Resort Fees Self-Defense for Personal TravelersBy Jeanne Hopkins
As a business traveler, you have undoubtedly experienced the frustration (well, OK, total irritation) of unexpected add-on hotel fees. Call them what you will – resort fees, amenity fees, urban fees, destination fees, facility fees – they all leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not the way you wanted to wind up your stay, especially when you were so excited about accomplishing your business goals! Your CFO is not going to cheer when she finds out your hotel expense went over budget.
You’re not going to cheer, either, when you realize that resort fees affect every traveler, both leisure and corporate. So that weekend with the guys or your girlfriends you’ve been planning? That’s going to cost more, too.
While your employer is working behind the scenes to alleviate the resort fee situation for future business trips, let’s look at how you can take action on your own to uncover and sidestep resort fees when you travel for fun. If you can’t avoid the fees altogether, at the very least, you can avoid getting blindsided by them.
What do you get for these extra fees?
Maybe a lot of amenities, maybe a lot of nothing. Airlines are upfront about special fees and the reason for them (the baggage fee, for example). Hotels, on the other hand, are often cagey. Some are brash enough to charge the fee without even pretending there are benefits attached. The fee is there because they want to charge it, and they can. That room you booked because it was "cheaper"? Forget it. You're likely to still end up paying the difference in fees.
Most properties, though, claim the extra payment pays for extra amenities. These might be things you thought were included in the advertised room rate, or they may be items or services you don’t want, don’t need, and won’t use. Regardless, the fee is mandatory. It’s typically associated with:
- Use of the gym or pool (or facility towels)
- Access to the sunset bar
- Beach access
- Scrip for the casino
- “Complimentary” ground transportation to entertainment, shopping areas, or the airport
- Bottled water or mini-bar items
- A daily newspaper delivered to your door
- Use of the in-room phone to place calls
- The coffee maker
- Bath accessories
- Internet access
- Use of the in-room wall safe
- Room service (the fee is on top of whatever you order and the tip)
- Luggage hold (between checkout and leaving for the airport)
The best defense is a good offense, so don’t go down without a fight. Consumer Affairs says there are a few ways you can approach resort fees. You could just accept the inevitable, suck it up, and pay the fee. Or, you could be more proactive.
Do your homework
Despite the fact that resort fees have caught on like wildfire, not every hotel actually charges such a fee. However, just because you don’t see “resort fee” (or some other moniker) specifically noted doesn’t mean there won’t be one. Do not assume that the posted room rate includes any sort of fee or tax.
It’s a pain in the neck and time-consuming, so you may have to ferret out the fee instead. So far, online booking giants such as Booking.com, Priceline and Expedia are each handling this situation differently, so there is no consistency. Also, their own situations are fluid, as everyone waits to see what will happen long term. The upshot for you is more confusion -- some of the online sites are allowing hotels to continue advertising just the base room rate, whereas others are adding in the resort fees, making comparison truly difficult.
If you want to book directly with a particular property, that probably won't be any easier. A few hotels have responded to consumer anger at bait-and-switch tactics, and now make their resort fee visible. But chances are good you will need to examine the fine print – read the part about taxes and fees carefully. It may be virtually impossible to know for sure until you check out!
The fact that these fees have so many different names and cover varying benefits makes it even harder to recognize them, let alone compare hotels. Checking out ResortFeeChecker might help. This easy-to-use search site lists about 2,000 hotels around the world and indicates whether or not they charge resort fees and the amount.
Or, you can call the hotel and ask. Ask if they charge a fee, and if so, ask if they will waive it. (Hey, it can’t hurt.) When you check in, try again. Point out that you have no intention of using the items/services the fee is for (if that’s true).
Check out KillResortFees, a website devoted entirely to helping travelers like you a) avoid paying these fees, and b) speak your mind to those who might listen. Toward that second goal, the website’s creator suggests you dispute the charge with your credit card company and file a complaint with your state’s attorney general.
You should also tell the hotel’s manager (not just the hapless front desk person) how you feel about resort fees. Many consumers don’t realize that big brands are not vague corporate monoliths, but a federation of franchisees. The person who owns/manages your hotel is not likely to be named Marriott or Hilton, but they do have a very personal vested interest in their specific property’s reputation with guests. They also have the ear of that vague corporate parent company.
Use your loyalty clout
In some cases, hotels waive their resort fee for rewards club members – not as an extra perk but because membership already confers the benefits supposedly covered by the resort fee. Charging you twice is likely to throw shade on your loyalty, and they don’t want that.
The Bottom Line
You might ask yourself whether the time you spend researching prospective fees so that you can accurately compare hotel prices is worth more than the fee itself. That will depend on the specific property because fees can range from a few bucks to nearly $100. Whatever you decide, at least you’ll know the score before you book your trip – resort fees are lurking out there and it’s up to you to arm yourself so you can fight them off.