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Hotel Resort Fees: The Real Story

Q: When is a $40 hotel room not a $40 hotel room?

A: When it adds a $20 fee.

In Las Vegas, Honolulu, or Orlando, you will likely see a room advertised at $40 with a mandatory $20 resort fee. The true rate for that room is $60, but the hotel carves $20 out of the true price, labels it a mandatory “resort fee,” and posts a $40 rate instead. That’s the essence of the resort fee scam, designed to make the room look less expensive than it really is. Unfortunately, that scam is both widespread and growing.

How the Scam Works: A hotel targets $60 a night in room revenue. But it also wants to look like a really good deal in a hotel search engine such as Expedia or Trivago. “Aha,” says the manager, “Instead of $60, I’ll tell the search engine that the rate is $40, and I’ll get my targeted $60 by adding a mandatory $20 fee, which I’ll have guests pay when they check out of the hotel. And to keep those guests happy, I’ll dream up a laundry list of services that I’ll say the fee covers—access to the pool, Wi-Fi, whatever else sounds plausible.”

Why It Spreads: There’s a Gresham’s law about advertising: “Deceptive advertising drives out honest advertising.” In the example above, a competitor across the street, who also wants to get $60 a night, sees that $40 posting and concludes, “I can’t allow that hotel across the street to make it look like its rates are lower than mine. I don’t like it, but I have to do the same thing to remain competitive.” It’s that easy.

Where You Find It: Randy Greencorn runs a website, ResortFeeChecker, that tracks the resort-fee scam, and he recently compiled some data for Travelers United that show how pervasive and pernicious those fees have become at 30 popular U.S. vacation destinations:

  • Concentration: Hotels that charge resort fees, at least so far, tend to be concentrated in beach, ski, and entertainment destinations. Orlando tops the list with 107 hotels that charge resort fees. Miami is close behind, at 100 hotels, followed by Las Vegas (93), Myrtle Beach (57), Oahu (37), Steamboat Springs (32), Puerto Rico (30), Phoenix and San Diego (27), and the Florida Keys and Maui (26).
  • Penetration: Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Snowshoe, West Virginia, shows the highest percentage of hotels charging resort fees, at 88 percent, followed by Las Vegas, at 44 percent.
  • Average Nightly Fees: Puerto Rico hotels top the list, at an average of $34 per room, per night, followed by Vail at $32, Aspen at $27, Palm Beach at $23, and a long list at $19 to $21, including much of Hawaii, Las Vegas, Miami, Monterey, and Cape Cod. Only Steamboat Springs, Atlantic City, and Myrtle Beach hotels average less than $10 a night.
  • Highest Fees: Two posh Miami Beach resorts on Fisher Island charge $107 per night, rates at four Ritz-Carlton resorts ranged are $50 to $95 per night, and dozens of upscale hotels charge $22 or more.

But There’s More: ResortFeeChecker does not cover Bahamian, Caribbean, or Mexican beach centers, where resort fees are also common. Nor does it include mandatory fees some hotels charge under other plausible names, including “housekeeping fee,” “concierge fee,” “porterage fee,” and such. And the scam is likely to spread: At least one New York City hotel is already adding mandatory fees to its featured rates; how long before other New York hotels copy?

Can You Avoid It? No; not using the services the fee supposedly covers won’t get you off the hook. In fact, the resort fee doesn’t have anything to do with actual use or non-use of the specific services the hotel says it covers; it’s just a way to misrepresent the real price. When the fees first appeared, travelers could sometimes talk their way out of paying, but no longer. The bottom line is simple: No matter what the hotel calls it, if it’s mandatory and if the hotel keeps it, it’s part of the price. And check out any hotel you’re considering on ResortFeeChecker before you reserve.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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