Is Your Hotel Hiding These 5 Fees in Your Bill?

By Kentin Waits on 20 September 2013 (Updated 16 September 2014) 5 comments

For a frugal traveler who's traveling on his on own dime, it seems as if the days of simply renting a room for the night for an agreed-upon rate are history. These days, making a hotel reservation is an opaque process filled with hidden charges and absurd fees. After experiencing it first-hand, I completely agree with the author of this article; it's as if the hotel industry took a business tutorial from the airlines and figured out how to bulk up their profits by peppering weary consumers with sneaky charges. Here are just a few sneaky fees I've recently encountered. (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

1. Resort Fee

Don't be fooled by the name; you don't have to book at a five-star resort to rack up this fee. Some run-of-the-mill hotels assess a resort fee to cover amenities like pool usage, access to the fitness center, newspaper delivery, and other extras. Guests should be informed of this fee at check-in, but some hotels are better than others in being upfront about this charge. If you don't plan on taking advantage of any the perks included, ask the manager to waive the fee before you check in. Typically guests who are direct, are polite, and explain that their priority is lodging only, can avoid getting dinged. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Budget Hotels)

2. Wi-Fi Fee

While most folks assume Internet access has become so common that it's nearly a basic utility like lights and water, hotels have a different idea. From per-minute fees to flat daily charges, the price of Wi-Fi access varies widely, but expect to pay anywhere from $3–$10 per day. Like every charge, it's best to know the fees up front before you book, so you can compare rates between hotels on an apples-to-apples basis. (See also: How to Get Free or Cheap Internet)

3. Parking Fee

Don't assume parking is included in your room rate. I'm not talking valet service here — there's a growing trend even in modest-sized cities to charge for a parking space. And in larger metro areas where parking fees are mostly standard, it's important to ask if those fees include unlimited in/out privileges. If not, you'll be assessed a new parking fee each and every time you leave and return.

We all know that parking charges aren't new in the general marketplace, but they are becoming a more common trend at hotels. Though I'm sure there are some travelers who arrive without a car, I imagine they're few and far between. Be sure to explicitly ask about parking policies before you a reserve a room — the best deal in town sours when you're presented with an extra $15 parking charge each day of your stay.

4. Early Check-In and Check-Out Fee

Believe it or not, even if a clean room is available, some hotels charge road-weary travelers to check-in early. Fees vary based on how far in advance guests arrive prior to the hotel's stated check-in time, but expect to pay at least half of a full day's room rate.

Similarly, guests who have a change of plans and need to check out early can be assessed between $50 to the full price of an extra night's stay. And while we're on the subject… Hotel cancellation policies are becoming more rigid, too. Hotels that used to allow guests to cancel their reservations the same day by 6:00 p.m. are now requiring 48 hours notice in order to avoid being charged for a night's stay. To steer clear of this charge, check and double check a hotel's cancellation policy before you book if there's even a slim chance your itinerary might change.

5. In-Room Safe Fee

In most modern hotel rooms you'll probably find a safe bolted to the floor in the closet or near the entryway. This safe is available to guests if they notice it, if they have something to put in it, and if they choose to use it. For most guests, I assume the safe becomes just part of the visual landscape in the room — like the dressers that no one really uses or the tiny coffee makers that make really bad coffee. But the safe is quite different from all of those other objects. Why? Because you're being charged for it every single day of your stay. Typically, the in-room safe fee runs about $1–$3 per day, and it's added to your bill whether you use the safe or not.

To me, the safe fee seems bolder than all the rest for one simple reason: consumers are being charged simply because an object is sitting in the room. That takes some chutzpah. Imagine if you were charged for the shower cap whether you used it or not. The TV whether you tuned into Conan or not. That little coffee maker whether you brewed a scorching cup of weak coffee or not. (See also: Avoid Getting Fleeced at Hotels)

Avoiding getting hit with the safe charge is relatively simple if you act promptly. Upon check-in, scout around quickly for a safe. If you find one, but don't plan on using it to stash your pearls, call the front desk. Tell them you won't be using the safe and request that they deduct the fee from your bill (and then make sure they've actually done it when it's time to check out).

Fee Defense

I'd like to think that the hotel industry's nickel-and-dime approach will only serve to anger and alienate their customers and eventually lead to a more transparent pricing model, but I know better. The airlines have (successfully) set the bar so low that we may be witnessing a new age of price-gouging as more industries try to pump up profits. (See also: Frequently Under-Budgeted Air Travel Costs)

For consumers, the rules are the same. Know where the hidden fees are lurking, ask questions before you book, be vigilant about reviewing your itemized bill, constructively complain when you feel you've been misled or over-charged, and leverage the power of online reviews to alert other consumers to unclear or unfair pricing practices. We may not win the war, but we can make each battle a bit more difficult.

What hotel fees do you find especially irksome?

Tagged: Travel, fees, hotel, motel, travel
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Olivia

Or just avoid the whole mess altogether, get accomodations through airbnb.

Guest's picture
D Brown

I don't know what foreign country you must be traveling through, or what sheek properties you will only stay at, but I've been in the industry over 10 years, and if these things you mention were the widespread norm, then I would be upset too. my career has primarily been in the mid scale sector, or for a time, was called the limited service hotel. The mid scale sector has changed very little for several years. Its still extremely competitive based with the goal of providing as many of the amenities as possible and stay within the standard rate. the amenities package you put together is generally what sets you apart from the others because truth be told, less the flag, we're all the same. Since the day dial up died, its been "free" internet through each advancement made in the technology. we still honor 6pm day of arrival cancellations, although, technically, early departure would be a failure to honor your part of the reservation agreement, I've never seen anyone get hit for it. early arrivals are only allowed based on availability(the room has been cleaned from the previous night) usually a couple of hours is acceptable but that one can get tricky because people push it back earlier and earlier until its really is the previous day. The hotels you've encountered that do that really aren't trying to rob you, they're just trying to set the fee that will discourage you from doing this as it causes problems for operations staff. it seems to me like you've spent more time reading the guest service guides in every room, and less time being a guest. you would never stay in a mid tier hotel and pay anything additional beyond the rate you signed in at, plus the standard state and local tax, all of these amounts can be researched before you arrive, allowing you to know exactly what you'll pay when you check out. I'm afraid we'll let the airlines corner that market

Guest's picture
dojo

Wow, some of these fees are really absurd. We have rented an apartment, when in our summer holidays. The parking and wi-fi are free, we don't have safe or anything else. But it's good to know about these all, so that we can be careful with other accommodation service providers.

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FrugalCat

I stayed at a crappy (1 star is being nice) hotel recently and there was a $1 safe fee which they had a big sign at the front desk that the fee would be removed upon request. So I requested. It took her longer to remove that dollar than it did for me to check in and unpack my car. I gues they are just counting on people not asking or saying forget it, I just want to get out of here!

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Guest

Recently booking a Hawaiian vacation rental, I was annoyed by the additional charges on sites like air bnb and vrbo. Cleaning fees that are more than the day rate, a 'stay' fee, and large security deposit. To me, since these places are competing with hotels and motels I can't see that they should charge a cleaning fee--it's part of the cost of being in business. I can't imagine a restaurant charging you a cleaning fee for getting clean cutlery. With the security deposits, I feel uneasy hoping to get it all back as opposed to having something withheld for dubious reasons. How do you prove a spot on the carpet was there when you arrived?

I made a point of booking places without any of those fees.