Beware of These Hidden Hotel Fees
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.
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.
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.
How to Decode an Airbnb Review
Vacation rentals such as Airbnb can save you money on lodging and provide a comfortable home base at your vacation destination. But it can be a challenge to navigate Airbnb reviews when the average Airbnb rating is a whopping 4.7 out of 5 stars, according to a recent study by Georgios Zervas, an assistant professor of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. That’s a surprisingly high number when compared to hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, where the average rating is only 3.9 out of 5 stars for hotels with more than 100 reviews, a Cornell survey found. Zervas suspects there’s a psychological component at play. “People might feel bad leaving a negative review because they know that many hosts are using Airbnb to supplement their income and help support their family,” says Zervas. Some Airbnb customers might also be hesitant to write a negative review because they fear repercussions. “Hosts also review guests, and future hosts can see every review you leave,” says Emily McNutt, an editor at ThePointsGuy.com. Translation: “if you write a scathing review, a future host might be less inclined to let you stay at their place,” McNutt says. Another reason why Airbnb ratings are so high? For many people, it’s difficult to be critical of someone they’ve met and gotten to know—even if they had a bad experience. “If you’re reviewing a restaurant on Yelp, you’re not talking about the owner directly, but on Airbnb you’re essentially rating the host just as much as you’re rating the property,” says McNutt. To Airbnb’s credit, a recent Consumer Reports survey found that 92% of Americans that have booked a home-sharing service say they are likely or very likely to do it again, and fans said homestays make traveling more authentic and affordable. If you’re planning to stay at an Airbnb, you’ll want to check out guest reviews before booking a trip. But since ratings on the website are so high, it’s important to have a critical eye when reading reviews. Take these steps to accurately interpret guest reviews and find a great Airbnb. 1. READ THE PROPERTY DESCRIPTION Before reading what guests have to say, look at the property description (under “about this listing”) to see what the host promised to provide. “If a guest complains about the noise level but the host said the home was located in a busy neighborhood, it’s not the host’s fault that the guest was unhappy,” says Evelyn Badia, a short-term vacation rental coach and founder of TheHostingJourney.com. 2. TAKE GLOWING REVIEWS WITH A GRAIN OF SALT Reviews that simply lap praise on the property or the host aren’t very useful when evaluating where you should stay. In other words, you should be looking for reviews that talk about specific aspects of the property, like cleanliness, not gushing reviews that tout generic compliments, like “great place!” or “perfect apartment!” 3. FOCUS ON OBJECTIVE PROBLEMS Some complaints from guests point out valid issues with a property, but some things just boil down to personal preference. For example, “if a guest says the Internet broke and the host was notified and didn’t try to fix it, that’s an issue,” says Badia. However, negative comments about the home’s décor, per say, shouldn’t matter all that much to you. (After all, you’re not buying the place.) 4. AVOID AGGRESSIVE HOSTS Airbnb’s website enables hosts to post public replies to guest reviews, and how hosts communicate with guests is indicative of how the host might behave during your stay. You want to find a host that’s respectful—someone who thanks guests for writing suggestions instead of attacking the person for pointing out areas for improvement. While checking out a 1-bedroom listing in Washington, D.C. with 4 stars, I found that the host wrote hostile replies when guests offered constructive criticism; that’s certainly not someone you’d want to rent from. 5. GIVE AN OWNER CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE Problems can arise that are outside the host’s control; say, the power goes out in the building, the dishwasher breaks, or the dryer won’t start. In those instances, what really matters is how the owner handled the situation, says McNutt. For instance, if a guest says in a review that the Internet shut down but the landlord responded immediately and contacted the cable company to fix it, there’s no harm done; in fact, that’s the sign of a good host. So, when reading guest reviews, try to assess whether the host is accessible and responsive when issues crop up. 6. IF YOU SEE A SCATHING REVIEW, DIG DEEPER Some guests are impossible to please, and many of these people will write negative reviews regardless of their experience. Therefore, if someone leaves an overly harsh review on a property that has relatively high ratings, click on the person’s profile to see what reviews the guest has received from hosts in the past. If someone has consistently bad reviews from hosts, it’s best to disregard that person’s opinion when deciding where you want to stay.
The Revised Travel Ban Goes Into Effect
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court partially lifted preliminary injunctions from lower courts, upholding portions of section 2 of Executive Order 13780, which restricts entry into the U.S. by nationals of six countries for 90 days, and section 6 of the order, which restricts the entry of refugees into the U.S. for 120 days. This evening at 8pm EDT, the U.S. will begin implementing Executive Order worldwide, with important exceptions mandated by the Supreme Court. Under the Supreme Court’s ruling, nationals of the six countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) who have a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” will be granted entry into the U.S. Today, the State Department, in a cable providing guidance to employees around the world, states that a “bona fide relationship” will be defined as a close family relationship, which will include only parent, spouse, children (including adult children), sons- and daughters-in-law or siblings, including step-siblings and step-parents. Under current State Department guidance, a “bona fide relationship” will not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers- or sisters-in-law, cousins, or a fiance or fiancee. Family relationships and employment and other relationships with an “entity” in the U.S. must be documented. For most American travelers, the implementation of the Executive Order may have no direct personal impact at all. For nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen and their family and friends in the U.S., the implementation of the Executive Order and its effect on current travel, impending travel, and future visa applications is beyond Budget Travel's areas of expertise. We urge anyone who is concerned that they or a close friend or family member may be denied entry into the U.S. to consult an immigration attorney. And we urge every member of our Budget Travel audience to understand that the implementation of this Executive Order may have more wide-ranging effects than any of us can anticipate at this time: Along with your other essential travel gear, pack patience and compassion.
Budget Travel has been celebrating the Great American Road Trip for more than two decades, and while some of our favorite drives (think Utah’s National Parks, New England’s autumn leaves, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula...) remain the same, the vehicles in which Americans hit the road have evolved exponentially. For Budget Travelers like me, who came of age when a car was, well, just a convenient means to get from Point A to Point B, the latest crop of high-tech rides c3an seem a little sci-fi - you’re basically driving a hybrid smartphone/entertainment center that talks. For that reason, we sometimes assume all that technology is out of reach for thrifty shoppers. Nope. A new generation of reasonably priced cars, such as the latest models of the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, Toyota Yaris, Ford Focus, and Subaru Impreza, offers an array of tech-driven benefits that will transform your next road trip. Some of the features that are standard or reasonably available in cars under $20,000 include: Wi-Fi. You can enliven your next family road trip by Skyping with family and friends (or co-workers, if you’re into that kind of thing), or downloading music, books, TV, and movies to your devices while on the move. Interactivity. For those of you who can’t bear to be separated from your phone, texting, and music apps, features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto put those apps right on your car’s display screen, allowing you to talk to Siri, Google Maps, and other programs. Mobile App. Some manufacturers offer an app that transforms your phone or tablet into Mission Control for your car. Send driving directions to your vehicle before you get behind the wheel, start or stop your engine, lock or unlock the doors, or check on Wi-Fi settings and diagnostic information ahead of your trip. On top of the interactive features, we’re seeing great fuel efficiency (especially from the Chevy Cruze Diesel), safety features like a rear-view camera for help with parking and rear traffic, and unexpected roominess in smaller cars that allows for all the packing space you need and some elbow room for passengers.
Cheap Flights for August Vacations
No plans for a summer vacation? No problem. Our friends at Skyscanner.com have got big plans for you: They’ve crunched the numbers on August airfares to deliver some truly amazing deals. Your only challenge will be to pick one of these dreamy destinations and book now. Washington, DC to Denver, COWednesday, August 2 – Tuesday, August 8Starting at $238 Dallas, TX to Fort Lauderdale, FLThursday, August 3 – Monday, August 7Starting at $230 Seattle, WA to Las Vegas, NVThursday, August 10 – Sunday, August 13Starting $210 Chicago, IL to San Francisco, CATuesday, August 15 to Sunday, August 20Starting at $211 New York, NY to New Orleans, LAWednesday, August 16 to Sunday, August 20Starting at $280 Boston, MA to Austin, TXThursday, August 17 – Monday, August 21Starting at $254 Los Angeles, CA to Atlanta, GAFriday, August 18 – Tuesday, August 22Starting at $213 Atlanta, GA to Portland, MEMonday, August 21 – Friday, August 25Starting at $206 Minneapolis, MN to San Diego, CAThursday, August 24 – Monday, August 28Starting at $234 Phoenix, AZ to New York, NYFriday, August 25 – Tuesday, August 29Starting at $258 Skyscanner is a travel search site offering a comprehensive range of flight, hotel, and car rental deals. To find more bargain fares like those listed here, visit Skyscanner.com.