Over the last decade, hotels have been adding more and more ways to make money on guests while taking away some things that used to be free. The more expensive a hotel is for the nightly rate, the more likely they will charge extra for the little things. Most hotels under $110 have free parking, free breakfast, free internet and so on. Most hotels over $110 charge extra for every thing and then they may add a “resort fee” on top of it.
Imagine a restaurant charging everyone for drinks and desert whether you wanted it or not. The steak is $30. For $5 more you can have it on a plate. Or maybe one that charges for silverware to eat your food. Sounds pretty outrageous doesn't it?
Most of these extra hotel fees are hard to find ahead of time. Most of us compare room rates, online or over the phone, when we are planning a trip. These fees are not usually brought up by the hotel unless you ask. Or they are in fine print buried on a web page you probably won't ever see. You may think you are getting a deal by $20 a night and wind up paying $50 more for your stay than another hotel on your short list. It's a sneaky way for hotels to act competitive when they are not. Some blind offer type of travel websites are also dealing with problem. You accept the risk to take the lowest rate without knowing the name of the hotel and you are happy until checkout and get the bill. Sometimes it's included in your end total and sometimes you're just rudely surprised. They may as well add, “and don't ever come back!”
Here is a recent example of planning a business trip near a convention. Both hotels were within walking distance of the convention center.
A Marriott brand:
Pre-tax total around: $344
A Hilton brand:
Pre-tax total around: $361
If you just went by the big bold room rates that came up in searches, and made your decision on price alone, you would have paid $17 more for the one that you thought was $10 less. If it was a hotel that had a resort fee, the difference could have been another $25 or more.
Hotel Resort Fees
This is one of the worst and most costly fees that hotels have levied onto their guests. The more expensive the hotel is, the more this fee tends to be as well. These fees crept into the marketplace before Sept 2001 and then mostly disappeared afterward when travel and business went down. Then they slowly became more common again, adding fees for other things as well.
Sometimes they don't tell you what the resort fee is for and other times they produce a whole list of things like the pool, the newspaper, in room coffee, fitness centers, maybe free local calls or just the ability to use your own calling card without a surcharge. With cell phones today, the profit on in-room phones has probably plummeted.
In my opinion, these should be optional or ala carte. If you don't use the pool, the fitness center and all the other stuff they list, then you should be able to refuse that charge. “I want the bed only rate.”
This is considered normal in most larger cities or downtown areas. I can understand valet charges but self parking is only a few dollars less at many places. So instead of just charging a nightly rate and including a place to park, they charge you another $20 for it. We won't even get into why hotels never include directions on how to get into the parking garage on their websites. Half the time, the garage is on some side street around the hotel. Mix in a few one-ways and no left turns and you've taken an extra ten minute tour of the area. They probably want you to get stuck in the valet line first and not have a choice. “Oh, I don't want to wait a half hour for the car, let's just eat in the hotel lobby restaurant.”
Internet access in hotels should be nearing the concept of the color television. It should be a free amenity in a hotel room. But it's not. Unless you see the word free with it, there is probably a charge for it. If you see “internet available”, it's a charge. Hotels are sneaky too in how they list it as a room amenity leading you to think it's free. You don't know the fee until you arrive. Hilton is an example of this phrasing. When you see nominal charge, it's at least $10. So for the average short hotel stay, you'll pay more than your entire monthly internet bill at home. At the extreme, I was at a Sheraton in Germany that wanted $48 (after the euro-dollar exchange rate) for a night of internet access. It is still common to find hotels charging $10-20 for this access.
Tip: If you travel much, invest in a cell data card for your laptop. You'll save money after a few hotel stays and have internet access in all airports and hotels without fees. Or maybe a group of employees can share one for various trips to reduce the cost.
In many places, taxes are different on the room rate than on all these surcharges. They may even have their parking garage under some other little company name paying a lower tax rate than the big brand name. These tricks can hurt the local and state economy as well. We've seen hotels even charge $5 for their fancy new TVs, again not something you can refuse and it's not listed in the room rate that attracted you.
How to find the fees
The room rate is about the only thing that is commonly shown. The big travel websites don't show the fees and to be fair, in many cases it's because they don't know about them. You can try to inspect the official website, which we link to directly (no other travel website does this) but you still can't always find the information. We could put a long list here of hotel websites that charge fees but don't show it on their website. For example, we know there is a parking fee for hotels in San Francisco or New York City but we wish you luck in finding it on most of their websites. The hotels just don't want to put a $30 parking fee or a $12 internet access fee in plain view on their beautiful website.
When you ask about fees, try to be as general as possible. If you ask about resort fees, they may say no. Later you find out it is a “facilities fee.”
Most people do not complain. They pay the bill and then complain to everyone they know and on online review websites like TripAdvisor. The hotel loses potential customers and gets a bad reputation in numerous small circles. If you do complain, you may be able to get the charges removed from your bill.