Avoid sneaky hotel fees on your next vacation
How to avoid charges you don't expect
Nate Hake thought he got an incredible deal when he booked a last-minute room at a Las Vegas hotel recently. But when he checked in, the front desk agent informed the 32-year-old Colorado resident that he would also have to pay a "resort fee" of $35 plus taxes per night for the room.
“They insisted on charging me the fee, or they wouldn’t let me check in,” he says. “Ultimately, I really didn’t have any choice but to pay.”
Being nickel-and-dimed with unexpected fees by a hotel is becoming a commonplace experience of travelers, if the hundreds of stories Consumer Reports members shared with us about the practice is any indication.
Resort Fees to Towel Fees
Members griped the most about the mandatory resort fee, which averages approximately $27 daily, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. It covers services like access to swimming pools and gyms, whether you use them or not.
But our members also complained about myriad other fees, including charges for accessing the internet, for having a safe in the room even if it wasn't used, for parking, for newspapers in the lobby, and for reserving a room through a third party instead of with the hotel directly. There was even a complaint about a fee for using the towels in the bathroom and a gripe about a handicap-accessible hotel fee.
“Because of all of these add-on fees, it's difficult for consumers to know much it will cost to stay in a hotel,” says Anna Laitin, director of financial policy at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “Room rates that may seem like a good deal when you reserve can quickly balloon, making it hard for consumers to comparison shop and nearly impossible to budget for a trip."
The problem may get worse. Hotel fees and surcharges, which totaled a record $2.7 billion in 2017, are poised to increase this year, says Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct professor at New York University Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. Hanson says he’s seeing more hotels adding cancellation fees and more urban hotels tacking on resort fees.
Unfair practices like these are why Consumer Reports is launching a program called "What the Fee?!" The goal is to highlight surprise fees—and help consumers fight back. (You can find out more about our efforts at WhatTheFee.com.)
Why do hotels add on so many fees? One reason is so that they can advertise low rates and still pad their bottom line, Hanson says. Though he agrees the practice can mislead consumers, he also notes that consumers sometimes benefit from this arrangement. Because municipal taxes are charged on the price of the room and not on the fees, separating them may mean guests ultimately pay less.
At least when it comes to resort fees, hotels don't necessarily agree that they're overwhelming consumers with them. At Hilton, for example, resort fees are charged at fewer than 1 percent of its properties around the world, says Meg Ryan, a senior manager of corporate affairs. The same holds true for Marriott Hotels, according to Connie Kim, vice president of media relations for Marriott International.
Of course, these hotels may charge other fees, for example, if you cancel a reservation or change your arrival date, departure date, or the kind of room you want.
Where you travel may also impact how much you pay in fees. You’re more likely to run into them when staying at hotels in major tourist destinations, such as Miami and Las Vegas. Even in New York City, where resort fees may seem unlikely, more than 90 hotels charge such a fee, up from just 10 in 2015, according to data from ResortFeeChecker.com, a website that lets travelers look up resort fees at hotels worldwide.
Tips to Keep Costs Down
To reduce the odds that you'll be surprised by a fee at your next hotel stay, consider these tips.
Call the hotel before booking. Ask whether there are any mandated fees and surcharges, perhaps for early or late check-ins or checkouts, parking, or for using the safe in the room. Write down the name or identification number of the representative who assisted you so that you can reference it if there’s a dispute about the fees later.
Check the hotel’s website. “Hotels that charge a resort fee are careful to disclose them on their website well before the end of the booking process,” says Rosanna Maietta, senior vice president of communications at the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group. That’s especially true since the the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 looked into whether certain hotel operators were misrepresenting hotel room reservation prices quoted to consumers, she says.
If you use a third-party site to book a room, keep in mind that it may not have access to all of the information about a hotel's fee policies, Hanson says.
Visit travel websites. You can search for hotel fees by typing in the name of a hotel on ResortFeeChecker.com. You can also search traveler reviews for specific hotels on sites such as TripAdvisor, to see the kinds of fees guests say they have been charged.
Join a loyalty program. Some hotels will waive certain fees, such as a fee for WiFi, for members of their loyalty program. In some cases, you’ll need to have accumulated a certain level of points. “Pearl” level members of MGM Resorts’ loyalty program, for example, get complimentary self-parking, and “Gold” members of the Wyndham Rewards program don’t have to pay late checkout fees.
Negotiate with the hotel. If you know that you won’t use the services covered by fees the hotel charges, explain this to the hotel manager, ideally when you book your room. If you wait until you check in, you may not be offered other options.
You can also try asking the hotel manager to remove the resort fee from your bill when you check out, but this gambit won't always work. Hanson says that by waiting until you leave, you won’t have much negotiating power because you would have already agreed to the terms and fees when you registered at the hotel.
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