In recent years, hotels have become increasingly adept at finding ways to nickel and dime their customers. According to a study published last year by PriceWaterHouseCooper’s Hospitality Division, hotels are gorging themselves on surcharges and hidden fees. Hotels worldwide were on track to rake in nearly $2 billion in surcharges and hidden fees in 2007, more than tripling the $550 million they took in just four years ago. That’s a lot of minibar charges and towel replacement fees.
Make sure to take time to smell the roses in that lushly landscaped garden because you are likely to billed $3 or more a night for the effort involved in keeping the greenery perky.
Need a towel at the pool? Expect to pay a buck or two. Don’t scamper off to your room with it either, as you may be billed five dollars or more if you forget to return it to the attendant after your swim.
Business center, fitness room
If there’s a room with special equipment in it you’ll probably get charged for simply staying in the same hotel with said equipment, even if you never venture into the business center or gym. Fees typically run $5 – $10 a day. At resorts, this is typically called the “resort fee.”
Hotels are tacking $1-$3 dollar a night “Safe Warranty” fees onto bills to cover the cost of providing the safe and the insurance policy that covers the things stored in it. (Good luck collecting anything if that in-room safe is burgled though, as most hotels post signs disclaiming responsibility for valuables.)
Housekeeping, bellman gratuity fees
These folks certainly deserve to be paid well for their hard work, and most travelers show their appreciation with tips. But before you dig out the dollars, be aware that fees of $10-$30 a stay are being added to some hotel bills to cover housekeeping and bellman gratuities.
Water and newspapers
How nice that a bottle of pure spring water was thoughtfully left in your room. Don’t drink it. Chances are it’s not a gift and you will be billed anywhere from $4-$6 a bottle. The newspaper that shows up at your door in the morning? Expect to be billed for the “convenience.”
Intended to recover the rising costs of providing electrical power, this charge can add $3-$6 dollars a day to your bill.
Early check in or out/extended cancellation
Checked in earlier than the hotel’s stated check-in time? You may be billed up to $50 for that early access. Had to leave sooner than planned? Expect to be charged anywhere from $50 to the cost of one night’s stay. And make sure to check the cancellation policy: Hotels that used to allow you to cancel the same day before 6 p.m.are now billing customers for one night’s stay if they don’t cancel 48 hours ahead of time.
Taking the hotel shuttle from the airport used to be free, but it’s likely to cost you now, and almost as much as taking a cab to your lodgings.
Travelers with late-day flights often ask hotels to store their bags so they can enjoy another vacation day before heading to the airport. Some hotels are now charging up to $3 for each bag they babysit for the day.
Check the bill before you tell the bartender to keep the change. Posters on several travel boards have reported seeing charges for 20% of each drink added to their tabs for the bartender gratuity.
Room block fees
You’d like to reserve a bunch of rooms, all on one floor, for a family reunion or other event? No problem, because some hotels will be happy to bill you $10-$20 for that service.
No, it’s not the insane prices charged for those goodies, it’s the charges that are now added to your bill if you move something in the bar to make room for your own bottle of water, or even pick something up to look at it for a few seconds (sensors in the bar record your action and add the product’s fee to your room bill.) Some travelers who’ve routinely asked for the mini-bar to be cleared out before their arrival have been surprised by $50 “unstocking” fees.
Random incorrect charges: Numerous posters on travel forums have reported getting charged for smoking in non-smoking rooms when the evil weed had never touched their lips. Ding: cleaning fee of $100 to $250, and sometimes more. Other random fees include being charged for unordered movies, unmade phone calls, etc.
What to do
1. Be aware of your rights. According to federal law, additional fees should never be a surprise. Hotels must post information about such fees “clearly and conspicuously.” What “clearly and conspicuously” means in practice is in the eye of the beholder, but if extra fees aren’t clearly stated in the reservation conditions when you book online or over the phone, you should inform the hotel they are violating the law and politely but firmly ask for the charges to be removed. Obviously you now need to read the fine print conditions when you book online, and should ask if any extra fees are billed when you book over the phone.
2. If you’re not using the service you’re being charged for, ask to have it removed from your bill. Some hotels remove fees for safes, business/fitness centers, newspapers, and gratuities from your bill. If the latter, explain that you’ve already tipped the staff (assuming you have). The practice of “negative option billing” — the legal name for fees billed without your express permission — is based on the assumption that you’ve used the service and have therefore implied you agree to the charge. If you don’t and haven’t, the hotel should remove it from your bill.
3. Look at your bill before you check out, and question any unexpected charges. If you’re your card is automatically charged before you receive the bill, look it over as soon as possible and contact the hotel if you see any charges you think are unfair. It’s often best to query charges in writing, either via mail or email, so you have a record of what happened should you need to get your credit card issuer involved, or opt to take legal action.
4. Vote with your wallet. Stay at hotels that charge a fair rate for a room and facilities, rather than a bogus low rate which they then jacked up with an assortment of dubious additional fees.