Hotels have always offered their share of unreasonable fees -- such as exorbitant taxes and dollar-a-minute telephone charges -- but in recent years the industry has begun upping the ante. Ever been socked with a $25-a-night "resort fee," or had the pleasure of paying $3 simply for having a safe in your room, even if you never used it? These are just a few of the pesky fees that hotels are tacking onto travelers' bills.
Which fees might apply to your stay, and more importantly, how can you avoid them? Read on...
The Most Common Fees, A to Z
Airport shuttle: Before you assume that the shuttle from the airport to your hotel is free, be sure to ask; some hotels are starting to charge a fee for this usually complimentary service.
Bellhop/housekeeper gratuities: Sometimes called a service charge or service fee, this expense may be charged per day or per stay, and it covers gratuities for bellhops and housekeeping staff. Look out for this charge particularly if you're traveling with a convention or large group.
Bottled water and snacks: Think twice before touching that "complimentary" bottle of water that the hotel has left on your desk. It could cost you upwards of $5. Ditto for fruit plates, cookies or other munchies. If in doubt, call down to the front desk before indulging.
Cancellation: Before assuming that you can cancel your reservation a day or two before you arrive, read your hotel's cancellation policy carefully. You may be penalized the price of a night's stay (or more).
Checking in and out: Got into the airport early or have a late flight? Some hotels will charge you a fee for checking in early or checking out late.
Energy surcharge: In an effort to pass rising energy costs on to consumers, many hotels now tack an energy surcharge of several dollars a day onto their guests' bills.
Groundskeeping fee: If your resort has acres of lush lawns, gardens or golf courses, look out -- you could be footing the bill in the form of a groundskeeping surcharge.
In-room safe: Some hotels are charging guests just for the privilege of having a safe in their room, even if it's never opened. The fee supposedly covers both the cost of the safe and insurance for its contents.
Internet: Almost all hotels, especially those serving business travelers, offer high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi services. Costs vary widely; while many hotels offer complimentary Internet access, others charge per minute or per day, so be sure to ask before logging on. Also, note that some hotels charge for Wi-Fi by device, not by room -- so if you're using your iPad and your spouse is surfing the Net on a laptop, you may have to pay double the fee.
Luggage holding: Need your hotel to store your bags for a few hours after you check out? At some hotels, you'll have to pay a few bucks for the privilege.
Minibars: There are a number of different fees associated with minibars -- even if you never eat or drink any of the goodies inside. Picking up an item and putting it back can trigger the minibar's sensors, immediately adding the price of the item to your bill. On sensitive machines, even jostling minibar items as you add your own food to the fridge can incur a charge. And if you try to avoid the hassle entirely by calling ahead and asking the minibar to be emptied before your arrival, beware -- you could be charged a "restocking" fee.
Packages: Some hotels charge $1 to $25 to mail packages for their guests, with similar fees for receiving packages. These fees may vary based on the size or number of packages.
Parking: Mandatory valet parking can easily add $25 a day or more onto the cost of your downtown hotel -- and don't forget the tip.
Resort fee: This ubiquitous surcharge runs anywhere from $10 to $60 per day and can cover a wide variety of services and amenities, such as a business center, a pool, a gym, daily newspaper delivery, housekeeping or "free" local calls. Even if you don't use any of these services, you'll still get stuck with the tab.
Taxes and other local charges: Taxes are no huge surprise to most travelers, but what about concessionary fees to pay for local building projects or tourism marketing efforts? Hotels often pass on these mandatory charges straight from the local government to you.
Telephone: Before picking up the receiver, study your hotel's list of telephone charges carefully. Some hotels charge for local and toll-free calls, while others do not. You may occasionally be charged simply for dialing, even if your call is never connected.
Towels: An extra towel at the pool could cost you an extra buck or two, particularly if you bring it back to your room with you.
Tips for Avoiding Hotel Fees
Do Your Research: Beyond taxes, it can be difficult to figure out which fees will be charged at a particular hotel or resort before you book. Most of the fees listed above aren't listed on hotel booking sites in your final breakdown of charges. For example, we tried booking a stay at the Westin St. John Resort and Villas on Hotels.com, Travelocity, Tingo, Priceline.com and Expedia. All sites collected taxes and "fees," but only Priceline broke down the costs to reveal the $40/day resort fee. The moral of the story? No matter where you finally book your stay, be sure to check multiple sources for a better idea of what fees may apply.
Ask Ahead of Time: You can find some information online, but often your best bet is simply to pick up the phone. Call the hotel and ask which fees will apply to your stay -- and whether any of them can be waived ahead of time. Keep in mind that fees can vary within the same chain, so it's best to dial the individual property directly instead of calling the 800 reservations number. Write down the names of any staff members you speak with and which fees they agree to waive.
Don't Tip Twice: Before you leave a tip for your housekeeper, make sure the hotel isn't already charging you a housekeeping gratuity fee. If it is, you can skip the additional tip -- or ask for the fee to be removed so that you can tip at your own discretion.
Stock Up: Bring your own snacks and bottled water to help yourself resist the lure of the minibar or the edible "gifts" the hotel leaves in your room.
When in Doubt, Ask: During your stay, don't take anything for granted. Before using the gym or taking an extra towel at the pool, ask if a fee applies.
Join a Loyalty Program: Some hotels offer special perks -- including waived fees -- to members of their loyalty programs. For example, members of Omni's Select Guest program get 3 MBs of complimentary Wi-Fi; joining this free program before your stay will save you money.
Use Your Cell Phone: Hotel telephone charges can be confusing and pricey, so avoid the hassle entirely by using your own cell phone.
Allow Plenty of Time at Check-Out: Many travelers are in such a hurry to leave their hotel that they sign and pay their bill without looking it over -- and that's just what hotels are counting on. Allow yourself plenty of time to survey the charges and dispute any that seem unfair. You'll have a much better chance of getting them removed from your bill if you negotiate before you sign on the dotted line.
Know Your Rights: Federal law requires that all hotel fees be clearly disclosed. This usually happens in the fine print -- so read the terms and conditions of your reservations agreement carefully. If you discover fees at check-out that weren't disclosed to you in writing, point them out to the hotel staff and ask them to be removed.
--written by Sarah Schlichter