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INSIDER SECRET: Hidden hotel fees are becoming the new normal, but you can often avoid them if you have elite status, dispute the charge or simply ask to have it removed.
It can be frustrating to get a good deal on a paid hotel stay, only to end up paying much more than you anticipated because of hotel fees that weren’t clearly disclosed during the booking process. Although some fees are expected and valid (like valet parking or items from the minibar), new resort or destination fees are often bogus attempts to nickel-and-dime consumers for traditionally complimentary services.
These new resort or destination fees are added to the regular room rate to cover “extras” like coffee, newspapers, fitness club admission or local calls.
Here’s how to identify and understand misleading fees, as well as secrets to avoid hidden hotel fees.
Where You’ll Be Charged Extra
Hotels add extra fees for the same reason airlines add fuel surcharges to tickets. Even though hotels are supposed to disclose additional charges before you confirm your reservation, fees are often hidden in the fine print.
Perks and extras that used to be included in the room rate will now often show up as a fee on your bill. And you’ll typically be charged (especially in the case of resort and destination fees) whether you use these amenities or not.
Some examples of unexpected fees include:
- Local telephone calls
- Restocking the minibar (or even using the minibar to store personal items)
- In-room safe
- Use of pool, sauna, hot tub, fitness center
- Use of lounge chairs, umbrellas, pool towels
- In-room coffee, tea, bottled water
- Luggage storage
- Shuttle service (to or from the airport or other nearby locations)
It’s easy to avoid some charges by bringing your own snacks and drinks, instead of raiding the minibar. What about fees for services you don’t use? Do hotels have the right to charge mandatory destination fees that were not disclosed when you made your reservation?
How to Avoid Hotel Fees
Know What’s Included with Your Elite Status or Award Program Membership
Resort fees usually include “bundled” amenities, like in-room Wi-Fi, coffee and tea, or bottled water. If you have elite status (or are a member of the hotel award program), some of these perks should be free.
If you are charged by mistake for an amenity or benefit that should be included as a loyalty benefit, most hotels will happily remove the charge assuming it was wrongly applied.
For certain travelers, it makes sense to consider the price of internet when booking a paid hotel stay. Remember that many hotel chains now include free Wi-Fi when you join their free loyalty programs.
Some hotels with free Wi-Fi include:
- Hilton (only if you book directly with Hilton at some hotels)
- Marriott (when you book directly with Marriott)
Independent hotels are catching up and offering free Wi-Fi more frequently. And I find that non-chain hotels are more likely to offer free breakfast, coffee, or other small perks (like a morning newspaper of your choice) without nickel-and-diming customers as part of a destination fee.
Unfortunately, many hotels do not remove fees from your bill unless you ask. So it’s important that you know in advance which elite status level you have and the benefits or extras you are entitled to. For example, Hilton elite status is really easy to earn and can be incredibly valuable on longer stays.
Book Award Stays
At some hotel chains, certain fees are waived when you redeem points for your stay. I have had more success requesting fees waivers for award stays than for paid stays.
My hypothesis is that hotels are more likely to waive fees when customers are traveling for leisure as opposed to traveling for business. That’s because business travelers will typically be reimbursed for their expenses, so they don’t closely scrutinize their hotel bills for outrageous destination or resort fees. When I travel for leisure, however, I have more incentive to save money and avoid unnecessary fees.
The Hyatt hotel chain is well known for its generous policy for waiving resort fees and parking fees when stays are booked with points by top-tier Globalist guests. Even if you don’t have Hyatt Globalist status, you might be able to save money by asking a friend or a colleague to book you as a Hyatt Globalist Guest of Honor.
My wife and I loved the generous treatment we received as Globablist guests recently — and our savings in waived parking and resort fees. We stayed at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek in March, and the parking fee and resort fee are $50 each per night.
By booking an award stay (instead of the incredibly expensive cash rates) as a friend’s guest of honor, we were able to save hundreds of dollars on resort fees that didn’t include any benefits that we actually used. This is one example of how strategic planning and booking of award nights can save you a bundle. For more information on hotel night awards (and some of our favorites), check out our comprehensive guide to airline and hotel rewards programs.
Don’t Use Amenities; Ask to Reduce or Remove Fees
If you know you won’t be using any of the services bundled with the resort fee, ask the manager to remove the fee altogether. You might have more success if you have elite status or stay frequently at that hotel.
I have been successful with this strategy (more times than not), especially with newly introduced destination fees that hotel managers know are poorly advertised. I find that hotel management is more concerned with ensuring a great guest experience than they are in capturing a few additional bucks. Score.
Resort fees are often trickier than destination fees, but either way, it can’t hurt to ask to have them removed.
Read the Fine Print
Read the fine print and ask questions before you book to avoid unpleasant surprises when it’s time to pay the hotel bill. Unfortunately, this means that I sometimes have to call the hotel before booking to clarify what additional charges I’ll be on the hook for.
I always read the bill carefully before checking out. Sometimes, hotels are sneaky and add charges for services you didn’t use (or that should have been free). Don’t be afraid to ask the hotel to remove a charge, even in an email after you’ve checked out.
I typically ask that all hotel receipts be emailed to me at checkout. This way, I can ignore the billing discrepancies until after my vacation is over and deal with any incorrect charges once I get back home.
Extra fees charged by hotels can really add up and increase the cost of your travel or vacations. Sometimes, hotels will add mandatory charges for amenities that you can’t or won’t even use.
I encourage you to always read the fine print on your booking reservations and don’t be afraid to ask the hotel to remove unwarranted charges from your bill. If you have elite status, you might have more leverage when requesting that resort or destination fees get refunded or waived altogether.
Have you been hit by pesky destination fees yet? Or, do the resort fees charged by hotels typically offer value or perks that you use?
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