Hotel Surcharges Another Headache for Fee-Weary Travelers

Hotels-Record Fees
John Locher/APGuests wait in line to check into the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

NEW YORK -- Forget bad weather, traffic jams and kids asking, "Are we there yet?" The real headache for many travelers is a quickly-growing list of hotel surcharges, even for items they never use.

Guaranteeing two queen beds or one king bed will cost you, as will checking in early or checking out late. Don't need the in-room safe? You're likely still paying. And the overpriced can of soda may be the least of your issues with the hotel minibar.

Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay, especially because many of these charges vary from hotel to hotel, even within the same chain.

The airlines have done a really nice job of making hotel fees and surcharges seem reasonable.

Coming out of the recession, the travel industry grew fee-happy. Car rental companies charged extra for services such as electronic toll collection devices and navigation systems. And airlines gained notoriety for adding fees for checking luggage, picking seats in advance, skipping lines at security and boarding early. Hotel surcharges predate the recession, but recently properties have been catching up to the rest of the industry.

"The airlines have done a really nice job of making hotel fees and surcharges seem reasonable," says Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University's hospitality school.

Higher Fees, New Surcharges

This year, hotels will take in a record $2.25 billion in revenue from such add-ons, 6 percent more than in 2013 and nearly double that of a decade ago, according to a new study released Monday by Hanson. Nearly half of the increase can be attributed to new surcharges and hotels increasing the amounts of existing fees.

Hanson says guests need to be "extra-attentive" to the fine print. Fewer and fewer services come for free.

Need to check out by noon but don't have a flight until after dinner? Hotels once stored luggage as a courtesy. Now, a growing number charge $1 or $2 a bag.

Shipping something to the hotel in advance of your trip? There could be a fee for that too. The Hyatt Regency San Antonio, which subcontracts its business center to FedEx Office, charges $10 to $25 to receive a package, depending on weight.

Some budget hotels charge $1.50 a night for in-room safes.

Difficult to Remove

Convincing a front desk employee to waive a fee at check-out is getting harder. Fees are more established, better disclosed and hotel employees are now trained to politely say no.

"It's the most difficult it's ever been to get a charge removed," Hanson says.

U.S. hotels last year took in $122.2 billion in room revenue, according to travel research company STR. Fees only add an extra 2 percent in revenue, but Hanson notes the majority of that money is pure profit.

Some guests are revolting.

Royce Breckon travels frequently for his job marketing outdoor sporting equipment but refuses to spend the night at any hotel charging for Internet. Charges typically range from $10 to $25 a night.

"You can walk into just about any coffee shop and have it for free," Breckon says.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association says fees are common in the travel business and that its members disclose them at the time of booking.

Ramping Up Fees

Hotels first started adding surcharges in 1997, mostly at resorts with expansive pools, tennis courts and fancy gyms. The so-called resort fees paid for staff to set up beach umbrellas and lounge chairs. Three years later, hotels added energy surcharges to cover rising utility bills.

Hotels then refrained from adding any major surcharge for several years.
But as airlines and car rental agencies made fees commonplace, hotels started to think up new ones, collecting record amounts in each of the past four years, according to Hanson's research.

Even the in-room minibar -- a decades-old splurge -- isn't safe from the new wave of add-ons.

At the Liberty Hotel in Boston a cold can of Coke from the minibar costs $5. That's just the base price. The fine print on the menu reveals an 18-percent "administrative fee" to restock the bar.

Elsewhere, the in-room offerings more conspicuous. Jimmy R. Howell was shocked by the W San Diego's efforts to sell him snacks and drinks.

"Usually these extras are kept under lock and key," Howell says. At the W, they were "strewn about" the room, above the bar, on the desk, nightstands and in the bathroom. "It seems like an effort to tempt you."

Beware the Minibar

Even moving an item in the minibar can generate a fee.

The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, like many other hotels, bills items to guests' rooms if sensors in the minibar note they have been removed for more than 60 seconds -- enough time, hotels say, to read the nutritional information and make a decision.

The Aria goes one step further. It also charges a $25 a day "personal use fee" if a guest puts their own soda or bottled water in the minibar. A guest in need of a mini refrigerator can have one delivered to their room -- for an extra $35 a night.

Some hotels are bucking the trend. Hyatt's (H) upscale boutique Andaz chain offers complimentary local snacks and non-alcoholic drinks from its minibars.

Hotels are also revisiting resort fees, upping the price, especially at the high-end.

For $650 a night, guests at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort -- set on a former coconut plantation in Puerto Rico -- enjoy rooms with 300-thread-count sheets and walk-in-closets. But that's not the full price. There's a $60 nightly resort charge, which provides for a welcome drink upon check-in, Internet access, the use of beach umbrellas and lounge chairs, bicycles and a daily poolside ritual iced tea service that includes fruit skewers. Guests pay whether they use the services or not.

Tacking On Tips

Other hotels are adding mandatory tips.

The Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda, which was recently charging $469 a night, charges a resort fee and mandatory gratuities for each person in a room. So two adults and two kids sharing a room would incur $48.28 a night in resort fees and $40.80 tips -- adding 19 percent to the nightly rate.

And the fees aren't limited to resorts anymore. The Serrano hotel in downtown San Francisco adds on a $20 a night "Urban Fee" that includes Internet, local phone calls, newspapers, morning coffee and use of bicycles.

Perhaps nowhere are hotels pushing fees further than in Las Vegas. Forget resort fees. Those are taken for granted there. Resorts like The Bellagio are learning from airlines and selling enhancements.

Want to skip the notoriously long Las Vegas check-in lines? That will be $30 extra. Want to check-in early? That's another $30. Check-out late? Also $30.

And if you want two queen beds or one king bed, it will cost extra to guarantee your preference. For an extra -- you guessed it -- $30, the Bellagio will lock in three room preferences such as bed type, requests to be near or far away from the elevators, rooms on a high or low floor or the option to have quieter non-connecting rooms.

Then there was the fee Hank Phillippi Ryan, a mystery writer, faced while in town to sign copies of her new book "Truth Be Told" at a convention. Before heading to the airport, she went to the lobby of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to print her boarding pass. There a kiosk offered the service -- for $7.95.

"I think I actually yelped," she recalls. "I had never seen that before."

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We stayed at the Bellagio four times.. had a great time.. recently i called our travel agent for reservations . when i contacted Bellagio to make Spa and restuarant reservations i was given a list of fees. i was so upset i demanded to speak to a manager and he seemed unable to help.. so we canceled our $1200 trip and the $ 400 in spa treatments and 200$ in restaurant reservations.. and i made sure he knew WHY i was doing it. eventually found a Vegas hotel that actually wanted our business!!!!

August 25 2014 at 11:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We bought a 4WD MARINER HYBRID SUV back in 2006.
We've had a few road trips over the years in that thing. Did lots of State Park campings and have slept in it at rest stops sometimes, etc. Between the ~33~ mpg average trip mileage and minimal use of hotels, we've saved quite a few bucks and had lots of fun while eating snacks and food from what we brought along for the ride.
Can't speak for you guys, but I find it hard to sleep in a room where the 'unwashed critters' occupy it every night of the year.

August 25 2014 at 9:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Add me to the list of people NOT going to Vegas anymore.. And I went 2-3 times a year for the past 20 years. You could avoid resort fees on all the MGMirage properties by going to another competitor, but now they all do it. Not only that but their $20 dollar mixed drinks at the pool just went to 24, and I told myself a few years back I would not buy on when it hit 18... I now carry a flask of my favorite alcohol...

August 25 2014 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don't stay in those hotels. If you weren't informed ahead of time about a surprise fee added to your bill, refuse to pay it, or dispute it through your credit card company. And make sure The Powers That Be know you aren't happy and won't be returning to their establishment for that reason.

August 25 2014 at 5:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dan Rousseau

If I owned a chain of hotels, I would be plastering my commercials on every media outlet --"At my hotels you are treated the way a guest should be treated. We tell you upfront what is included in your room rate. But there are some travelers who seem to insist on being a schnook and getting gaffed with every imaginable add-on fee that some corporate suit decided he could make you pay. If you LOVE hidden fees and add-on fees, then by all means, please book your room with my competitors. Otherwise, give us a call." That's what I would do. And I'll guarantee the occupancy at my properties would be mostly in the NO VACANCY category.

August 25 2014 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's all about greed, greed, greed, and screwing the consumer for as much as they can. That is why I have gotten to the point where I don't want to fly or stay in hotels anymore. Give me a motorhome and the the WalMart parking lot !!! Even with high gas prices, in the end at least don't feel like I was screwed for every nickel and dime I had. LOL

August 25 2014 at 1:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

In Florida at the famed South Beach in Miami you WILL pay no less than $25 to $35 per night to stay at the hotels. Why? For Valet Parking! Oh I can park myself NO you can't. I am a mystery shopper and was sent there a couple years ago to check prices, I was shocked at what I learned.
NONE of the hotels on South Beach have any parking at all, but, they all have a contract with the city for parking in public parking structures. You can not just park in public lots and save money by doing it yourself. There is a timed limit for parking in public locations - that is of course unless the VALET from your hotel park for you. Of course the city refuses to disclouse the actual amount they charge from the hotel parking rights vs what the hotels are passing on to you...I tried to find out

August 25 2014 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hello, one word solution------AIRBNB done!

August 25 2014 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the resort fees are the most disgusting.I will not stay at a hotel that charges "resort fees"..Why just not tack it on the original price????...I always ask this question and the hotel managers can't answer it....I see people getting pissed off all the time with the resort fees.

August 25 2014 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to carlpathos101's comment

.... good luck finding a decent (clean) place to stay.

August 25 2014 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I live in Vegas and can tell you most of the people who have been coming here for years are not returning. They say what used to be a cheap vacation with money in the pocket to gamble. Now they rip you off everywhere in the Hotel that there is nothing left in your pocket to gamble with.
So like the old saying went What happens here stays here is now What happens in Vegas is going on all over the world.

August 25 2014 at 11:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lvdiceman's comment

I love vegas just for the silly small things BUT I never drive there nor do I rent a vehicle. I have learned to use public transportation and if I can't get thre on the bus ot tam then I just don't go. I figure I save money and the city as well as businesses lose. How often can you say that you went to VEGAS and saved money?

August 25 2014 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply