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Trip Doctor: What is a Resort Fee, and Do I Really Have to Pay It?

resort fees

Question from Bill Smith, Eagle, Colo.

A: Good question. And one you should ask of your hotel, too. Resort fees, which can add a full 30 percent onto a hotel bill, may cover everything from wireless Internet and gym access to faxing and use of a notary (huh?)—services and amenities that you may have no interest in using. Yet travelers who kick and scream about baggage fees are often surprisingly mute when it comes to these hotel charges. The difference? In the case of baggage, you’re at least paying for a service that you intend to use.

When they were first introduced in the late 1990’s, according to Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at New York University, resort fees applied to the extensive facilities of actual resorts: tennis courts, pools, beach clubs, etc. Though not all guests used these services, you could still argue that maintaining these facilities merited an additional charge. And anyway, many resorts were lenient, waiving the fees for guests when they did not apply.

But about a decade ago, resort fees jumped the shark and began appearing at more properties to cover such services as daily newspaper delivery, printing of boarding passes, and even nightly turndown. Hanson estimates that hotels took in at least $1.95 billion in ancillary revenue in 2012 (up from $1.2 billion in 2000). Though resort fees account for less than half of that revenue, they are still a boon for hotels.

These fees are particularly egregious in some destinations: Las Vegas, foremost among them. We recently polled luxury hotels on the Strip and found that the extra charges average $25 a night. Even hotels that once bucked the trend and made not charging resort fees a point of distinction (and marketing campaigns) are now adding them.

“Hotel executives like resort fees because they allow them to keep their room rates low,” explains Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the New York–based consultancy Hudson Crossing. “But these charges need to be viewed for what they are: an indirect rate hike.” He says hotels will keep adding resort fees unless customers start “responding with their wallets” and walking away.

That’s easier said than done when even spotting these charges in advance can be difficult. In November, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warnings to 22 hotels for not properly disclosing mandatory resort fees on their websites and “misrepresenting the price that consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms.”

But the problem persists. In a recent test of Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino website, I found that the property did not alert me to the $25 fee (covering Internet, local and domestic long-distance calls, gym access, a shuttle bus, boarding pass printing, and notary service) until I was ready to book, and even then didn’t include it in the reservation total. Similarly, the big online travel agencies (Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity) didn’t include the fee in their total room rates. They simply noted that I would have to pay $25 a day to the property. (Hotels.com didn’t even bother to do that. Neither did the site’s telephone reservationist, who only confirmed that there is a resort fee when prodded.)

Harteveldt says that if hotels don’t embrace a clear and standardized practice for disclosure, the FTC may have to step in with regulation, much like the U.S. Department of Transportation did last year when it forced airlines to disclose all additional fees.

Until then, the short answer to your question is: Yes, you likely do have to pay that resort fee. But if you’re not using the services, do it under protest.

By the Numbers
30 percent: The markup on an $84 room at the Red Rock Casino, Resort, & Spa, in Las Vegas, due to the $24.99 resort fee

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Illustration by Ben Wiseman

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