World's Most Outrageous Hotel Fees
There's nothing new about outlandish hotel surcharges. The October 6, 1904, edition of The Daily Star in Fredericksburg, VA, published a list of unscrupulous lodging fees, mainly in Europe, that included fees for towels, nightshirts, heat, hot water, horse stabling (whether the guest brought a horse or not), and, in one hotel, a one-penny fee for each ascent and descent in the hotel elevator.
My own distaste for hotel surcharges began years ago on my first business trip, when I ate an entire jar of what appeared to be complimentary macadamia nuts. At checkout I discovered the snack had cost me $12 (not to mention an upset stomach). If anything, the add-ons since then have gotten worse for guests, but much more profitable for the hotels. The lodging industry stands to earn more than $1.75 billion this year in surcharges alone, which means extra fees are likely to be with us for years to come.
The inflated cost of some surcharges raises the ire of many guests: $5 to have a package delivered to your room, $20 for Internet connection, $30 or more for mandatory valet parking. But more important than the dollar amount is whether the fee was made clear to you at check-in. "The recent trend for hotel surcharges is disclosure," says Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services for PKF Hospitality Research. "More and more often you will see tent cards telling you what costs extra in your room. And that's fair. But there are some horror stories of surcharges, like towel fees, mini-bar restocking fees, and housekeeping fees."
Other surcharge surprises include additional fees to pay with a credit card, a charge of $1–$3 for the in-room safe (whether you use it or not), and even a fee to use the in-room coffeemaker. "Resort fees" of $25 a day or more are commonplace. And some hotels, especially in the Caribbean, are still tacking on energy surcharges—despite the absence of an energy crisis. The list is as long as it is upsetting.
Don't expect relief any time soon, if ever. According to PKF Hospitality Research, 2010 will still be a very soft year for the lodging industry. Revenues probably won't return to pre-recession levels until at least 2012. For now, hotels need to keep their rates low to be competitive, but they also need to add on as many surcharges as possible to be profitable.
Remember the old newspaper article, above? Another hotel charge it listed was for "table decorations" at hotels in Corsica. "Anyone who wishes to avoid this exaction," said the writer, "should instruct the head waiter to put no flowers on his table." At least that's one surcharge modern-day hotel guests don't have to worry about. Yet.
In the meantime, here are some tips on sidestepping surcharge surprises:
- Be proactive. Ask when you book if there are any mandatory fees (and taxes) that will be added to your bill. Seasoned travelers know to look for these charges before they book and to complain about them in advance.
- Check your bill carefully before you sign it. It's easier to dispute a charge at checkout than afterward.
- Calmly object if you think a fee is unfair or was not disclosed in advance. Desk clerks often have the authority to remove them.
- If not, ask for the manager.
- Forget it—until the next time you book a hotel. Then go somewhere that charges guests fairly.
It's unfair of hotels to require a credit card for booking but then to surcharge you for using it at checkout. It can happen anywhere (I've found examples in Switzerland, Vanuatu, Thailand, and elsewhere), but the practice is epidemic in Australia.
Your Cost: Up to 5 percent of your total bill.
Hotels used to go out of their way to accommodate early-arriving guests. Now you just might have to pay for the privilege, including at some properties under the banners of Hyatt Regency, Hilton, and Kempinski.
Your Cost: Fees average $20–$50.
A good hotel should have a fitness center. And use of the fitness center should be included in the rate you pay. But at some hotels under banners like Hard Rock, Hilton, Crowne Plaza, and Intercontinental, along with many others, you'll have to cough up some extra cash if you want to work out.
Your Cost: $10–$40.
Increasingly, hotels are adding charitable donations to your bill. There's even a company that helps hotels do that. The intention may be noble, and the hotels pass along the donation directly to the charity, yet something still feels wrong about this. They'll remove the donation from your bill on request, Mr. Scrooge—but should you really have to ask?
Your Cost: $1–$2.
In-Room Coffee and Tea
The hotel kindly placed an electric coffeepot on your dresser along with an assortment of tea bags and instant coffee. Watch out. That amenity, which used to be gratis, is becoming a new source of revenue for hotels. So next time you get that wake-up call and instinctively brew up a nice cup of Colombian, you just may find an extra item on your bill.
Your Cost: $2–$5 for a tea bag or a packet of coffee.
Some hotels now charge guests for that most basic of expectations—cleanliness. It may show up in the form of a mandatory gratuity or simply be listed as a housekeeping fee. But whatever they call it, you're paying a separate fee for maid service.
Your Cost: $2–$10 per room per day.
Why is it that so many budget hotel chains (including Best Western, Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn) routinely offer free Internet connection while so many luxury brands don't? Don't expect that to change. According to iBAHN, which claims to be the world's largest Internet service provider for the lodging industry, "The 'free to guest' model of providing free access in all locations of the hotel at all times to all guests is economically unrealistic given guests' differing bandwidth needs."
Your Cost: $10–$20 (or more) a day.
It's bad enough that you have to pay 10 times or more the normal price for mini-bar items. But what's worse is the growing practice among hotels to add an extra charge to replace items you took. And it gets worse: hotels are increasingly using mini-bars armed with sensors that detect—and charge your room bill—if you so much as move an item.
Your Cost: $3–$5.
Surcharges for packages or faxes delivered to your room are frequently added to guest bills, but you probably won't find that out until after you've tipped the bellhop who brought it to you in the first place. Some hotels also charge for accepting an express delivery package at their business center—even if you come down to the lobby to collect it yourself.
Your Cost: $3–$5.
Additional fees added onto your bill for stays during holidays are cropping up, especially in Asia. At the Vinpearl Resort & Spa on Hon Tre Island in Vietnam, you'll pay extra if your booking extends over the Hung Kings' Death Anniversary and other major holidays. In Japan, the Kyoto Hotel Okura adds a surcharge on Saturdays and on the night before a public holiday.
Your Cost: $18–$45 a night.
There have been times when fuel shortages have caused airlines, hotels, and other travel suppliers to add an extra fee to cover the temporarily high cost of energy. Yet despite the absence of an energy crisis today, this fee is still rife in the Caribbean.
Your Cost: You'll pay anywhere from $10 a night to as much as 10 percent of your bill.
If your overseas hotel offers you the "convenience" of being billed in U.S. dollars, say no thanks. The bill will be converted anyway without their help. Plus, the hotel will charge you a fee for this unneeded service, more than most credit card companies charge for such conversions. You're likely to be offered this service at foreign properties run by Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, and Starwood Hotels.
Your Cost: A fee equal to 2–5 percent of your bill, which is more than most credit card companies charge for such conversions.
Here's something you might think is more appropriate for a youth hostel than a four- or five-star beach resort: towel deposits. Forget to return your pool or beach towel, pay a fine. That's the rule at Sandals Negril Beach in Jamaica, the Grand Oasis Caribbean in Cancún, and many other beachside resorts, even the $500-a-night Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort in Hawaii.
Your Cost: $15–$35 if you forget to return your towel.
If you like the convenience and security of stowing your extra cash, passport, and other valuables in your guest room safe, be prepared to pay for it. Although most luxury hotels haven't lowered themselves—so far—to the level of charging you for an in-room safe, you are apt to find this annoying surcharge at budget properties around the United States. Even worse: some hotels are adding this fee whether you use the safe or not.
Your Cost: $1–$4 a day.
Commonly found at mountain and beach resorts, this fee was originally meant to evenly spread the extra costs associated with recreational activities. At some resorts, that might include sports equipment, saunas, yoga classes, cross-country skiing, etc., along with the additional personnel required. But now many resorts, and even some hotels, are adding this fee and saying that it covers such expected services as "unlimited use" of poolside umbrellas, local phone calls, and use of the in-room safe.
Your Cost: $5–$25 a day.
You arrive early at your hotel, or you have a few hours to kill between checkout and your flight home. Naturally you ask the hotel if they will store your luggage for a couple of hours. And naturally they are more likely than ever to say, "Sure...for a fee." Expect to find that charge at the Hilton New York, the Great Southern Hotel in Sydney, Australia, and the Tremont Chicago, among too many others.
Your Cost: $1–$5 per bag.
Mandatory Valet Parking
Sometimes it's just as easy, even preferable, to self-park your car in the hotel's garage rather than to drop it off with a valet. But more and more hotels are requiring you to use a valet to park your car at the hotel—and are charging more money for it. There's nothing wrong with charging a reasonable fee to park, but in many cases the valet-only requirement results in an excessive charge for a service you didn't need, want, or ask for
Your Cost: Expect to pay $20–$30 or more for 24 hours. Plus tip.
Newspapers used to be complimentary; now many hotels here and abroad see them as "revenue enhancers."
Your Cost: This almost defines nickel-and-dime surcharges, with fees ranging from 50 cents to $1 per day.
Many travelers like the simplicity and ease of traveling light—including not having to tip a bellhop for demonstrating the light switches, pointing at the TV set, and asking, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" Sometimes you just grin and bear it, and give the man a few bucks for his trouble. But before you do, try to recall whether the desk clerk mentioned anything about "porter charges." Increasingly, hotels are tacking on this fee, which is meant to be pooled by the bellhops. Too often, guests don't realize this and tip the bellhops separately.
Your Cost: As much as $8 per person, even if you carried your own luggage to and from your room.