6 Ways to Avoid Sneaky Hotel Fees

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Whether it's in the air or on the ground, the fight against fees is shaping up to be an eternal struggle. Use these tactics to push back against fee-focused hotels.

Do you really know how much your next hotel stay will cost you? You may have a confirmation in hand, and you might think you know what the price will be – but the hotel industry is following the lead of the airline industry in trying to charge customers extra for services that were once free.

“Following in the footsteps of the airlines, hotels are piling on a slew of hidden fees,” CNN reports. “Now guests are getting charged for everything from access to a gym (or a pool), to early check-ins or departures to holding your luggage.”

Fortunately, avoiding these fees on the ground is actually easier than doing so in the air…

1. Shop around. If you need a nonstop flight from Denver to Des Moines, you probably have the choice of only one or two airlines with similar fee structures. On the other hand, you’ll have dozens of lodging options. When choosing a hotel, take into account optional expenses such as parking, Internet service, and breakfast in order to determine where the best deal is. Unlike with airlines, it’s still relatively easy to call a hotel, speak to a live person, and ask about fees.

2. Confirm everything. Just because a hotel lists amenities like Internet service or garage parking doesn’t mean they’re free. Go directly to the hotel’s website and see if it lists the amenity as complimentary.  If it’s not clear, send a brief email or make a quick phone call and ask what the charges will be for the services you’ll use. If you use email, print it out as proof in case the hotel tries to change its policies later.

3. Be careful with third-party booking sites. Online travel agents are notorious for including language that absolves themselves from any mandatory fees a hotel may decide to tack on. For example, Expedia only informs customers at the very end of their reservations process that, “The price shown DOES NOT include any applicable hotel service fees, charges for optional incidentals (such as minibar snacks or telephone calls), or regulatory surcharges.” Notice how they obscure their policy by lumping in optional expenses like the mini-bar and telephone charges with unspecified mandatory charges such as resort fees and regulatory surcharges – rendering their price quotes almost useless. I’ve found this to be especially a problem with Las Vegas-area hotels.

4. Be pushy. I once checked into a hotel in Phoenix and was informed that there was a mandatory “safe fee” added onto my bill. I told them that I wasn’t informed of this charge when I made my reservation, and that I had no intention of using the safe during my brief stay. They responded by offering to remove the charge when I checked out. I got them to relent only after I told them that I was leaving for an early-morning meeting, and I insisted the charge be removed at check-in. Managers do have some discretion to remove charges, especially when they failed to properly disclose them. At a resort in Beaver Creek, Colo., I had a parking fee taken off after their valet failed to close my car’s window.

5. Consider low- and mid-range properties. While I enjoy staying in luxury hotels for cheap, I can do without paying a $40 “resort fee” or $15 a day for Internet. There’s a strange dynamic going on in the hotel industry, where low- and mid-range properties offer free amenities while high-end hotels – even within the same corporation – tack on additional charges. For example, Hampton Inns offer free local calls, high-speed Internet, and breakfast, while their corporate parent Hilton often charges for these amenities. It’s as if the industry has discovered that  luxury guests are not price-sensitive and will consent to anything.

6. Bargain. A hotel might have a long list of fees, but again, most of them can be waived at the manager’s discretion. If you’re booking a longer stay, visiting during a slow season, or have multiple rooms, you’ll be in a great position to suggest that some fees be eliminated in return for your business.

For more on how to save at any hotel, check out 8 Tips to Save at Any Hotel – Even the Nation’s Trendiest.

Stacy Johnson

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