Hoteliers seem to have been inspired by airline successes in charging fees for what was once included in their prices. A recent publication from the NYU School of Professional Studies predicts that aggregate hotel fees and surcharges will reach an all-time high this year: $2.7 billion.
While the report doesn’t show a price breakdown according to fee type, it identifies a long list of hotel fees. Some are clearly deceptive ones you might not expect to encounter after you reserve your room and can be avoided if you know what you’re up against. Here are seven hotel fees to be on the look out for.
The most deceptive fees are those that are mandatory, but excluded from the listed room rate. Resort fees are the most notorious kind of hotel fees, because they can as much as double what you really have to pay and seriously hinder your ability to compare rates from a list of hotel subtotals.
The practice started in two major vacation destinations, Hawaii and Las Vegas—but others quickly adopted it. In big cities, where calling a hotel a “resort” would be ludicrous, hotels have now changed the name to “facility” fees, but the effect is the same. The hotels give you a laundry list of services the fees supposedly cover, but paying, whether or not you use any of those services, is effectively a scam.
When I first started traveling, the idea of leaving a “tip” for housekeeping was absurd. Now. however, hotels seem to expect them. Some hotels even establish separate housekeeping fees as mandatory—which is as deceptive as those pesky resort fees. Others have started to post notices in their rooms that you are “expected” to tip housekeepers—a clear ploy to cut their employees’ wages and compel you to chip in. Hotels’ resort fees are at least disclosed before you actually make a reservation, but hotels are unlikely to disclose any requirement to tip housekeepers before you’re checked in.
If you’re staying at a suburban or rural motel, surrounded by an open surface-parking area, you might not expect this parking fee. Regardless, some hotels now add parking charges for unattended lots—and when you’ve already driven to the hotel, avoiding this charge is difficult.
Early Check-In Hotel Fees
This is another case of adding a fee for what was once a simple hotel courtesy. If you arrive at a hotel slightly before the official check-in time, there once was a time you could expect to be let in without a charge if the room was ready. NYU reports that some hotels, most commonly in Las Vegas, will now charge you early check-in hotel fees regardless. Here, you can avoid the charge by opting to wait and leaving your bags at reception—but often at some loss of flexibility and convenience.
Early-Cancellation Hotel Fees
The standard for a non-prepaid hotel reservation was once that you could typically cancel up to 24 hours in advance without penalty—maybe two days of notice would be required, tops. Now, however, some hotels are extending that limit to three days or more, and canceling any later means you owe the hotel a payment for at least one night. Avoiding this fee is sometimes easy, but you could be stuck when you suddenly have to change plans.
The Wi-Fi Puzzle
Free Wi-Fi is becoming a standard hotel requirement, but some hotels dodge the responsibility to offer free Wi-Fi by limiting it to travelers who book through the hotel’s own booking system. If you booked through a third party, you might need to pay a fee.
Alternatively, hotels that charge resort fees almost always include Wi-Fi on the list of services the hidden charge will cover. You can often avoid a Wi-Fi fee by booking directly with the hotel—and you might even get a slightly better rate. But, if it’s bundled into the phony resort fee, you pay for it no matter what.
The Old Standbys
Of course, hotels fees have been around for years. Among the oldest ploys are charges for early departure, business-center use, on-site computers or fax machine use, sending or receiving packages, room-service delivery, mini-bar restocking, in-room safe use, and baggage-holding fees for guests who want to check some items after check-out time.
Just because we expect them, doesn’t make them welcome. The upside: You can avoid most of them without too much hassle by doing some research beforehand, or sticking to well-run hotel chains you trust. And at least, technology has put an end to high in-room phone surcharges.
In recent years, some important consumer advocate groups have pressured the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine that mandatory fees are deceptive unless included in the published room rate, and at all stages of the advertising and buying cycle. After several years of inaction, some observers believe that the FTC may finally rule against deceptive hotel fees.
Plus, deceptive pricing violates most state laws—so individual states may be gearing up to address the problem of mandatory hotel fees.
Even if they cover services that were once included in the price, truly optional fees are not inherently deceptive—so you can expect little or no relief from those. The NYU report suggests that 80 to 90 percent bookings are boosted in price by some types of fees, so it’s safe to assume hotels won’t back off voluntarily, nor any time soon.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Mistakes You’re Making at the Hotel
- 9 Surprising Free Hotel Amenities
- Are These the Best Hotel Loyalty Programs?
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.