Beware of sneaky hotel fees

    Don't let these charges ruin your vacation

    Published: May 16, 2014 04:00 PM

    The lodging industry is highly imaginative when it comes to finding ways to generate revenue. In 2013, guests forked over an estimated $2.1 billion in fees and surcharges, almost double the amount in 2000.

    Last year's record take reflect higher room-occupancy rates—more heads in beds—and more varied and steeper fees. Before 1997, most of these fees were unheard of. While consumers understandably despise the fees, the industry embraces them because they are extraordinarily profitable.

    According to Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, the most prevalent extras include: resort fees, early-departure fees, reservation-cancellation fees, Internet fees, telephone-call surcharges, business-center fees (for example, charges for receiving faxes, and sending or receiving overnight packages), room-service delivery surcharges, minibar restocking fees, charges for in-room safes, and mandatory tips added to your bill. For groups, there have been increased charges for bartenders and other staff at events, special charges for setup and breakdown of meeting rooms, and baggage-holding fees for guests leaving luggage with bell staff after checking out but before departing the premises.

    Some resorts, suburban hotels, and hotels near airports are also starting to charge for open, unattended (nonvalet) parking. Parking has usually been free outside of hotels in urban areas. 

    One fee that seems to have largely disappeared, Hanson says, is the energy surcharge, typically imposed when fuel and utility rates are high.

    When it comes to nickel-and-diming guests, fancy hotels are the worst offenders, billing for amenities that many budget hotels offer free, such as wireless, high-speed Internet.

    Here's a rundown of common extras and what you can expect to pay at hotels that impose them.

    • Resort fee. Charged by hotels with hiking trails, golf courses, or tennis courts, this typically ranges from about $20 to $50 per day. It applies whether you use the amenities or not, and is very hard to have removed from your bill. Most resorts automatically add staff tips, too.
    • Minibar.  Expect a double-whammy. Not only will you overpay for chips, nuts, and candy bars, but you'll probably get socked with a minibar restocking fee of  $2.50 to $6. Hotels are also doing away with locked minibars, instead displaying items in an unlocked fridge or in baskets in the open, where they're harder to resist. One onerous trick: The hotel has several bottles of water as a welcome gift in your room. One is complimentary, which is noted on the tag around the neck of the bottle; subsequent ones are pricey, but you might not notice unless you read the fine print on the similar-looking tags.
    • Early check-in/late departure. Time was, you might talk your way out of paying extra if you arrived early or checked out late. Then many chains started charging a $50 penalty or imposed a "day" rate of about 60 percent of the regularly nightly rate. Now, more chains are imposing the full nightly rate. To encourage guests to join their loyalty programs (generally free), hotels may waive the fee and offer members other perks such as a dedicated, expedited check-in/out line or self-checkout option.
    • Bag storage. Expect to pay $1 to $2 per bag if you arrive early or need to stow luggage after checkout at many hotels. Joining a loyalty club may let you avoid this fee, too.
    • Cancellation. Chains routinely require 48 to 72 hours' notice to avoid a charge equal to one night's stay. If you cancel a prepaid stay during a peak period, you could forfeit the entire amount. Some resorts may bill you for three nights if you cancel your trip.
    • Room service. Ten dollars for a croissant is just the start. There may also be a mandatory tip, usually about 18 percent and, more recently, a $2.50 to $5 service—or tray—charge.

    Hotels don't rely on a magic formula to determine how much to charge for various services, Hanson says. Instead, it often comes down to what the market will bear. "The amounts are constantly changing to see what people will accept," he said. "If you charge a guest $1 and there aren't many people complaining, let's try raising it to $2. It's often a matter of trial and error and seeing what sticks." 

    —Tod Marks

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