It looks too good to be true. You've found a hotel in Las Vegas in a great location with super rooms, wonderful amenities and fabulous reviews. The price is less than $100 a night. You book it, but when you get to the payment page there's an extra charge of $60 a night.
That's a resort fee – and they're the curse of the US hotel industry. Resort fees are particularly prevalent in the country's holiday hot spots, such as Las Vegas, New York City and Hawaii. As well as resort fees, they might also go under the name "Destination fees".
Resort fees usually add between $US20-30 plus tax a day to your bill, but they can run much higher. One of the problems, and a frequent cause for angst, is that resort fees might not appear on the hotel's website. It's not until you get to the end of the online booking process that you discover you're being gouged for a hefty daily fee.
How do you know?
US law does not require hotels to disclose resort fees in the initial phase of the booking process. One way to find out is to check on the ResortFeeChecker.com website (resortfeechecker.com), a handy reference with resort fees at thousands of hotels listed. Another way to find out – call or email the hotel and ask.
Hotels justify the charge on the grounds that it includes a long list of amenities the hotel provides. As well as the swimming pool and pool towels, it might include the room safe, Wi-Fi, in-room coffee machine and the fitness centre. It might also include facilities you have no intention of using, such as fax copies and a notary service.
Woah right there, you might say. Is not the room safe and the swimming pool just standard fare? So why are you paying extra? If that's the case, why not charge for the bed and pillows? And to that there is no reasonable answer.
The why and the wherefore
For the hotel, the resort fee makes sense because it can grab more revenue without increasing its published room rate. Since they aren't obliged to advertise these add-on fees, hotels can appear cheaper than they actually are.
Resort fees are also exempt from the hefty commission fees hotels pay when yrooms are booked via an online travel agency (OTA) such as Booking.com. That fee is typically about 20 per cent. Therefore it's in the hotel's interest to limit its room rate while jacking up its resort fee.
That could change. Booking.com recently announced it will now take a commission on all mandatory fees. If this becomes common practice among the OTAs, it could blunt the main reason that hotels introduced resort fees, and lead to more transparent pricing.
It could also hand a trump card to the opposition. Expedia, another giant OTA, has ruled out imposing a commission on resort fees that hotels charge when they appear on its website. This might be a big win for Expedia since hotels will be more attracted to taking bookings from Expedia rather than from Booking.com.
Early in July the District of Columbia Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Marriott, accusing the mammoth hotel group of bait-and-switch advertising and deceptive pricing practices that hide the true price of hotel rooms. The lawsuit aims to force Marriott to 'fess up to its resort fees so consumers can make informed choices.
Marriott Hotels & Resorts is one of the world's largest hotel chains, with more than 550 properties flying the company flag. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson hit back, arguing among other points that resort fees are the same as baggage fees in the airline industry. Not so. Baggage fees can be avoided if you don't carry baggage, but resort fees apply whether or not you make use of the amenities that the fee covers. Resort fees are more like an airline charging you an extra fee to sit in a seat. There's no escape from resort fees. Sorensen also maintains that the fees are well disclosed, which is patently untrue.
How to dodge the resort fee
In off-season hotels will sometimes offer room rates minus resort fees. That special rate probably won't be advertised on the hotel's booking page, you might find it listed on the promotions tab or click that option on the payment page. That doesn't mean you'll miss out on any of the amenities that normally come when you pay the resort fee, it just means you're avoiding them.
Another ploy, try asking for the fee to be waived at the check-in desk, on the grounds that you won't be using those amenities. This is more persuasive if circumstances are in your favour. For example if the resort fee includes free parking and you don't have a car. Or if one of the perks included is use of the pool and it's mid-winter and the pool is outside, or if renovation work renders some of those resort-fee amenities unusable.
If you're a member of the hotel's loyalty club, and signing up involves nothing more than completing a membership form online, you might ask if there's an option for the hotel to waive your resort fee. This normally applies to top-tier members who have demonstrated their affection for the brand with many stays, but don't ask and you don't get.
Finally, dispute the charge with your credit card provider.