Have you ever checked out of a hotel, and been astounded by your final bill? You knew what your room rate was, but by the time they got done adding all their fees and taxes, the total skyrocketed!

It's not uncommon at all. In fact, the sneaky fees are the way that hotels make a ton of money. In many respects, a hotel room is a commodity. After all, you need a place to sleep and the rest is largely optional. Sure, chains have been trying to differentiate themselves with extra-super-special beds and other comforts in the rooms. But there is only so much a traveler is willing to pay for a hotel room, and there are about a zillion options.

So the real money isn't necessarily made with your room fee. It's made with all the extras, which are often almost all profit for the hotel. Some of them are easy to avoid: If you don't want to pay $8 for a bottle of beer, you don't touch the mini bar. Others aren't so easy to avoid because they're often hidden in fine print and guests don't know which they can refuse and which they can't.
Fodor's travel site offers travelers a list of 14 hidden hotel fees, all of which they report totaled $2 billion worldwide last year. The list includes things like:
  • Towels at the pool -- $1 or $2 each
  • Business center and fitness room -- often $5 to $10 a day and often charged automatically
  • In-room safe -- $1 to $3 a day just because they put a safe in our room so you can stop their employees from stealing your valuables
  • Morning newspaper -- $1 or more whether you want it or not
  • Airport shuttle -- Usually not complimentary anymore
One that was not on the list but that I think is important: a "resort" fee. I've seen these when you stay at a hotel that has a water park, lush greenery, or things that could otherwise add to the argument that you're staying at a "resort." So I pay to stay at the hotel, and then I get to pay extra to stay at the hotel???

Make sure you check your bill carefully and have them remove any fees for things you didn't use. It's tempting to just walk out, especially if you're using the automatic checkout service and you'd rather not stop at the desk.

But that's what they're counting on... that you won't care enough to make them reverse those charges. Just think how these fees add up, even if the hotel only overcharges each guest by $5. Assert your rights and don't pay for the things you don't want or use.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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