12 Ways to Avoid Obnoxious and Escalating Hotel Fees
By Marilyn Lewis
The world for consumers has changed for the worse since some diabolical genius discovered it's possible to break a service into many separate fees. The airlines have led, if you can call it that, by charging additionally for bringing a suitcase on a plane, priority boarding, leg room, food and drink.
Hotels seem to be perfecting the practice. Especially insidious are mandatory "resort" fees: charges for services that historically have been part of a room rate. Resort fees are a single charge covering such services as Internet access and Wi-Fi, bottled water, use of the swimming pool, beach chairs, spa, gym and towels, parking, local phone calls and a "complimentary" newspaper at your door in the morning.
ResortFeeChecker.com explains: "Most resort fees are mandatory and are on a per room, per night basis. Resort fees can range from as low as just a few dollars per night to over $30. Because they are mandatory, hotel guests often feel that they are used as a way to make the nightly rate appear lower than it actually is. A room at $70 per night with a $30 resort fee is no different than a $100 per night hotel with no fee."
Resort fees generally are found at higher-end properties and in popular vacation locales like Florida, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, says travel blog The Points Guy. Orlando is the capital of hotel fees, writes USA Today. USA Today found a traveler who paid a $60-per night hotel fee in addition to his room rate at a Puerto Rico resort.
But it doesn't end with resort fees. Other fees in the hospitality industry are multiplying like rabbits in spring. There are early check-in fees, early check-out fees, cancellation fees, fees for using the room safe, fees to hold your baggage behind the front desk and automatic gratuities (tips for staff), says CNN.
Hotels have become adept at hiding fees, revealing them only in fine print on a website, in the final stages of a transaction or as you check out at the end of a stay to find, for example, a $25 charge on your bill for using Wi-Fi, or a fee for storing your own yogurt in the minibar fridge.
Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com, says in an email: "Virtually all online travel agencies and most hotels hide or bury mandatory fees to some degree. In almost all cases, the fee is only disclosed after a consumer sees the basic room rates, decides on a hotel, and begins the booking process."
In 2012 the Federal Trade Commission warned 22 hotels against "drip pricing" through add-on fees that are not disclosed on their online sites and may only become apparent after arrival or upon checkout. If you've been misled about mandatory fees the FTC urges you to file a complaint.
As a result, though, hotels just ramped up the fees, according to USA Today: "Instead of eliminating resort fees, as some predicted, hotels simply improved their disclosure, with the government's blessing. Hotels saw that as a green light to add more fees, as long as they told their customers."
Sadly, hotel fees may be here to stay. It's on consumers these days to be vigilant. So let's talk tactics. Here are 12 ways to help you find and avoid or fight hotel fees:
1. Read the Fine Print
Shocked incredulity may not be an effective defense when, at checkout, you discover surprise fees added to your bill. You'll need to learn what you are up against:
- Find and read the rules found on a hotel's website, at checkin and in the room.
- Ask for a list of fees when you check in.
- When shopping for a hotel, keep a look out for "daily resort charges" and "resort charge" in ads and promotions.
- "A reputable resort will reveal the fee on your final confirmation," says USA Today. Cancel, if you don't like it.
"You can also avoid fees in many cases by calling ahead to the hotel and asking about packages, many of which include fee waivers, especially for Wi-Fi and parking," CNN advises.
3. Look Up Resort Fees
Use ResortFeeChecker.com to find fees charged at the hotels or resorts you are considering.
4. Negotiate a Waiver
Some hotels will waive fees if you tell them at check-in that you won't be using the items covered by the fees - Wi-Fi, for example, or the hotel's gym or pool, Isar Meitis, president of Last Minute Travel, tells Kiplinger.
5. Shun Hotels With Fees
The surest way to deal with hotel fees is to avoid hotels that charge them. Select establishments whose rates reflect all charges upfront:
- Book a room in an independent hotel or motel or a bed and breakfast instead of a chain. Check local Chamber of Commerce or visitors' sites for local lodging options.
- Find hotel booking sites that disclose booking fees upfront. Kiplinger likes these two: Stayful and Getaroom.com.
Skip hotels entirely and instead rent a private home through sites like AirBnB, HomeAway and VRBO. These typically charge a cleaning deposit and booking fee, but companies' websites should display these clearly and incremental fees for use of equipment or amenities are uncommon.
7. Use a Loyalty Program
"Loyalty programs are the best way to avoid extra fees and surcharges, since loyalty programs typically offer fee waivers," Melanie Nayer, a travel journalist and hotel expert told CNN.
"Hotel-branded credit cards and hotel loyalty programs ... may be able to save you on certain fees, but you probably won't be able to avoid all of them," says CreditCards.com, adding: "Information for the American Express' Starwood Preferred Guest credit card, for example, clearly states that if you redeem points for a free stay, some hotels will still charge you for mandatory service and resort charges. Hotel loyalty programs may give you things such as free Internet access, free early check-in or late check-out, free newspapers or free gym access, but they won't get resort fees waived."
8. Get Loyalty Program Elite Status
Some fees, like late check-out and for Internet, typically aren't charged to elite members of a chain's loyalty program, says MilestoMemories travel blog. "I have also had mixed success with getting resort fees waived at select hotels," the blog says, adding that hospitality chain rewards programs typically offer elite status to guests who use their co-branded credit card.
TheTravelSisters blog compares features of hotel loyalty programs, including Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, Hilton HHonors, IHG Rewards Club (formerly Priority Club) and Club Carlson.
9. Book With Awards Points
ThePointsGuy says that some chains or certain hotels in a chain will waive resort fees when you book using awards points. Read the blog post for a detailed discussion.
10. Park Elsewhere
Hotels, even suburban hotels and motels, have begun charging to park in their non-valet lots. (I know. What is the world coming to?) Your options:
- Find free on-street parking
- Stay in the suburbs where parking is often free or cheaper.
- Search the Internet for cheaper parking garages near your hotel.
- Use a coupon. Search online for "parking" and "coupons" and the city's name. Kiplinger points to Icon Parking Systems, with coupons for discounted rates in 200-plus garages throughout New York City, as one example.
Some hotels charge you just for picking up and replacing an item from the minibar. A $25 fee is not unheard of for using your hotel room's refrigerator to store snacks you've purchased elsewhere. Your options:
- Don't eat or drink treats from the minibar unless you are desperate or ready for big charges.
- Don't even open your room's refrigerator. Avoiding it entirely is the best way to avoid a shock on you room bill.
- Want a chilled beverage or snack? Fill your room's ice bucket with ice from down the hall and keep your goodies in it.
One piece of good news from the American Hotel & Lodging Association: "Fewer hotels are charging for in-room Internet services. Only 11 percent of respondents charge for Internet service. This figure is down from 23 percent in 2012." However, if you find your hotel charges for Wi-Fi, here are some workarounds:
- Own your own Wi-Fi hotspot. (At least one offers free monthly service.)
- If it's capable, turn your cell phone into a personal hotspot. "A Personal Hotspot lets you share the cellular data connection of your iPhone or iPad," explains Apple in this how-to. (Don't forget to check with your wireless carrier to find out if this will cost you additional data charges).
- Jog down to the lobby and see if you can use Wi-Fi there free of charge.
- Use WeFi to find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Find a nearby Starbucks or local, independent coffee shop and use it as your home away from home. Meanwhile, enjoy a retro vacation - sans Wi-Fi.