Travel is supposed to be filled with good surprises — unexpected new tastes, sights, and sounds that delight and inspire us.
But there’s one particular kind of surprise on the rise across the United States that no traveler wants: unexpected ‘resort fees’ at hotels that can range from $25 to $100 or more (£20.29 to £81.15; €22.76 to €91.05). Unfortunately, the nasty surprise often occurs at the check-in counter or, even worse, at the end of a stay when a final bill is presented.
The good news is, awareness of the unpopular resort fee is on the rise. Online booking companies are letting hotel chains know that hidden fees such as the resort fee are potentially deceptive and harmful to travelers. Attorneys General of Nebraska and the District of Columbia filed suit against major hotel chains for advertising room rates that do factor in the resort fee. There are also several steps every traveler can take to minimize, if not always eliminate, the sting of the fee.
What is a resort fee?
The semi-official definition of a resort fee (sometimes referred to as a ‘destination fee’ or an ‘urban fee’) is an additional charge for amenities that, at least in theory, go above and beyond the basic hotel experience. Under that definition, you might presume that a resort fee would apply to you only if you planned to, say, avail yourself of a property’s golf course, boating equipment, extensive concierge services, airport shuttle, and other ‘extras.’ But, in practice, many hotels claim that the fee goes toward an extensive list of amenities that most travelers might assume are already included in the nightly room rate: access to a swimming pool and pool towels, wi-fi, daily newspaper, local telephone calls, access to a fitness center, access to a business center and fax machine, self-parking, lobby snacks such as cookies or afternoon appetizers, and even access to the beach at some seaside properties.
The most frustrating thing for anyone presented with a resort fee at check-in or check-out is that the fee is often not made clear to travelers when they book a hotel room, including on major booking sites, hotel-chain sites, independent hotel sites, and over-the-phone booking. It’s entirely possible for a traveler to book a room at a rate of, say, $150/night (£121.73; €136.58), and presume that, with the addition of local sales taxes and possible tourism taxes, their stay could set them back in the neighborhood of $175 (£142.02; €159.34). But when that traveler arrives at the check-in counter and asks what her estimated bill will look like, she finds that it’s well over $200 (£162.31; €182.10). Worse, if that traveler doesn’t bother to ask at check-in, she’ll discover the resort fee at check-out (and, in cases of automated check-out, a traveler may not even notice the fee until she arrives home).
Does your hotel charge a resort fee?
How to protect oneself from the nasty surprise of an unexpected resort fee? Know before you go: There are a number of ways travelers can educate themselves in advance of booking a room.
Start with ResortFeeChecker.com, which can give you an idea of that hotels are known for charging resort fees, and give you a sense of what you might expect to pay. Then take a close look at a property’s (or chain’s) website: information about resort fees is often posted, but not obvious. A hotel chain may, for instance, post a notice that mentions there will be a resort fee (or ‘resort charge’), but not specify the amount of the fee.
Perhaps the most reliable method is rather old-fashioned: instead of booking online, call a property directly and talk through exactly what your room rate will include — basic rate, taxes, and any fees you’ll be responsible for. (Speaking directly with an actual person at the property also gives you the chance to ask for the lowest possible rate, which can, especially when booking at the last minute, nab you one of those good travel surprises, an unexpected bargain.)
How to talk your way out of a resort fee
While there’s no guarantee that this method will always succeed, a growing number of travelers have managed to avoid paying a resort fee by arguing — ideally in advance of check-in, but sometimes at check-in or even at check-out—that they are seeking only a basic hotel stay, they do not plan to avail themselves of such amenities as a pool fitness center, business center, etc, and would like the resort fee to be waived.
If you plan to go this route, be prepared for pushback: you’ll likely have to talk to an actual person (as opposed to emailing or using an online form), so it will pay to be polite, and be prepared to ask to speak to that person’s manager. You should also be prepared to be told emphatically ‘no’ no matter how polite or logical your argument may seem. If you can’t afford the resort fee, don’t assume that you can successfully talk your way out of it.
In some cases, travelers have successfully disputed a resort fee with their credit card company, or by taking a hotel to small-claims court. Those seeking to attempt such a dispute will find resources at KillResortFees.com, whose founder, Lauren Wolfe, is an attorney who works for the consumer advocacy group Travelers United.
How to avoid resort fees altogether
As with many such travel mishaps, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: it’s possible to avoid resort fees altogether, but it takes some advance work.
Just say no. As mentioned above, use ResortFeeChecker.com and simply avoid any property that has a reputation or record of charging hidden fees. (A more specialized, though admittedly limited, resource dedicated to Las Vegas can be especially helpful for travelers concerned about Sin City’s reputation for resort fees.)
Join hotel rewards programs. In addition to the other benefits of joining the rewards programs of hotel chains you frequent and enjoy, some programs waive resort fees for members who book using reward points. Wyndham, Hilton and Hyatt are especially known for waiving resort fees.
Leverage elite status if you can. The world of elite-status travel is complex, and, of course, tends to involve travelers with deep pockets. But if you have elite status with the property where you’re planning to stay, use it to ask for a waiver of any resort fees.
Book with Airbnb, but…
A typical stay at an Airbnb property will not include a resort fee. But do be aware that if an Airbnb host manages six or more listings, they are allowed to charge resort fees, linen fees, management fees, and community fees.