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Suzanne Rowan Kelleher
March 21, 2018

Spring is just around the corner and resort fee increases are popping up like daisies in popular destinations across America, a harbinger of another record year of fees.

One of the most unpopular and least transparent costs of travel, resort fees are mandatory charges on top of the hotel’s room rate that typically cover such things as access to Wi-Fi, the fitness center, and pools.

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In 2017, travelers suffered a double whammy. Not only was there a 16 percent bump in the number of hotels charging resort fees, but the average fee rose to just under $22 — an increase of more than 11 percent year over year, according to a report from ResortFeeChecker.com, a website that has tracked resort fees since 2015.

“Anything that outpaces the rate of inflation — which right now is really low, around 2 percent — is substantial,” said Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com.

And there’s no sign of a slow down. “I was surprised when resort fees broke that $30-a-night threshold a few years ago and now $40 is common in cities like Las Vegas and Miami,” said Greencorn.

A 2017 recent report by ResortFeeChecker.com identified scores of resorts now charging $40 or more per night, from plush beach resorts in Hawaii, Florida and California to ski resorts in Colorado and even West Virginia.

Why are we seeing a spurt of higher fees right now? Experts point to three reasons for the uptick.

First, it’s spring. “There is seasonality to increases in resort fees,” said Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at the NYU Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. “It usually happens before we go into high season when the outlook is favorable.”

Second, the hotel industry is booming. “In 2017, the US hotel occupancy rate was the highest since 1984, and 2018 occupancy is on schedule to be even higher,” said Hanson. Higher occupancy rates mean less availability, which often leads hotels to raise both room rates and fees.

Lastly, everybody else is doing it. “There is definitely a snowball effect,” said Greencorn. “If you’re a hotel and your neighbor raises its resort fee, then you’re at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t.”

“There’s a competitive dynamic to resort fees,” agreed Hanson. “One hotel in a destination makes the move and others then jump in and follow.”

That’s exactly what is fueling the resort-fee boomlet in Vegas. Last month on an earnings call, MGM Chief Executive Officer Jim Murren told analysts, “We are lagging the market — Caesars properties have higher resort fees, which is a great change since they started with no resort fees not long ago, but welcome to the party. It is helping overall pricing.”

To get better value for money, travelers need to do their homework. “A very savvy consumer will not only compare room rates but also resort fees and what services are included in those fees,” said Hanson. That requires visiting the hotel’s website and searching the fine print.

If you won’t be using the included services, you can tell the hotel you want the resort fee waived or decreased. The worst the hotel can do is say no.

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