How to Stop Getting Ripped Off by Hotel Fees

How to Stop Getting Ripped Off by Hotel Fees
Photo: Space_Cat, Shutterstock

Hotels are already expensive, so the last thing you need are sneaky fees adding unexpected costs to your travel budget. Hotel fees aren’t always something you can avoid — especially at popular resort destinations — but you shouldn’t be surprised by them, either. With that in mind, here’s a look at some commonly tacked-on fees you can skip — if you’re a diligent shopper.

How to avoid hotel fees and other add-ons

There are a few ways to avoid hotel fees. One is by joining hotel chain loyalty programs, which typically waive added costs — Wifi, late checkout, parking, resort fees — that are commonly charged to off-the-street customers. Hotel-branded reward cards also waive fees, and they provide cash back or points that can be redeemed for free hotel rooms or flights.

Aside from that, knowledge is power: If you know what to look for, you can avoid hotel chains that overcharge on fees — before you book the hotel room (Nerdwallet has a good survey of fees by hotel chain). Unfortunately, that requires some extra research, as many booking sites only list the room price in their search results, with ancillary fees added only at the end of the booking process. That’s why you want to examine your subtotal carefully for added costs beyond the listed rate for a room. If a booking site is unclear, you can always book with the hotel directly and ask for a breakdown of their fees (if their site doesn’t already list them).

Hotel fees shouldn’t come as a surprise

While you can’t realistically avoid all hotel fees if you choose to stay at said hotel, you are entitled to know what you’ll end up paying — with no surprises. The best way to do this is to visualise your trip from beginning to end, and think about what might trigger charges, based on the list below. Once you’ve done that, you can search for a hotel that minimizes how much you end up paying for things you don’t actually need.

Resort fees

Easily one of the biggest cash grabs in the hotel business, the resort fee (or “destination fee”) is supposedly for the use of amenities at a resort, even though run-of-the-mill hotels with few amenities charge for it, too. A resort fee costs about $US30 ($41) a day, or more, which can add 10-20% to your hotel bill.

A resort fee in places like Las Vegas or Miami can be hard to avoid, but you can at least shop around and minimise the cost, as resort fees vary by hotel. The site Resort Fee Checker is a good place to start. Otherwise, if you’re stuck with an unexpected resort fee, politely ask the hotel manager what the fee is for. If you didn’t use any of the services covered by a resort fee, they might drop it from your bill.

Early check-in fee

If you got a cheap red-eye flight, you’ll want to confirm whether the hotel will charge you extra for checking in early, as it can sometimes cost as much as 50 per cent of the room’s nightly rate, which might negate the savings from your flight.

Extra person fee

Hotels often charge $US20 ($27) to $US50 ($68) per additional adult per night, so you’ll want to keep this in mind when you’re travelling with a companion. They’re probably worth the extra charge, but it’s still nice to know ahead of time.

Wifi fee

Hotels (especially luxury brands) can be quite shameless in charging for wifi, with fees that can cost $US10 ($14) to $US20 ($27) per night — even though free wifi is common and thought of more as a courtesy than a premium service by most consumers. For this reason, I personally don’t stay in hotels that charge for wifi.

The dreaded mini-bar

The snacks in your room’s mini-bar are often so absurdly expensive ($US16 ($22) for a package of M&Ms!) that they should be avoided completely. If you need help avoiding the allure of the accessible midnight snack, you could look for hotels that don’t include a stocked up mini-bar.

Also, don’t assume any bottled water in your room is complimentary — you’ll often be charged a heavily marked-up price for any bottle you crack open.

Parking fee

If you’re driving, expect hotels in major cities to charge $US25 ($34) to $US35 ($47) a day for parking — plus tip, if it’s valet-parking only. One trick is to look for free or cheaper parking near the hotel, as well.

Gym fee

This one might be as bad of a cash-grab as the wifi fee, although less common. Again, unless the hotel is otherwise perfect and you see yourself using the hotel gym during your stay, you’ll want to avoid hotels that charged this fee.

Housekeeping gratuity

Hotels sometimes charge a mandatory tip for room cleaners — usually around 10% — but it’s rare and therefore can be a bit of a surprise that can cause you to tip twice.

Safe fee

If you never use a hotel safe, then you probably don’t want to pay for it. Safe fees are usually a few dollars, but exactly what this fee pays for (safe maintenance?) is unclear.

Other fees

You’d think we’d covered it all, but hotels can also include fees for beach chairs and umbrellas; tiered internet speeds; phone use charges (including local); pet fees; and extra rollaway bed fees. Read the fine print and book accordingly.

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