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How to Avoid Hidden Hotel Charges

Shortly after its opening in 2006, I decided to visit the Lodge at Woodloch, a destination spa deep in the Poconos. Upon my arrival from New York, I discovered the property had no cellular service, so I made several calls home from my room phone, expecting to fork over little more than a dollar. Imagine my surprise when my hotel bill revealed a $7.38 charge for each time I picked up the receiver, despite having never actually reached anyone.

The mysterious “picking up the phone” fee is probably not the most surprising one I’ll ever encounter. Surcharges are a huge moneymaker: according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, U.S. hotels brought in $1.6 billion with them last year, up from $550 million in 2003. And the company projects that number to be more like $1.75 billion in 2008. As properties find creative ways to make you pay more, it’s important to be informed before planning your next hotel stay.

What to Watch For

Taxes alone can add a hefty sum to your final bill, depending on which state you’re staying in. New York, for instance, levies up to 8.75 percent in sales tax, plus a 5 percent hotel tax. Suddenly your $400 per night room is really $454. Catchall “resort fees,” covering guests’ use of facilities like the pool and fitness center, are old standards. These days, however, itemized charges can be tacked on for extras like landscaping and housekeeping, holding your luggage, tipping the bellman, and mini-bar restocking. (That’s right, your $6 soda now costs $8.50. Hope you’re thirsty.) Aside from its $25 resort fee, the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa charges $10 for accepting FedEx and UPS deliveries for guests. The Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association now encourages its members to impose an energy surcharge. And if you stay at a hotel in Ottawa, you’ll pay a 3 percent “destination marketing fee” to promote its tourism industry, whether you like the city or not.

Calculate Before You Go

It’s possible to get a clearer picture of your final bill by doing a little pre-vacation math. Before booking, ask if there are additional fees that you should be aware of, and how much the total cost will be, per night, with extras included. Travel-Hawaii.com, an online booking service, posts an overview of resort surcharges at 16 island hotels, so you won’t be caught off-guard. Hotel chains like Hilton and Starwood have now committed to stating the total price at the time you book. Online travel agencies like Travelocity and Orbitz often include the extras in their “total cost” for stays, which will be the same even if you end up booking on the hotel’s website.

Negotiate in Advance

Hotel staff are often reluctant to remove charges from your bill. If you’re not planning on using the resort facilities/business center/newspaper delivery, request that they eliminate those expenses before you arrive. Check out early, or better yet, settle your bill the night before, so you have time to examine it thoroughly. Can the desk clerk explain every charge?If he dismisses them as “automatic,” ask for clarification. And if he can’t tell you exactly what they cover, you have legal grounds for dispute.

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