bolivia

Stay in a Palace made of salt for a really unique experience.

Crane Hotel, The Netherlands (overlooking the Wadden Sea)

This is a 150 foot-high rotating crane hotel -- seriously! 


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