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Dealing with hotel fees

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

Hotel fees in the U.S. will reach $2.7 billion this year, an all-time high. Although that total is chump change compared to the fees that the airlines rake in — each of the big three airlines takes in close to twice that figure in ancillary income — it represents a growing challenge for travelers. As with airlines, many hotels are figuring they can pad their receipts for charging for services they formerly included in the base room rent. As consumers, you can resent the trend, but what you need to do is figure out which fees you can’t avoid, which ones you can, and when you can, how to do it.

The worst unavoidable fee is the infamous “resort” fee, currently being joined by a “facilities” fee in city hotels where using the term “resort” would be a laugher. As I’ve noted before, the premise is simple: Cut out part of the actual cost, label it a fee, and post the phony remainder as the rate in ads, online displays, and the data provided to online travel agencies and search engines. To make the fee plausible, hotels show a list of formerly free services the fee supposedly covers, notably Wi-Fi, access to a gym or business center, and such. A parallel unavoidable fee is for “housekeeping,” again formerly included in the base rate.

Mandatory fees are an outright scam. Why do hotels resort to this trickery? To make their rooms look less expensive than they really are — and to make it harder for you to do an honest rate comparison. Resort fees are common in major visitor destinations, and the only way to avoid them is by staying somewhere else. In Las Vegas, for example, you can sometimes avoid the fee by staying far from the strip, but that’s not why you go to Vegas.

Most of the other new fees are avoidable, but at the cost of some hassle and inconvenience:

  • Time was, if you arrived at a hotel before the nominal check-in time, the hotel would let you into your room early if a clean room was available. Now, however, many hotels are taking a hard-nosed approach: Check in early, pay a fee. Ditto the situation of a late check-out when the hotel didn’t need your room for another guest. Here again, fees trump what was once a simple courtesy.
  • You could usually figure that you had until 24 hours before check-in time to cancel a refundable reservation, and at many hotels you still can. Some hotels and hotel chains, however, are pushing that deadline back to two or even three days, after which you owe for at least one night. Obviously, you can avoid this fee by not canceling within the allotted interval, but that misses the point: You cancel because your plans change, and you can’t limit yourself to no changes less than three days before you plan to travel. This fee is still infrequent enough that you can avoid hotels that impose it.
  • You don’t expect a “parking” fee at a rural motel that is surrounded by an open parking area, but you might find yourself stuck with one, anyhow. You can potentially avoid the fee by parking on a street, but with the hassle of an extended schlep any time you want to access your car. Or stay at a different hotel.

Free Wi-Fi is becoming a deal-breaker: no free Wi-Fi, stay somewhere else. But you find exceptions. Several big hotel chains now specify that you get Wi-Fi only if you reserve your room directly through the hotel or its chain’s website or reservation system. The idea here isn’t to gouge you; it’s to avoid the commissions and fees the hotels have to pay online travel agencies when you buy through them. You can avoid the fee that way, but not if you find a good opaque deal through hotwire or Priceline. Hotels that add Wi-Fi to the list of stuff covered by the resort fee, paradoxically, still offer free Wi-Fi, because the resort fee is really just part of the room rate you have to pay.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)

(c) 2017 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– October 10, 2017

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