Is Your Hotel Hiding These 5 Fees in Your Bill?
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).
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?