Hidden hotel fees
While airlines have taken the brunt of criticism lately for “nickel and diming” travellers with new and unusual fees, a lawsuit in California proves that it’s a practice embraced by hotels, too.
Last month, when a guest at a Hilton Garden Inn hotel in Santa Rosa, California was charged $0.75 for a newspaper he thought was free, he was so irked he decided to file a lawsuit. In it, hotel guest Rodney Harmon accused Hilton of deliberately hiding the newspaper fee by printing it in tiny font on the paper sleeve that held his room key. (Hilton does not comment on pending litigation, so we’ve yet to hear the hotel’s story.)
While hotel fees for newspapers are rare, there are a lot of other fees that take travellers by surprise. Many times, room service comes with a “delivery fee” of $3 to $5, as well as a 17% to 20% service charge and an extra line for any additional gratuity. So what looks like a $12 club sandwich on the room service menu shows up on your final bill costing closer to $20, with an implicit request for a tip on top of it.
Travellers may be used to paying wildly inflated prices for the convenience of an in-room mini bar item (like $5 for a soft drink or bag of chips). But now some hotels tack on a $3 to $4 “mini bar restocking fee”. And beware of that bottle of designer water placed at your bedside. Like the fine print on Harmon’s room key sleeve, the fee for it is frequently posted on a small card nearby.
Even more troublesome is the practice of adding daily “resort fees” of $5 to $25 for things like tips for bellmen and concierges, which you may be paying anyway, or the use of hotel recreational facilities (pool, gym, beach chairs, etc) and in-room items like coffee makers – even if you don’t use them. You can no longer assume that the use of a hotel pool or an in-room coffeemaker is included with the price of a room, and that might be unpleasant surprise if you don’t find out about until check out.
Hotel resort fees have become so ubiquitous in Las Vegas that the few hotels that don’t charge them staged mock protests in July (led by entertainer Marie Osmond and a cadre of showgirls from Caesars Palace, no less!) to draw attention to the issue.
Though there have been some recent improvements when it comes to fees for in-room wi-fi, many hotels still charge $10 to $30 for daily access. Some hotels also charge “baggage holding fees” for guests who store luggage with the bell staff after checking out (in addition to the tip expected by the bellman).
Despite frequent media outrage and a steady stream of complaints, these types of fees continue to show up on hotel bills. Why? Because they are highly profitable. Bjorn Hanson, a hospitality and tourism professor at New York University, said hotels collected nearly $1.7 billion in fees and surcharges in 2010.
To avoid fees, do your research and ask about them several times during the booking process and during your stay. Look for notifications about extra fees on the hotel’s website. Ask about any extra fees when talking to a hotel reservationist by phone. Ask again about any extra fees when you check in. If you still find a surprise on your bill at check out, contest it. You’ll likely find that a reasonable request to have these undisclosed charges removed from your final bill will be granted.
Would you contest a fee imposed by a hotel for something that you did not use? Do you find that these fees are more common in some countries than in others? Please leave your comments on our Facebook page.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel