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Beware of These Hidden Hotel Fees

By Daniel Bortz
August 14, 2017
Hidden Hotel Fees Key Room
Dragonimages/Dreamstime
As Tom Waits once sang, "The large print giveth and the small print taketh away." Here, a handy checklist of potential hotel fees - sometimes buried deep in the small print of your agreement - that can add up to $100 or more.

Last year U.S. hotels collected more than $2.5 billion in fees and surcharges, up from $2.45 billion in 2015 according to research by Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.

Hanson credits the uptick to the nation’s thriving travel industry. “When times are financially difficult, hotels are more concerned about offending guests with extra charges, but when the economy is doing well hotels feel more confident about increasing their fees,” says Hanson, who has tracked U.S. hotel fees and surcharges data since 2000.

Unfortunately for travelers, many hotel fees are often buried in lengthy disclosure statements or tucked into bill summaries at checkout.

The best way to avoid getting slapped with surprise fees? Pick up the phone. “Call the hotel and ask, ‘Are there any automatic or mandatory fees or surcharges?’ before you book a room,” Hanson advises.

To be a savvy traveler though, you should still have an idea of what hotel charges can potentially sneak onto your bill. By knowing what they are in advance—and how much they cost on average—you may find ways to cut costs on your next trip.

Keep your eyes peeled for these hidden fees.

RESORT FEE
Cost: $10 to $50 per night

Resort fees are daily charges imposed by some hotels in addition to the basic room rate. These fees—which hotels say cover the costs of access to hotel amenities (e.g., internet, fitness center, hotel pool) or “complimentary” perks, like coffee and newspapers—are usually mandatory.

Resort fees are disclosed at the time of booking, but they typically only appear after a room is selected and the traveler is about to pay for the reservation, says Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com, an online tool that allows users to look up resort fees at more than 2,000 properties around the world. In other words, “the resort fee is only disclosed when the traveller has their credit card out and is about to book the room,” Greencorn says.

Pro tip: “the resort fee is typically found at the bottom of the [last] page” when you check out, says Greencorn.

IN-ROOM COFFEEMAKER FEE
Cost: $3 to $6

If you want to make a cup of joe in the morning in your room, you may have to pay for it. To err on the side of caution, use the (hopefully free) coffeemaker in the lobby instead.

ROOM SELECTION FEE
Cost: $10 to $40

Some hotels now charge guests for the privilege of reserving a type of room, like a room with a king bed. But this fee may be negotiable, especially if you’re a hotel rewards member.

EARLY CHECK-IN FEE
Cost: $30 to $50

If you want to check into your room before the hotel’s standard check-in time, you may have to pay a premium to do so. This is a relatively new fee.

BAGGAGE HOLDING FEE
Cost: $2 to $5 per bag

If you’re checking in early or stowing your bags for a few hours while you explore the city after checking out, you may have to pay a fee for the hotel to hold your luggage. This fee is in addition to what you tip the bellhop when you pick up your bags. (Etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute recommend tipping $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag.)

IN-ROOM SAFE FEE
Cost: $2 to $6 per day

Many travelers put cash, passports, and other important belongings in the in-room safe, but a number of hotels charge a daily fee for it. “Discouraging guests from using in-room safes is a liability risk for hotels,” Hanson says. “It’s a service that should be provided.” In-room safe fees are becoming less common, but if your hotel charges on it will likely be indicated in writing on the safe.

HOUSEKEEPING FEE
Cost: $10 to $20 per day

Traditionally, hotels have included cleaning services in the cost of the room, but some are beginning to charge housekeeping fees. You may be able to opt out of this service and save money—that is, if you don’t mind tidying up after yourself.

MINI-BAR RESTOCKING FEE
Cost: $3 to $6 per day

Hotels have always charged inflated prices for mini-bar food and drinks, but these days you may have to pay an additional fee per day after you remove the first item—regardless of whether you buy anything else from the mini-bar during the rest of your stay. Therefore, “don’t take anything out just to look at it” or you could get slapped with a restocking fee, says Hanson.

SURFACE PARKING FEE
Cost: $6 to $10 per day

“Many people assume that if there’s an outdoor parking lot, it’s free,” says Hanson, but an increasing number of hotels are charging for outdoor, or “surface,” parking. Consequently, “always ask if there is complementary parking,” says Hanson.

EARLY DEPARTURE FEE
Cost: The full rate

When you check into most hotels, you sign or initial a registration card that states your scheduled departure date. But if you decide to check out a day or several days early, you’ll most likely have to pay the full amount for your stay. To be fair, this isn’t really an extra “fee”—it’s more of a penalty, since you booked a room for a set number of days, during which time the hotel couldn’t offer your room to someone else. 

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