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You’re all set for your trip. You’ve combed through dozens of hotel websites to find the nicest room at the best price, and you’re confident you’ve received a deal. You may be surprised to learn at the last minute that your room rate is anywhere from $25 to $50 per night higher than you thought. If so, you’re the victim of the infamous hotel or resort fee. Here’s how you can avoid hotel and resort fees.
What Are Hotel and Resort Fees?
Once upon a time, hotels had piles of free copies of newspapers in the lobby. If they had a pool, guests were welcome to use it. The same went for the fitness center and business center, as well as beach facilities such as towels and chairs.
Some hotels still allow guests free use of those items, while others charge on an a la carte basis. Increasingly, though, hotels are bundling amenities together and charging a mandatory hotel or resort fee for their use. What’s worse is that these fees are frequently not disclosed during the booking process. Or, sometimes they are disguised as taxes.
Hotel and resort fees average $25 per night, but they can go much higher. At the Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico, the resort fee is $95 nightly.
Who Charges Hotel and Resort Fees?
You’re most likely to pay a hotel or resort fee in North America (they’re illegal in Australia and throughout Europe). In the U.S., they’re most common at popular tourist destinations such as Hawaii, New York City, and Florida destinations like Orlando, Key West, and Miami. Though, the worst-case scenario is in Las Vegas where, as of this writing, all hotel rooms on The Strip are subject to a fee.
Hotel and resort fees run rampant in high-volume tourist destinations for several reasons. There’s an endless supply of customers at many of those vacation spots. Some aren’t likely to return, regardless of the fee, and hotels can feel justified in squeezing them for maximum revenue. It’s also easier for hotel operators to get together and set fees in collusion with each other.
How Can You Spot A Hotel or Resort Fee?
In many cases, you can’t. Some hotels don’t mention the fees until the final booking page, and sometimes it’s bundled in with taxes and not mentioned at all. At the LIFE Hotel in Manhattan, the charge appears as “NYC Mandatory Facility Hotel Fee,” which implies it’s a tax collected by the city.
Online booking portals such as Expedia or Priceline don’t include the fees during the initial price comparison search, thus creating the impression that their prices are lower than the competition.
Who Benefits from Hotel and Resort Fees?
The hotels themselves are obviously the big winners since the revenue from these fees is approaching $3 billion annually. Hotels typically charge the resort fee on award night bookings, since it’s technically not part of the room rate but rather a collection of incidental services.
Consumers are clearly the big losers since the hotel or resort fee is a classic example of bait and switch. You think you’re being charged one rate, while you’re really paying another.
Travel agents also suffer from resort fees, since they only collect commission on room rates and not additional taxes and charges. At the same time, they must monitor the fluctuations in those fees since they are legally obligated to inform their clients about them.
Hotel trade associations have attempted to maintain that the fees are beneficial for consumers since they cover all incidental charges and don’t make guests feel constantly pressured for additional revenue. Imagine being charged for an individual visit to the hotel pool or for a copy of USA Today, and you’ll see the fallacy of that argument.
Ironically, one of the biggest victims of these fees is the cities where the hotels are located.
Because the resort fee isn’t included in the room rate, it can’t be taxed at the occupancy rate and instead is subject to the much lower sales tax rate. As an example, the occupancy tax in New York City is 14.75%; the sales tax is only 8.875%, resulting in a shortfall of 5.875%. According to Kill Resort fees, this difference accounts for the loss of nearly $9 million in city revenue each year.
The Legal Battle Against Hotel and Resort Fees
In 2016, 47 state Attorneys General started investigating hotel and resort fees. Marriott resisted handing over requested documents, and they’ve been sued by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. Racine is seeking a court order to force Marriott to disclose the true cost of rooms and to pay both monetary damages to consumers as well as civil penalties.
There’s also a class-action lawsuit pending against Wyndham in Pennsylvania Federal Court. If these lawsuits succeed, it’s fair to assume that there will be a stampede of legal action across the country.
How Can You Avoid Hotel and Resort Fees?
Consumer awareness of these fees has intensified in recent years, and legal measures are being taken to fight them (more on this in a moment). Sites such as killresortfees.com are leading the charge in this crusade.
If you’re going to Hawaii, Las Vegas or the popular tourist spots, you won’t have a lot of success finding fee-free hotels. Even Airbnb isn’t always a solution since hosts who manage six or more listings are allowed to charge resort fees. Before you book, you can research the situation at Resort Fee Checker.
Here are some strategies that may work in helping you avoid hotel and resort fees.
Book A Room on Points
Hilton and Hyatt waive resort fees on award stays (but not on Points and Cash bookings). Wyndham’s Reward Conditions states that they also do, although consumers report mixed experiences at their properties. If they attempt to charge you, their stated rules are on your side.
Beyond that, you can try simply asking the hotel to remove the fee. Don’t deal with the desk clerk but ask to speak with the manager. Explain politely that you were on a business trip and didn’t use the pool, that your cell phone makes it unnecessary to take advantage of free local calls, the room safe was broken, the Wi-Fi didn’t work, etc.
If you’re in a non-tourist destination at a slow time of year, you just might succeed.
Use Your Elite Status
If you’re a member of a hotel’s loyalty program, you have valuable leverage. In some cases, you might not even need it: Hyatt waives resort fees for top-tier Globalists, and high rollers likely won’t pay them in Las Vegas (although the cost of gambling may make the fee pale in comparison).
Certain rewards credit cards are generous with hotel status. The Platinum Card® from American Express dispenses Gold status in both the Hilton and Marriott programs. You can read our full Platinum Card from American Express review to learn more. Carrying an IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card makes you a Platinum member.
This should identify you as a valuable customer that the hotel doesn’t want to alienate. In many cases, the desk clerk can see by your profile if you’ve earned the status through hotel stays or via credit card. However, not all of them will check.
That said, I’ve received many upgrades simply by virtue of credit card status. Once again, it’s worth trying.
Learn more: Best Hotel Credit Card Offers
Dispute the Charge
This tactic, and the one that follows, are courtesy of Kill Resort Fees. Pay with a credit card and make sure you receive documentation of the resort fee (it should be broken down on your receipt. If not, ask).
Contact your credit card company when you get home. Tell them you were forced to pay a fee that wasn’t part of your advertised room rate. Explain that you didn’t use the services covered by the fee. You want them to dispute the charge.
This can be a very effective strategy. It’s well worth it if you stayed in a hotel for one week and paid in excess of $300 in resort fees. Certain credit card issuers pride themselves on protecting customers from fraud (American Express is a good example – see some of the best American Express credit cards for more).
Take Your Case to Small Claims Court
This isn’t as extreme as it seems. In most jurisdictions, Small Claims Court is designed to deliver justice to consumers who have been short-changed or scammed. If you booked the room on your home computer, you have the standing to sue in your local court.
You don’t need an attorney, and it’s not likely that the hotel chain will dispatch one to fight the case. Provided you have proof that you were forced to pay a fee not included in the quoted room rate, it should be open and shut.
What Does the Future Hold When Avoiding Hotel and Resort Fees?
Given the legal actions underway, it’s not likely that hotel and resort fees will be as prevalent in the future as they are right now. You can contribute to their demise by taking some of the steps outlined above. Also, filing complaints with your state’s Attorney General will help. You probably won’t have time to do this if you’re a road warrior staying in a different hotel every week, but every voice adds up.